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Thai court extends detention of refugee sought by Bahrain
Law Firm News | 2018/12/11 19:06
A Thai court ruled Tuesday that a soccer player who holds refugee status in Australia can be held for 60 days pending the completion of an extradition request by Bahrain, the homeland he fled four years ago on account of alleged political persecution and torture.

Hakeem al-Araibi, who was detained Nov. 27 upon entry at Bangkok's main airport, was denied release on bail during his court appearance. Thai officials said he was originally held on the basis of a notice from Interpol in which Bahrain sought his custody because he had been sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for vandalizing a police station, a charge he denies. He came to Thailand on vacation with his wife.

Al-Araibi says he fears being tortured if sent to Bahrain. Australia, which granted him refugee status and residency in 2017, has called for his release and immediate return to his adoptive home. He had played for Bahrain's national soccer team and now plays for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale Football Club. He has been publicly critical of the Bahrain royal family's alleged involvement in sports scandals.

He also has alleged he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten while he was held in Bahrain in 2012.

He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain. Bahrain has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and has a reputation for harsh repression since its failed "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011.

Thai officials insist they are following the letter of the law in holding him, but rights groups suggest he should not have been detained because of his refugee status, and that international law to which Thailand is a party bars sending him to Bahrain if he has a legitimate fear of persecution and even torture. The court can extend the 60-day detention by another 30 days on application of the prosecutor's office, but otherwise he is free to go if Bahrain does not finish its extradition application by then.


Supreme Court won't hear Planned Parenthood case
Law Firm News | 2018/12/11 19:05
The Supreme Court is avoiding a high-profile case by rejecting appeals from Kansas and Louisiana in their effort to strip Medicaid money from Planned Parenthood over the dissenting votes of three justices.

Lower courts in both states had blocked the states from withholding money that is used for health services for low-income women. The money is not used for abortions. Abortion opponents have said Planned Parenthood should not receive any government money because of heavily edited videos that claimed to show the nation's largest abortion provider profiting from sales of fetal tissue for medical research.

Investigations sparked by the videos in several states didn't result in criminal charges.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they would have heard the case.

It takes four votes on the nine-justice court to grant review, so neither Chief Justice John Roberts nor new Justice Brett Kavanaugh was willing to join their conservative colleagues to hear the Medicaid funding challenge.

Thomas wrote for the three dissenters that the court seems to be ducking a case it should decide because it involves Planned Parenthood. "But these cases are not about abortion rights," Thomas wrote.

The issue is who has the right to challenge a state's Medicaid funding decisions, private individuals or only the federal government. The states say that the Medicaid program, a joint venture of federal and state governments to provide health care to poorer Americans, makes clear that only the Secretary of Health and Human Services can intervene, by withholding money from a state.


Mexico president blasts 'stratospheric' supreme court wages
Law Firm News | 2018/12/07 03:09
The Mexican president is butting heads with the Supreme Court just one week into office after judges suspended a law that would cap public sector salaries, one of his key campaign promises.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador accused the judges of looking after their own pocketbooks and of failing to grasp the "new reality" that his administration represents. The salary cuts are part of a rebalance in government that aims to raise wages for lower income workers while chopping those of top officials.

"They themselves decide that they are going to keep receiving exaggerated, stratospheric salaries - salaries of up to 600,000 pesos ($29,000) a month - those who impart justice," Lopez Obrador complained to reporters Saturday, before repeating one of his favorite mantras: "There can't be a rich government with a poor people."

The freeze throws into question the government's 2019 budget plans, which are due on Dec. 15. The suspension is pending a definitive ruling by the court.

The Mexican Congress decreed in November that, with few exceptions, no public employee should earn more than the president. Lopez Obrador's Morena party has a majority in both houses of Congress. The National Human Rights Commission then asked the court to review the law, saying it appeared to violate the constitution.


S. Korea court upholds conscientious objection to military
Law Firm News | 2018/11/01 13:20
South Korea's top court ruled Thursday that South Korean men can legally reject their mandatory military service on conscientious or religious grounds without punishment.

The landmark ruling is expected to affect the cases of more than 930 conscientious objectors on trial. Hundreds of young South Korean men, mostly Jehovah's Witnesses, are imprisoned every year for refusing to serve in the military.

All able-bodied South Korean men must serve about two years in the military under a conscription system aimed at coping with potential aggression from North Korea. The court broke with its own 2004 verdict that rejecting military service because of religious faith was illegal, saying at the time that confrontation with the North made South Korea's draft an indisputable necessity.

The ruling was great news for Jehovah's Witnesses and others who call for improved individual rights and freedom of opinion in South Korea. But many conservatives are likely to criticize it, saying it inadequately considers the North Korean threat.

When South Korea's Constitutional Court ruled in June that the government must provide alternative social service for conscientious objectors by 2019, a heated debate erupted over whether it is the proper time for such a measure because North Korea's nuclear threat remains unchanged. There are also worries that some might exploit alternative service to evade the draft.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court said it quashed a lower court's sentencing of a conscientious objector to 18 months in prison. It said it ordered the lower court to review its earlier verdict. Supreme Court officials said there is little chance the lower court would not abide by the decision.

The majority opinion of a panel of Supreme Court judges is that "conscientious objection of military duty ... can be a valid reason" to avoid military service, the top court said in a statement.

"Forcing a military duty ... with criminal punishment or other punitive measures is an excessive restraint of freedom of conscience," the majority opinion read. "Free democracy can have its legitimacy when it tolerates and embraces minorities though it is run by the principle of majority rule."

Supreme Court officials said lower courts are not officially required to make the same ruling when they handle other cases of conscientious objections, but they are widely expected to do so.

Since the 1950-53 Korean War, South Korea has sent about 19,350 Jehovah's Witnesses to prison for refusing to serve in the military. In recent years, about 500-600 Jehovah's Witnesses went to prison every year and spent 18 months behind bars on average. According to the group and the Supreme Court, Thursday's ruling won't apply to 96 Jehovah's Witnesses currently in prison.


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