More ominous headlines from Ukraine that only leave us wondering what to believe. Winning the prize for combining sensationalism with sloppy vagueness is (surprise) the New York Post, which warns: "Jews in east Ukraine forced to register with authorities." There are two serious problems with this headline. First, if you actually read the story, nobody has been "forced" to do anything—yet, at least. The demand was made in threatening leaflets, with no attempt at enforcement. Second, given the confused situation in east Ukraine, it is completely ambiguous who is indicated by the word "authorities." The "official" Urkainian government, or the Russian-backed separatists who claim to be in control? This is a rather critical point, given all the Russian propaganda about how the Kiev government is "fascist" and "anti-Semitic."
Notable human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair was taken into custody in Saudi Arabia April 15 after a hearing at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. Abu al-Khair, founder and chief of the Saudi Arabia Monitor of Human Rights, faces charges that include inciting public opinion. Amnesty International (AI) condemned Abu al-Khair's imprisonment demanding his immediate release. In their press release AI criticized Saudi authorities stating that "Waleed Abu al-Khair's detention is a worrying example of how Saudi Arabian authorities are abusing the justice system to silence peaceful dissent. Nobody should be jailed for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression." According to AI, Abu al-Khair faces charges including breaking allegiance to and disobeying the ruler, disrespecting the authorities, offending the judiciary, inciting international organizations against the Kingdom and founding an unlicensed organization. In October Abu al-Khair was sentenced to three months in prison on similar accusations related to "ridiculing or offending" the Saudi Arabian judiciary.
Algerian security forces on April 16 violently dispersed an attempt by opposition activists to stage a protest in the capital against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's run for a fourth term in this week's elections. Only a few members of the opposition alliance Barakat—President Abdelaziz Bouteflika—were able to assemble in central Algiers before police routed them. Barakat was able to hold a rally in a stadium, where some 5,000 gsthered to chant "Boycott" and "The people want the regime out!" Mohsen Belabes, a leader of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), told the crowd: "The people here are the people who have been excluded, who have been put aside, but this is the real Algeria. The regime will collapse, but Algeria will survive."
The United States and Turkey have said they are following up on renewed accusations that the Syrian regime continues to use chemical weapons against civilians. If true, the government's use of such weapons would be a violation of its agreement with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, both of which it signed last September. Over the past few months, members of the Syrian opposition, including the main umbrella group the Syrian National Coalition, have accused the regime of using chemical weapons, mainly in the suburbs of Damascus, in areas such as Jobar and Harasta. "There have been at least four such attacks in recent months, involving high doses of chlorine and pesticides," said Sinan Hatehet, director of the Coalition's media office. He added that although the attacks only killed around 15 people, the chemicals were primarily being used as a psychological weapon.
The new commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD) William Bratton announced April 16 the disbanding of a surveillance unit used to spy on Muslim communities. The Demographics Unit, established in 2003, utilized plainclothes detectives to map communities both inside and outside New York City, tracking the movements and conversations of Muslim individuals. According to the New York Times, the unit, composed of around 12 detectives, was created to look for "hot spots" of radicalization that could theoretically provide early warning of possible terrorist activities. Surveillance focused on 28 "ancestries of interest." At a pretrial examination (PDF) before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Commanding Officer of the Intelligence Division Thomas Galati admitted that the program had never generated a lead. The tactics of the unit had drawn significant criticism and generated two federal lawsuits.
The Iraqi Justice Ministry on April 15 temporarily closed Abu Ghraib prison due to security concerns. Reports indicate that Iraqi authorities are concerned about the growing power of a Sunni-backed insurgency within the Anbar province, in close proximity to the prison grounds. A government official reportedly announced wednesday, however, that the prison's closure was temporary until security issues can be resolved. In the meantime, the government has transferred approximately 2,400 inmates to other high security prisons throughout the nation.
An Egyptian court on April 14 ruled that the militant organization Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (BBC backgrounder) be officially considered a terrorist group. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which means "Warriors of Jerusalem," has claimed responsibility for the majority of attacks on Egyptian military and police that have occurred since former President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July. The US Department of State on April 9 also designated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as a terrorist organization. Egypt's military said that this designation will not change its strategy toward fighting the group, but it will make punishments more harsh for members of the group who are captured.
An official from the capital district government of Bogotá on March 28 called upon Colombia’s national government to open debate on broadening the policy of cannabis decriminalization. "We really need leadership from the Congress and the government to regulate the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana," said the general secretary of the Bogotá's mayor's office, Susana Muhamad. Despite efforts by the previous government of President Alvaro Uribe to roll back the policy, since 1994 cannabis has been decriminalized in small quantitites—recently established by the judiciary as up to 22 grams. However, sale and cultivation remain illegal. Muhamad appealed to current President Manuel Santos to examine lifting these limitations.