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Landmark ruling comes 34 years after the Supreme Court last upheld Canada’s anti-prostitution laws [Reuters]
|Canada’s top court has overturned all restrictions on prostitution, declaring that existing laws violated sex workers’ right to safety.The Supreme Court of Canada struck down bans on brothels, street solicitation, and living on the earnings of prostitution in a unanimous 9-0 decision on Friday, and gave the Canadian government one year to re-write the country’s prostitution laws.
While prostitution itself is technically legal in Canada, most prostitution-related activities were previously considered criminal offences.
In the decision, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said many prostitutes “have no meaningful choice” but to “engage in the risky economic activity of prostitution,” and that the law should not make such activities more dangerous.
“It makes no difference that the conduct of pimps and johns is the immediate source of the harms suffered by prostitutes,” McLachlin wrote.
“The impugned laws deprive people engaged in a risky, but legal, activity of the means to protect themselves against those risks.”
The legal challenge to Canada’s prostitution laws was brought by a group of sex workers who argued that the now-overturned restrictions put them in danger.
Katrina Pacey, a lawyer for the petitioners, called it “an unbelievably important day for the sex workers but also for human rights.”
“The court recognized that sex workers have the right to protect themselves and their safety,” she said.
Last year, a lower court in the province of Ontario struck down the ban on brothels on the grounds that it exposed sex workers to more danger.
Friday’s ruling comes 34 years after the Supreme Court last upheld Canada’s anti-prostitution laws.
Prostitution is legal in much of Europe and Latin America, and brothels are legal in numerous countries, including the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.
S&P said that cohesion among EU members had lessened [GETTY]
|Standard & Poor’s has downgraded the European Union’s long-term credit rating, stripping the bloc of the highest grade of AAA to AA+, citing rising tensions on budget negotiations.The move follows cuts to the ratings of EU member states in recent months.
The credit rating agency said on Friday that a bitter battle over the EU budget and worsening creditworthiness of its members are behind the decision to decrease the bloc’s long-term issuer credit rating by one grade.
“In our opinion, the overall creditworthiness of the now 28 EU member states has declined,” S&P said in a statement.
“In our view, EU budgetary negotiations have become more contentious, signaling what we consider to be rising risks to the support of the EU from some member states.”
S&P said cohesion among EU members had lessened and that some might baulk at funding the EU budget on a pro-rata basis.
Average rating of contributors dropped
The average rating of net contributors to the EU budget has fallen to AA+ from AA since January 2012, when S&P revised its outlook on the long-term EU rating to negative, the company said.
S&P has had a negative outlook on the EU since that date and has since cut its ratings on members France, Italy, Spain, Malta, Slovenia, Cyprus and the Netherlands.
The EU is not a sovereign but it can borrow in its own name. As of this month, it had outstanding loans of 56 billion euros ($76.5 billion), according to S&P.
The credit-rating agency said its downgrade of The Netherlands last month left the EU with six AAA-rated members. Since 2007, revenues contributed by AAA-rated sovereigns as a proportion of total EU revenues nearly halved to 31.6 percent, it added.
A Paraguayan farmer’s fight against agricultural corporations destroying the livelihoods of many like him.
Witness Last updated: 19 Dec 2013 10:29
|Filmmakers: David Bernet and Bettina Borgfeld
Raising Resistance explores Paraguayan farmers’ struggle against the expanding production of genetically modified soy in South America.
Biotechnology, mechanisation, and herbicides have radically changed the lives of small farmers, known as campesinos, across Latin America. For farmers in Paraguay this means displacement from their land, loss of basic food supplies, and a veritable fight for survival.
Geronimo Arevalos, a small farmer, together with some other farmers, stands defiantly in a corporate-owned soy field adjacent to his own, blocking a tractor from spraying herbicides that will decimate his crops and expose nearby families to toxic chemicals.
As corporate farms seize farmland and rapidly expand production of genetically modified soy, Geronimo and the campesinos find themselves in a life and death struggle. This film illustrates the mechanisms of a global economy that relies on monocrop agriculture (the practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land), and corporate ownership of land, at the expense of the individual and small rural communities.
In telling the story of Paraguay, Raising Resistance poses the larger question of whether the global community wants to go on living with a system that allows one crop to prosper at the expense of all others.
For many campesinos – or farmers – in Paraguay, the expansion of soy fields is like a large, heavy barrel rolling towards them. It takes away the land on which they live and the air they breathe.
The problem of expanding soy fields affects many South American rural populations, not just in Paraguay. In our film, Raising Resistance , we identify a fundamental level of social conflict. It is a conflict that has an archetypal character because it takes place in many regions around the world where the global production of raw materials is the most important factor, while smaller interests are secondary.
For us, it painfully expresses one of the harsh truths of our civilisation – those who have the technological advantage will use it, no matter who suffers as a result.
Around the time we first travelled to Paraguay, the rural population had just decided to begin resisting the soy field expansion. Across the country, groups of campesinos put up their plastic tents in front of the soy fields in an effort to halt soy farming which was damaging their own crops and destroying their communities.
Before our very eyes, the rather abstract connection between the production of raw materials, agricultural chemistry and land conflict suddenly had faces, voices and feelings – and we felt what we saw had to be made into a film. We wanted to show that the campesinos also have the right to exist and feed their families.
The problem of the expanding production of genetically modified crops is not just limited to rural areas of Paraguay. The expansion of raw material production is going on in all regions of the world. At one point in the film, Geronimo, our main protagonist, predicts, “There will be collisions … violent conflicts … maybe even war”.
We believe the escalation Geronimo predicted at that time points far beyond this film and beyond Paraguay. We also believe that battles will happen wherever people are fighting for a basic livelihood and dignity.
After we left Paraguay and flew back to Germany to edit our film, we tried our best to create a film that not only presented a subject well but that helps our audience to see, hear and feel what the campesinos are experiencing.
Morsi supporters protested outside the court where the deposed president faced the initial charges [EPA]
|Egypt’s deposed President Mohamed Morsi will stand trial on charges of “conspiring with foreign groups” to commit “terrorist acts.”Morsi, toppled by the military in July and already on trial for alleged involvement in the killings of opposition protesters, was also accused on Wednesday of divulging “secrets of defence to foreign countries” and “funding terrorism for militant training to fulfil the goals of the International Organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood”, according to a prosecutor document seen by Al Jazeera sources.
Egypt’s public prosecutor ordered Morsi and 35 co-accused to stand trial on charges including conspiring with foreign organisations to commit terrorist acts in Egypt and divulging military secrets to a foreign state.
In a statement, the prosecutor said that Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had committed acts of violence and terrorism in Egypt and prepared a “terrorist plan” that included an alliance with the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Some defendants, including Essam Haddad, Morsi’s second in command when president, were also accused of betraying state secrets to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The prosecution also alleged Muslim Brotherhood involvement in a surge of attacks on soldiers and police following Morsi’s overthrow, centred mostly in the restive Sinai Peninsula.
Prosecutors say the intention of the attacks was to “bring back the deposed president and to bring Egypt back into the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip”.
Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste, reporting from Cairo, said the charges were tantamount to a series of very serious treason charges, which carry the death penalty in Egypt.
“I suspect a lot of Morsi’s supporters will see these as outlandish charges designed to try to sideline the opposition once and for all,” he said.
Mohamed Al Damaty, the spokesman of Morsi’s defence team told Al Jazeera that they had not seen the court documents relating to the case.
“We did not receive the court documents to this case,” he said.
“We don’t know further details and there is a gag order on this case by the prosecutor banning media from publishing its details for what they call endangering national security. No date for the trial has been set yet.”
The trial appears to stem from an investigation into prison breaks during a 2011 uprising against strongman Hosni Mubarak, when Morsi and other prisoners escaped, AFP reports.
Prosecutors have alleged the jailbreaks were carried out by Palestinian and Lebanese armed groups, who had members imprisoned under Mubarak.
Al Jazeera sources said that prosecutor copy labelled the trial as the “biggest case in Egypt’s history of conspiring against Egypt.”
According to the text, the Muslim Brotherhood had been involved in smuggling weapons and allowing its members to enter Gaza through tunnels in the Sinai to receive training from factions of Hezbollah and Iranians.
It also said members had received training on communication and dealing with media through communication with the West through Qatar and Turkey.
Devyani Khobragade was arrested and handcuffed over an alleged visa fraud [Facebook]
|The simmering tension between New Delhi and Washington over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York has escalated into a major row with the boycott of a visiting US Congressional delegation by India’s political leaders.India has also asked all US diplomats stationed in India to turn in their identity cards. Police barricades outside the US embassy in New Delhi have been removed and access for US diplomatic staff to airports curtailed. More retaliatory measures are expected, reports said.
On Tuesday, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and federal home minister Sushilkumar Shinde refused to meet the visiting delegation in protest against the “despicable and barbaric” treatment meted to the arrested diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York.
The five-member delegation to New Delhi, facing a general boycott, is led by Congressman George Holding, representative for North Carolina’s 13th congressional district, who serves on the foreign affairs committee and judiciary committee. The four other Congressmen are Pete Olson, David Schweikert, Robert Woodall and Madeliene Bordallo.
News of Khobragade being lodged in a prison cell in the company of drug addicts and being subject to a strip search have angered India’s mandarins and political bosses. The diplomat was also subject to a DNA swab.
The spat between the United States and India strikes a discordant note at a time when relationship between the two countries is otherwise on a high, especially in the last one decade which has seen unprecedented cooperation in various areas of civilian and defence sectors.
Reacting to the Khobragade’s incarceration, India’s national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon described the treatment as “despicable and barbaric.”
Media reports quoting Indian government sources said New Delhi is considering “reciprocal steps” later on Tuesday so as to “convey a clear message that this treatment of the diplomat is unacceptable.”
On Monday, speaker of the lower house (Lok Sabha) of India’s parliament Meira Kumar declined to meet the visiting US congressional delegation.
Handcuffed in public
The Indian diplomat, aged 39, was arrested on Thursday as she was dropping her daughter to school. She was handcuffed in public and later freed on bail worth $250,000.
US police accuse Khobragade of lying in her visa application for the purposes of recruiting an Indian national who was employed as housekeeper at her home and was paid less than $ 4 an hour, which is lower than US minimum wages.
Her father Uttam Khobragade, a former IAS officer, was quoted by the NDTV news channel as saying, “My daughter is brave, but I’m worried. There’s more than what meets the eye.”
After her arrest, India’s foreign secretary Sujatha Singh summoned the US envoy in New Delhi, Nancy Powell, and protested over the “unacceptable treatment” meted out to Khobragade, a senior consular officer.
The US has defended its actions saying its Marshals followed standard procedures. Countering India’s stand that the arrest flouted the Vienna convention governing diplomatic immunity, the US said diplomats enjoyed immunity from their courts only in the exercise of their consular functions.
“We understand that this is a sensitive issue for many in India,” said Marie Harf, State Department deputy spokeswoman. “Accordingly, we are looking into the intake procedures surrounding this arrest to ensure that all appropriate procedures were followed and every opportunity for courtesy was extended.”
India has said even if a diplomat is arrested for a purported serious crime, all courtesies must be extended to the diplomat and not be treated like a common criminal.
Today’s technology, tomorrow’s trash?
As a UN report warns of the hazards of electronic waste, we ask if the world is ready to tackle technology trash.
Inside Story Last updated: 16 Dec 2013 11:24
|The number of electronic and electrical gadgets being dumped around the world is set to soar, raising concerns about the impact on the environment and human health.
Rapid advances in technology are giving rise to what is being described as a buy-it-and-bin-it generation. People are throwing away everything from TVs to toys, computers to cameras, and mobile phones to motorised toothbrushes.
Now, a new UN study is forecasting that the amount of global e-waste, as it is called, will rise by one-third by 2017.
The report says 48.9 million metric tons of e-waste was produced last year. That is expected to rise by 33 percent by 2017 bringing total global e-waste to 65.4 million tons.
That is enough to fill a line of 40-ton trucks that, end-to-end, would stretch three-quarters of the way around the world.
The largest producers are the US and China. They generated 10 million tons and 11.1 million tons respectively last year.
Each American is said to be responsible for an average 29.8kg of hi-tech trash a year that is almost six times higher than China’s per capita figure of 5.4kg.
“There are laws in Europe, quite strong laws, about the rules what we can export or what we cannot export yet we see these laws are disregarded often and we see the evidence in places like Ghana, Nigeria, India and China where we can go to the dump sites and see computers from Europe openly being broken down illegally,” explains Julian Newman, the campaigns director for the Environmental Investigation Agency in the UK.
The UN study has been carried out by StEP (Solving the E-waste Problem), a coalition of UN organisations, industry, governments, NGOs and science bodies.
“Some countries are moving towards safe recycling and reuse of e-waste. But it’s feared the increasing demand for electronics, will overwhelm existing facilities. This could see millions of tonnes of waste dumped into landfills,” Ruediger Kuehr, the executive secretary of StEP told Al Jazeera.
The report warns that e-waste is being dumped illegally in developing countries. It says the garbage contains toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic, which can seep into landfills, contaminating the ground, water and air.
The study adds that devices are often dismantled in dangerous conditions, harming the health of those involved.
StEP is calling for better monitoring of e-waste exports, and more effective rules for the treatment of electrical junk.
So why is today’s technology destined to become tomorrow’s trash? And what is being done to tackle the growing global crisis of e-waste?
Inside Story presenter Sohail Rahman discusses with guests: Sami Uz Zaman, a consultant for Global Environmental Management Services, an environmental court judge, and an industrial research scientist in Pakistan; Julian Newman, the campaigns director for the Environmental Investigation Agency in the UK; and Akshat Ghiya, the co-founder and director of Karma Recycling, specialising in electronic waste in India.
|The European Union has said it will suspend efforts to work with Ukraine on a trade and cooperation agreement, as 200,000 government opposition protesters gather for a rally, marking the start of a fourth consecutive week of unrest.The EU said on Sunday that Kiev’s government has “no grounds in reality”.
Stefan Fuele, EU enlargement chief, said on Twitter that he told Ukraine’s first deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov that the EU would further discuss a trade agreement if Ukraine’s government showed a commitment to sign it.
But Fuele said he has not heard back, so negotions are on hold.
Meawhile, tensions are expected to mount as authorities have organised a demonstration to counter the opposition’s scheduled rally.
They too vowed to hold a “non-stop protest” and said they would bus thousands of Yanukovich supporters from the provinces to a park near the opposition camp.
Protesters have remained in Independence Square in the capital Kiev since Yanukovich turned down the EU trade deal in favour of fostering closer ties with Russia.
Both US and European politicians have shown their support for the opposition’s cause.
Republican Senator John McCain flew to Kiev on Saturday for meetings with Vitali Klitschko, head of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party (UDAR), nationalist leader Oleg Tyagnybok and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the head of Yulia Tymoshenko’s party.
He praised the protests as “an incredible show of patriotism”.
President Yanukovich is under pressure to choose to align Ukraine with the West or with a Russian-led Customs Union.
He will travel to Moscow next week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Critics using BP America’s Facebook page allege they have been harassed [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]
Update: Public Relations firm Ogilvy has contacted Al Jazeera and denied that either “Griffin” or “Ken Smith” named as trolls in the report below have any affiliation with the company or with BP. Furthermore, in interests of full disclosure, it should be noted that Levin Papantonio, one of the partners of the law firm Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor, has recently been involved in legal action against BP.
New Orleans, United States – BP has been accused of hiring internet “trolls” to purposefully attack, harass, and sometimes threaten people who have been critical of how the oil giant has handled its disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.The oil firm hired the international PR company Ogilvy & Mather to run the BP America Facebook page during the oil disaster, which released at least 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf in what is to date the single largest environmental disaster in US history.
The page was meant to encourage interaction with BP, but when people posted comments that were critical of how BP was handling the crisis, they were often attacked, bullied, and sometimes directly threatened.
“Marie” was deeply concerned by the oil spill, and began posting comments on the BP America Facebook page. Today, she asks that she remain anonymous out of what she described to Al Jazeera as “fear for my personal safety should the BP trolls find out that I am the whistleblower in this case”.
In internet slang, a troll is someone who sows online discord by starting arguments or upsetting people, often posting inflammatory messages in an online community, or even issuing physical threats.
Marie sought assistance from the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a non-profit group in Washington DC, and has produced boxes of documents and well-researched information that may show that the people harassing BP’s critics online worked for BP or Ogilvy.
“We’d been hearing of this kind of harassment by BP when we were working on our health project [in the Gulf of Mexico], so it sparked our interest,” GAP investigator Shanna Devine told Al Jazeera. “We saw Marie’s documentation of more serious threats made on the BP page, and decided to investigate.”
According to both Marie and Devine, some of the threats began on the page, but then escalated off the page.
Threats included identifying where somebody lived, an internet troll making reference to having a shotgun and making use of it, and “others just being more derogatory”, according to Devine. “We’ve seen all this documentation and that’s why we thought it was worth bringing to the ombudsman’s office of BP, and we told them we thought some of it even warranted calling the police about.”
“We have thousands of documents regarding communications posted through various Facebook websites,” said certified legal investigator Steve Lockman of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor. “In addtion, we are in possession of communications between the federal government and the ombudsman’s office of BP regarding the internet communications, and the federal government requesting BP to control the harassment through their Facebook page and their interactions.”
“The harassment communications are not something that BP and their people are not aware of,” Lockman told Al Jazeera. “It’s not a hidden secret that the personal attacks, broadcast abuse, and type-written harassment were happening and continue to go on.”
Marie provided the firm and Al Jazeera with files of complaint letters, computer screenshots of the abuse, and a list of Facebook profiles used by the people who harassed her and others.
“I was called a lot of names,” Marie added. “I was called a streetwalker and a lot of things like that, and eventually had gun threats.”
According to Marie, the harassment didn’t remain on the BP page. Trolls often followed users to their personal Facebook pages and continued to harass them there.
“They resorted to very demeaning methods of abuse,” Marie said. “They were racist, sexist, and threatened me and others with legal action and violence. They’ve insinuated that some commenters are ‘child molesters’, and have often used the tactic of mass reporting with the goal of having their targets completely removed from Facebook.”
One troll using the name “Griffin” makes several allusions to gun violence, while another, named “Ken Smith” also harassed and threatened users, even going so far as to edit a photo of a BP critic’s pet bird into the crosshairs of a gunsight, before posting the photo online – along with photos of an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons.
Another instance occurred involving “Griffin” and an environmentalist who posted a picture of a rendition of Mother Earth saying “Mother Earth Has Been Waiting for Her Day in Court, BP”. “Griffin” posted a comment to the picture that read, “A few rounds from a .50 cal will stop that b**ch”.
According to Marie, Lockman and GAP, BP’s “astroturfing” efforts and use of “trolls” have been reported as pursuing users’ personal information, then tracking and posting IP addresses of users, contacting their employers, threatening to contact family members, and using photos of critics’ family members to create false Facebook profiles, and even threatening to affect the potential outcome of individual compensation claims against BP.
Marie, along with several other targets of harassment, wrote and sent two letters to BP America, asking the company to respond to the allegations and deal with the matter. Neither letter received a response, which is why Marie decided to contact GAP, as well as the law firm.
While Marie’s evidence appears to tie Ogilvy and BP together via the trolls, the law firm Lockman works for is investigating further, in order to conclusively determine the extent of BP’s involvement.
Spinning the disaster
Stephen Marino worked for Ogilvy during the BP disaster. BP had been a client of Ogilvy for five years before the spill, and when the disaster occurred, “we were responsible for all the social media for BP during the spill”,Marino said during a lecture he gave at the University of Texas, Austin, on April 19, 2012.
His team, which he called the “digital influence team”, was “responsible for the crisis response”. Marino told the audience that his job during the BP disaster was to run a ” reputation management campaign ” and gave this specific example of the depths to which Ogilvy worked to maintain a positive appearance for BP:
“We were putting out ads, if you guys remember those ads that came out where it would be Iris in the Gulf of Mexico and she’d be talking about how she grew up there and she wasn’t going to go away,” he explained . “The way we were working with the strategy on that was we would cut the ads one day, we would edit them overnight, we’d air them on Tuesday let’s say, and then we’d look at social media to see what the response was to the ads – and based upon the feedback we were getting on social media, the advertising agency would then go back and re-cut the ads to fix the message to make it resonate more with what the constituents wanted… that was the first key strategy.”
Chris Paulos, an attorney with the firm investigating Marie’s case, believes this is a perfect example of “subversive attempts by corporations to put forward their ideology of what we should think about them, and doing it in a way that is not decipherable to the average person”.
According to Paulos, the public should be concerned about this because we can no longer tell if people online are truly who they say they are, “or are working for a corporation and talking their script to control the dialogue about whatever issue they are addressing”.
“We are in unprecedented times with technology, and [in] the disparity between the power of corporations and autonomous consumers,” Paulos told Al Jazeera. ” Citizens United has basically emboldened corporations with their ability to speak as individuals with First Amendment rights. Ever since that decision, corporations have been outspoken and vigorously protecting themselves while doing it.”
Billie Garde, BP’s deputy ombudsman, in a letter to the Government Accountability Project dated December 18, 2012, stated clearly that “BP America contracts management of its Facebook page to Ogilvy Public Relations” and added, “Ogilvy manages all of BP America’s social media matters”.
“According to BP America, Ogilvy has a group of 10 individuals in different time zones that perform comment screening of the page,” wrote Garde.
Interestingly, Garde’s letter addressed the fact that, at that time, according to Ogilvy’s data, 91 percent of all the comments on BP’s Facebook page were considered to be “unsupportive” of BP, while only nine percent were considered “supportive”. She added that “i n previous years, the number of comments that were ‘unsupportive ‘ of BP was larger than the present 91 per cent “.
Her letter stated that Ogilvy follows a “three strike” policy for all comments, “meaning if they find a comment to be in violation of the commenting policy, they delete the comment and record a ‘strike’ against the user, and three strikes means a user is no longer able to comment on the page. It is also noted that Ogilvy will delete offending comments and send a note to the user indicating the comment was inappropriate”.
Garde added: “BP America has informed our office that Ogilvy strictly adheres to the Commenting Policy as stated on the BP America Facebook page. This policy serves as the guidelines that Ogilvy follows when evaluating the appropriateness of comments. Ogilvy does not evaluate a comment with respect to it being a positive or negative statement towards BP. Likewise, they do not delete any comments based on either of these qualifiers.”
According to Garde, BP America’s Director of Employee Concerns Oversight, Mike Wilson, was apprised of the situation. Wilson was provided examples of harassment and was asked if the examples were reviewed by Ogilvy. “The discussion is ongoing, and Mr Wilson is addressing these specific concerns internally,” Garde added.
A BP spokesman provided the following statement for Al Jazeera: “The BP America Facebook page, and its moderators, do not endorse or dictate any user activity. All users’ comments and actions are their own. BP created the BP America Facebook page to engage the public in an informative conversation about our ongoing commitment to America and to facilitate constructive dialogue for any and all who wish to participate. No users are compensated for participating in the Facebook community. More information on our commenting policy can be found here .”
Marie, however, staunchly believes that BP is responsible for the pro-BP Facebook trolls.
“I have no doubt that they are, and I’ve found the links between the trolls and their friends who work for BP,” she told Al Jazeera. “The Government Accountability Project, through the inquiry they’re conducting for me, is still trying to find out. But we are being stonewalled on the other end, as far as BP doing some type of an internal investigation into these connections that I’ve uncovered.”
According to Marie, the harassment “almost ceased completely at around the same time GAP received Garde’s letter. I say ‘almost’ because at least two of the people who were involved in the prior harassment are still allowed to comment on BP’s page to this day, and [one of those] was still checking on people’s profiles to obtain their state of residence, and would use this against them on the page.”
Lockman’s investigation continues, as do the efforts of recovering additional documentation and sifting through information on hand that links the trolls to both BP and Ogilvy as well as to other subcontracted companies used by BP as creative storytellers.
“The information we possess regarding Marie’s claims, printed out, fills two file boxes, and that does not include all the DVDs which are currently being duplicated at this time,” Lockman said. “It is an unbelievable amount of documentation that has been developed. This documentation, support materials, and information is coming from several different sources. It is like a spider web and we just got started.”
Al Jazeera asked the firm Lockman works for what the possible legal ramifications would be for the alleged actions of BP and Ogilvy.
“What these guys are doing is bordering on illegal,” said Paulos the attorney. “Marie’s allegations are that these guys have made overt acts beyond what they did online, and it does sound like people who’ve been the victims of these actions believe they are in imminent danger of bodily harm, and that can become the basis for a claim of assault.”
Paulos went on to say that if people who had pending claims against BP were being targeted “it can become a claim of extortion or fraud, depending on how the money is being used”. The same applies in cases where money or other benefits are offered in exchange for ceasing the harrassment.
Yet these are not the worst possible crimes.
“They [BP/Ogilvy] are obviously trying to silence folks who are opposed or critical of what they are doing,” Paulos claimed. “But it appears as though it has moved into threats that can be considered terroristic threats depending on the intent behind them, so there are a lot of laws they can be treading on, including stalking, and tortious interference with someone’s businesses. I understand they’ve called the workplaces of people on the websites, and depending on what’s being said that may become actionable under US civil law. So there are a lot of ways they could be breaching the law based on the intent of their communication and how that has been received.”
Paulos believes Marie’s case is an example of how corporations such as BP use their money and power to take advantage of a lack of adequate legal regulations over the use of internet trolls and vigorous PR campaigns, and that this should give the general public pause.
“Marie’s story shows that corporations do not refrain from cyber-bullying, and they are doing it in a very aggressive fashion.”
Linda Hooper Bui, an associate professor of entomology at Louisiana State University, experienced a different form of harassment from BP while working on a study about the impact of the oil disaster on spiders and insects.
“BP was desperately trying to control the science, and that was what I ran into,” Bui told Al Jazeera. According to her, BP’s chief science officer “tried to intimidate me”, and the harassment included BP “bullying my people” who were working in the field with her on her study that revealed how “insects and spiders in the oiled areas were completely decimated”.
While collecting data for the study, Bui and her colleagues regularly ran into problems with BP, she said.
“Local sheriffs working under the auspices of BP, as well as personnel with Wildlife and Fisheries, the US Coast Guard – all of these folks working under BP were preventing us from doing our job,” Bui explained. “We were barred from going into areas to collect data where we had previous data.”
Bui said personnel from the USCG, Fish and Wildlife, and even local sheriffs departments, always accompanied by BP staff, worked to prevent her from entering areas to collect data, confiscated her samples, and “if I’d refused to oblige they would have arrested me” – despite her having state permits to carry out her work.
Bui has also been harassed online, by what she thinks was “a BP troll”, but she remained primarily concerned about what BP was doing to block her science. Her frustration about this prompted her to write an opinion article for The New York Times , titled A Gulf Science Blackout .
That is when she received a call from BP.
“August 24, 2010, at 7:15am the morning my op-ed was published, I received a call from BP’s chief science officer who tried to get me to be quiet,” Bui said. “He said he’d solve my problem, and asked me how much money I needed.”
Bui explained to him she was only interested in being allowed to conduct her studies, and was not interested in working with BP, “that I was publishing science and it involved the entire scientific community”, and she never heard back from him.
She believes her method of dealing with the overall situation was a success. “When somebody starts to mess with me, I publicise it and say: ‘Don’t f**k with me,'” she concluded. “And if you do, I’m going to go very public with it, and that’s what I did.”
BP did not respond to Al Jazeera for comment regarding her specific allegation.
GAP’s Shanna Devine told Al Jazeera she believes the onus is on BP to investigate the possibility that there is a connection between the harassment and Ogilvy and BP employees.
“But so far they’ve taken a very hands-off approach,” she explained. “They’ve not taken responsibility and they are not willing to share information with us.”
Violence has reached levels not seen since 2008, when US forces were still fighting for control of Iraq [Reuters]
|Unidentified gunmen have killed 18 people and injured six others working on a gas pipeline in Iraq, police sources have told Al Jazeera.
Gunmen in three vehicles used machine guns in the attack on Friday evening in the town of Imam Wais, 65km east of Baghdad.
Fifteen Iranian and three Iraqi workers were killed, while five Iranians and one Iraqi were wounded.
The workers were laying the foundation for a gas pipeline which is set to connect Iraq with neighbouring Iran.
Also on Friday, a series of car bombs and attacks in Iraq killed 18 people, and wounded 37 others, according to Al Jazeera police sources.
A car bomb exploded near a security checkpoint in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killing six people, and injuring at least ten.
In a drive-by shooting in Baghdad’s Ghazaliyah area, gunmen shot and killed two people, including a government employee, in their car.
Two separate car bombs also exploded near the capital: the first, near a fish market in Nahrawan, killed five people and wounding at least 14, while another exploded in Madain, just south of Baghdad, killing five people and injuring 13.
Violence in Iraq has reached a level this year not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of rampant sectarian killings. Nearly 950 people were killed in the month of November alone.
More people died in the first eight days of December 2013 than in the whole of last December, according to AFP news agency figures based on security and medical sources.
Elsewhere in the capital on Friday, at least 22 Iraqi detainees facing terrorism charges escaped from a Baghdad prison, after killing at least one prison guard, authorities say.
Following a police manhunt, Iraqi security forces recaptured 13 prisoners and killed one, while another eight prisoners were still at large.
A police colonel said the detainees had seized weapons from guards before their escape from the al-Adela facility in the northern Baghdad area of Kadhimiyah.
The prisoners had lured a guard into their cell while his colleagues were sleeping, claiming an inmate was critically ill. They then stabbed the security guard to death, two senior security officials said.
Several guards were later detained and questioned over suspicions they had helped in the escape, a prison official said.
The jail break was the latest in a series of prison escapes in Iraq. More than 500 inmates escaped, including several al-Qaeda leaders, and dozens were killed, after an al-Qaeda linked group attacked two prisons last July.
The security breaches have cast doubts on the ability of the Iraqi authorities to secure the country amid the countrywide increase in violence.
The reported execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s powerful uncle has caused worries over the stability of the isolated country, with various governments expressing concern over the potential implications of the move.
The state-run KCNA news agency announced on Friday that a special military trial was held for the once-influential Jang Song-thaek before he was executed on Thursday.
Jang, who had been branded as “traitor” and dismissed from his positions and powers on Monday, was accused of a string of criminal acts including corruption, womanising and drug-taking.
“The North usually curbs internal instability by waging provocations externally,” the Ryoo Kihl-Jae, the South Korean unification minister said, warning the purge could be followed by military actions, including another nuclear test.
China, Pyongyang’s major ally and economic lifeline, said Jang’s execution was an “internal matter” but also stressed the need for stability.
“As a neighbour we hope to see national stability, economic development and people living in happiness in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing.
Tokyo said that it was “closely watching the situation”.
“We will calmly monitor the situation while communicating with other countries and collect relevant information,” the Kyodo news agency quoted Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga as saying.
Washington said that the execution was “another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime”.
|The North usually curbs internal instability by waging provocations externallyRyoo Kihl-Jae, South Korea’s unification minister|
“We are following developments in North Korea closely and consulting with our allies and partners in the region,” Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said.
London expressed “deep concern about the impact of this unpredictable regime on stability in the region”.
“Our embassy in Pyongyang is monitoring the situation closely and we will continue to maintain close contact with our allies on this,” a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Bangkok, said the execution has laid bare a massive power struggle in the secretive country.
“It’s an incredibly public condemnation of this once very powerful man,” our correspondent said.
KCNA said earlier this week that Jang had been removed from all his posts and expelled from the Workers’ Party.
“From long ago, Jang had a dirty political ambition. He dared not raise his head when Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were alive,” KCNA said, referring to leader Kim’s grandfather and father, who were previous rulers of the dynastic state.
“He began revealing his true colours, thinking that it was just the time for him to realise his wild ambition in the period of historic turn when the generation of the revolution was replaced.”
Jang was married to Kim’s aunt, the daughter of the North’s founding leader Kim Il-sung, and was widely considered to be working to ensure his nephew firmly established his grip on power in the past two years.
Jang had been a prominent fixture in many of the reports and photographs of Kim Jong-un’s public activities, but his appearances have tapered off sharply this year and he has not appeared in official media since early November.