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Today, on the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, a United States district court dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of four Iraqi men who were tortured at Abu Ghraib. Al Shimari v. CACI International Inc. was filed against private U.S.-based contractor CACI Premier Technology, Inc. ("CACI"), which U.S. military investigators concluded had participated in torture and other "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" of detainees at Abu Ghraib. The suit, which brought claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) for torture and war crimes, was the last active case seeking accountability for torture at Abu Ghraib.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CCR is committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.(212) 614-6464
"This case has been an obscene injustice," Amnesty's Hana Young said as the mass trial began. "Peaceful political opposition is not a crime."
As the 90-day trial of 16 pro-democracy figures began Monday in Hong Kong, the global human rights group Amnesty International blasted what it called the "politically motivated" charges against the defendants, while urging authorities to drop the case.
The 16 defendants are part of a group of 47 people including former lawmakers, ex-district councilors, academics, and activists who were arrested in January 2021 and subsequently charged with "conspiracy to commit subversion" in alleged violation of a 2020 national security law. The legislation has been condemned by legal experts and activists as a threat to both human rights and Hong Kong's purported autonomy from Beijing.
The 16 pleaded not guilty Monday; the other 31 previously entered guilty pleas. All of the so-called Hong Kong 47 stand accused of plotting to turn Hong Kong's legislature into a "lethal constitutional weapon" against the Chinese government. In a break with Hong Kong's common law judicial tradition, the case is being tried by a trio of hand-picked prosecutors instead of a jury.
"This case has been an obscene injustice since the unprecedented mass prosecution of the 47 defendants began in March 2021," Amnesty deputy regional director Hana Young said in a statement. "In a trial that lays bare the intrinsically abusive nature of the national security law, some of the defendants face up to life in prison simply for taking part in political party 'primaries.'"
\u201cVIDEO: Hong Kong's largest national security trial opened Monday with 47 pro-democracy figures accused of trying to topple the government.\nThe defendants, who include some of the city's most prominent activists, face up to life in prison if convicted.\u201d— AFP News Agency (@AFP News Agency) 1675687200
The five defendants accused of being "major organizers" of the plot are: Benny Tai, a legal scholar; Au Nok-hin, an ex-legislator; Chiu Ka-yin and Chung Kam-lun, former district council members; and Gordon Ng Ching-hang, an activist.
“They are forced to make the impossible decision between pleading guilty to a nonexistent crime for a potential reduction in sentence, or fighting a losing battle under the unjust national security law," Young added. "Most of the 47 have been detained for two years without trial, due to the extremely stringent bail threshold which in effect creates an assumption against bail in national security cases. Whatever happens in the trial, that injustice alone can never be undone."
With this mass trial, the Hong Kong government is attempting to shut off all meaningful political participation in Hong Kong. But the fact that people came to the court today to protest against these prosecutions, despite the risks, showed that the Hong Kong authorities will never be able to fully crush dissent.
People must be allowed to freely express their opinions in Hong Kong, without the threat of jail. Peaceful political opposition is not a crime.
"The charges against the 47 are based entirely upon claimed hypothetical threats to national security," Young added. "All those still detained in the case should be immediately released and the charges against all dropped."
There was a heavy police presence outside the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts as the trial got underway Monday. Protesters, including members of the progressive League of Social Democrats, staged small demonstrations outside the building before being dispersed.
\u201cThe League of Social Democrats is the only group protesting outside the court building, as the landmark trial on 47 leading pro-democracy icons kicks off in Hong Kong. Such a demonstration is rarely seen although it's a very small-scale one.\u201d— Phoebe Kong (@Phoebe Kong) 1675658145
"Primary elections are something that happens in every democratic country," one supporter of the defendants toldAgence France-Presse outside the court. "But I don't know why something like this has happened in Hong Kong, that holding primaries is being considered breaking the law."
During both the Trump and Biden administrations, the United States—which Beijing accuses of "interference in Hong Kong affairs" and "anti-China destabilization"—imposed sanctions on a handful of Hong Kong and Chinese officials in connection with the crackdown. Biden also recently extended a program that shields Hong Kong residents from deportation.
"Homophobic and sexist fearmongering should have no place in the consideration of Gigi's qualifications," one coalition wrote to Senate leaders. "It's morally corrupt and antithetical to the high virtue of the chamber."
Digital and LGBTQ+ rights groups are condemning homophobic attacks against U.S. President Joe Biden's Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn, whose Senate confirmation has been stalled for over a year largely due to opposition from the powerful telecom industry.
The LGBTQ Victory Institute and 21 other organizations sent a letter Monday to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and the chair and ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), respectively.
Noting that Biden first nominated Sohn to the FCC in October 2021 and has continued to support her—formally renominating the candidate last month—the groups wrote that "we share the administration's view that Gigi is the right leader for this role given her extensive qualifications, superior leadership qualities, and deep technical background."
"Gigi is the right leader for this role given her extensive qualifications, superior leadership qualities, and deep technical background."
"Gigi is one of the nation's leading public advocates for open, affordable, and democratic communications networks. She demonstrated her dedication to ensuring that every American household has affordable and robust broadband internet for 30 years," they pointed out, while also stressing the necessity of a "fully functioning FCC."
The letter highlights that "Gigi's nomination has recently come under attack, not on the basis of qualifications or substance, but because she is openly LGBTQ+. Her barrier-breaking nomination as the first LGBTQ+ nominee to the FCC is being met with homophobic tropes and attacks, against herself and her family, in an attempt to stall her nomination. That cannot stand."
"Homophobic and sexist fearmongering should have no place in the consideration of Gigi's qualifications. It's morally corrupt and antithetical to the high virtue of the chamber," the letter concludes. "We call upon every member of the Senate to condemn homophobia and sexism and consider Gigi's nomination on its merits. We urge members to confirm Ms. Sohn to the seat she is so qualified for without delay."
The letter followed an opinion piece published Thursday by Fast Company, in which Fight for the Future director Evan Greer and National Digital Inclusion Alliance communications director Yvette Scorse called on both Biden and Senate Democrats to "stand up to homophobic attacks" on Sohn.
\u201cBiden and Democrats must stand up to homophobic attacks on FCC nominee\u2014 a) basic decency & b) or else they\u2019ll basically doom every other LGBTQ+ candidate down the road. COME ON. by \u2066@evan_greer\u2069 https://t.co/CLJbtV4y2B\u201d— Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg (@Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg) 1675698372
The pair explained that Sohn first endured the telecommunication industry's smear campaign—and now, "right-wing news outlets, emboldened by the internet service provider-funded smears, have crossed the line: They've launched a new round of blatantly homophobic attacks on Gigi that recycle QAnon and extreme right tropes conflating LGBTQ identity with deviance and predation."
As Greer and Scorse detailed:
Fox News, The Daily Mail, Breitbart, and other outlets have run nearly identical stories claiming that Gigi has "opposed" efforts to combat sex trafficking. Even these news outlets, who play fast and loose with the truth, have a hard time backing up that headline. Their argument is that Gigi sits on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a highly respected digital rights organization known for fighting to defend free speech and privacy online, and EFF opposes SESTA/FOSTA, legislation passed in 2018 that claimed to address sex trafficking. The rest of the articles go to melt down over the fact that EFF once gave an award to a consensual adult dominatrix for her advocacy work around issues of online free speech and human rights, as if that somehow implicates Gigi in some sort of scandal.
Here's the thing: EFF isn't the only group that opposes SESTA/FOSTA. The legislation has been condemned by almost every major human rights organization in the world including the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, and the Wikimedia Foundation, because it has actually made it harder for the government to curtail online sex trafficking, while having devastating effects on online free speech and marginalized communities. A report issued by the U.S. government itself indicated that the law has not been useful in aiding prosecutions, and has almost never been used. Insinuating that opposition to SESTA/FOSTA somehow means support for sex trafficking is absurd on its face. Many anti-trafficking organizations also oppose the law, saying it hurts more than it helps. Even the Trump administration's Department of Justice agreed that the law was undermining their efforts to combat trafficking.
But none of that matters, because the FCC has absolutely no jurisdiction in this area whatsoever. Gigi has never taken a position on SESTA/FOSTA or any similar legislation, and EFF opposed SESTA/FOSTA long before Gigi became a board member. None of this is remotely relevant to Gigi's candidacy for a position at the FCC, the agency that oversees phone and cable companies.
The pair added that "we don't expect any better of Fox News pundits who want to block Gigi's appointment. But we are appalled by the complicit silence of the White House and Senate Democrats."
\u201cNotably, the LA Times here also eviscerates the idea that opposing SESTA/FOSTA makes you "pro sex trafficking" and thoroughly explains why SESTA/FOSTA was an utter failure, citing the excellent research of advocates like @MistressBlunt. Just embarrassing for the bigots & trolls.\u201d— Evan Greer is on Mastodon (@Evan Greer is on Mastodon) 1675435865
Their article came a day after Fight for the Future and Demand Progress launched a petition that similarly outlined recent attacks on Sohn, urged Biden and Senate Democrats to stop being "shamefully silent," and warned that "if they don't speak up now and condemn these attacks, this will become a go-to strategy for bigots looking to sink any LGBTQ person's nomination."
In a statement announcing the petition, Demand Progress communications director Maria Langholz said that "we're now closer to the end of President Biden's first term than we are to the beginning. These past two years, Democrats have controlled both the White House and Senate, yet the FCC remains without its fifth and final commissioner. The public is being failed."
Langholz emphasized that "in the absence of action, the FCC will stay deadlocked and the public will suffer the consequences" while "unhinged and discredited attacks on Ms. Sohn will continue to percolate in this vacuum."“These attacks are as baseless as they are dangerous, and underscore more than ever the time is now for Senate leadership to end this delay," she added. "The Senate must reject the cynical and hate-filled politics the public has grown so tired of, and get to the actual work of governing by finally confirming Gigi Sohn to the FCC."
"Over the last 40 years, the carceral system has grown into a vast network of corporations that use public-private partnerships to profit from the incarceration of our grandparents, parents, siblings, children, and other loved ones," said one campaigner.
Campaigners from two national justice advocacy groups on Monday released recommendations for the Biden administration to act on in order to fulfill the president's longtime promise to "stop corporations from profiteering off of incarceration."
President Joe Biden "took the first step in fulfilling this commitment" shortly after taking office in January 2021 when he issued an executive order to end the U.S. Department of Justice's reliance on federal private prisons, said the two groups, Color of Change and Worth Rises.
"But the 14,000 people incarcerated in federal private prisons represent a small fraction of the nearly 155,000 people currently detained across all federal prisons," said the groups, let alone the total of two million people who are incarcerated in state, local, and federal facilities as well as immigration detention centers.
To end the era in which prisons have become what Worth Rises executive director Bianca Tylek called "a business—one that is threatening our families, communities, and public safety," the Biden administration must dismantle an industry that "has worked itself into every corner of the carceral system as incarceration has exploded over the past 40 years," said the group.
"This is a pathway forward to a more just criminal legal system that does NOT put profits over people," tweeted Color of Change.
\u201cBREAKING: COC x @WorthRises are partnering to put an end to prison profiteering in 2023 & beyond!\n\nThis is a pathway forward to a more just criminal legal system that does NOT put profits over people.\n\nLearn about how we can #EndPrisonProfiteering now! \u27a1\ufe0f https://t.co/RYmpsZTqZl\u201d— ColorOfChange (@ColorOfChange) 1675715413
"Over the last 40 years, the carceral system has grown into a vast network of corporations that use public-private partnerships to profit from the incarceration of our grandparents, parents, siblings, children, and other loved ones," said Tylek. "They have created a carceral crisis and collected the windfalls on the taxpayers' dime while the rest of us suffered. This policy blueprint provides the clearest roadmap for fulfilling the promise of justice that the Biden-Harris administration made and many expect it to meet."
The blueprint was released a month after Biden signed the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 to empower federal regulators to ensure that charges for calls from correctional and detention facilities are "just and reasonable." Currently, incarcerated people are charged as much as $9.99 for a cellphone call and $5.70 for a 15-minute landline call.
"People ask what structural racism is. This is it," Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, said Monday. "Our blueprint provides a clear path of action for President Biden and all public officials who believe these financial attacks on our communities must end. We outline a clear set of steps for eliminating superfluous and inflated fees, revising the terms of government contracts with corporations to prevent gouging, and more."
"The incarcerated people and families that corporations have targeted with these profiteering practices know all their tricks, inside and out," Robinson added. "This blueprint reflects their unique knowledge about what is happening and how to stop it."