NEWS - Archive August 2007

Headlines 31 August, 2007


30/8/2007- An appeals court has upheld the ban of an anti-Islam protest planned for Sept. 11 in Belgium's capital, six years after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The organizers — an alliance of Europeans opposed to the "Islamization" of Europe — failed to prove the ban causes them "irreparable damage," the Council of State, an administrative appeals court, ruled late Wednesday. Brussels Mayor Freddy Thielemans banned the demonstration Aug. 9 fearing it would disturb public order and calling the Stop Islamization of Europe alliance an inflammatory group. In a secular democracy "it cannot be that women and men are ... suspected of having committed the worst crimes" simply because they are Muslims, said Thielemans. Since 2001, Thielemans has approved more than 3,500 demonstrations in the Belgian capital and banned six, including the one of SIOE which calls itself "an alliance of people across Europe with the single aim of preventing Islam becoming a dominant political force in Europe." The group's origins lie in anti-Muslim organizations in Denmark, Britain and Germany. It called for the Brussels protest to commemorate the victims of 9/11. A posting on the SIOE web site Thursday suggested the Sept. 11 protest will go ahead as planned. "Well! Mayor Thielemans believes he has the final say!" it read. "Thousands of people believe otherwise."
International Herald Tribune



31/8/2007- A new Portuguese law regularising illegal immigrants has been suspended only a few weeks after coming into effect following huge interest from hopeful immigrants. In the first five days after the law came into effect on 3 August, the government's Service of Foreigners and Borders (SEF) – which is responsible for carrying out the legalisation process – registered 900,000 calls while immigrants from Spain and Italy joined the queue outside the building, reports Portuguese daily the Público. Portugal has a population of 10.2 million, of whom 420,000 are legal immigrants and another 150,000 are undocumented immigrants, according to estimates by non-governmental organizations in the Iberian country. This means Portugal has one of the highest ratios of immigrant to native population in the European Union. According to the government in Lisbon, the law was suspended because they detected it had a so-called "calling effect" seeing immigrants arriving from other parts of Europe and because certain "intermediates without scruples" were taking advantage of the "extraordinary regulation". The new law foresees that only immigrants that already have an employment contract and are enrolled in the social security system can be legalised. This is not the first time a member state has granted an immigration amnesty. Fellow EU member states Spain and Italy were criticised by EU justice and home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini as well as now French president Nicolas Sarkozy when they regularised illegal immigrants in 2005 and 2006 respectively.


30/8/2007- A lack of national data on hate crimes in Cyprus was highighted in the annual report of the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) that was given to the European Parliament on Monday. Cyprus was alone on the list: the FRA said same lack of data occurred in Estonia, Germany, Czech Republic, Greece, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenuia, Slovakia and Spain. The agency pointed out that some governments were unsuccessful in gathering information, while others (like Cyprus) claimed they did not even have a single case of a racist attack in their countries. “We didn’t hand in a report because we believe there is no racism in Cyprus. “We admit that there is little xenophobia, but it’s not racism,” said Sophoclis Fyttis, chairman of House Human Rights Committee and DIKO MP. “Some women or young people [may be] afraid of coloured foreigners in the Ledra area, but no serious crime [has] ever occurred and it’s not likely that hate crimes will occur in Cyprus,” he said. Fyttis added that he didn’t believe there was any religious discrimination on the island either. “We have freedom of religion and we respect it. There are villages where a church stands next to the mosque and people of different religions live next to each other.” The EU and community organisations beg to differ and are genuinely concerned about racism and xenophobia issue in Cyprus. “Racism is a serious problem in our country: it concerns not only colour, but also religion and political discrimination” says Doros Polycarpou, head of migrant support and anti-racism group KISA.  “Victims are especially Pakistani and Bangladeshi, who face plenty of problems being put down on a daily basis by police, immigration services and their employers. As they have no rights, they can not stand up for themselves.” The organisation tries to keep its own statistics and reports on racist incidents, independent of the government but Polycarpou admits it is very difficult to prove this kind of crime.

“Discrimination is most of the time indirect. Nobody will say: ‘I will not rent my apartment to you, because you are Chinese’, the given reason will be always different,” he explained, and sees the root of the problem in island’s history which provided the intimidation of identity in Cypriots. “Cyprus has only been independent for 40 years. Before that it was always occupied by stronger countries, so there is a lack of stable identity in Cypriots and also a feeling of being threatened,” he said. But he believes this situation can be turned around. “We need a long-term education plan on this issue. We need to grant more rights to migrants, and cooperate to solve the problem, but we can’t do this while the government is in denial.” While no official report on racism levels in Cyprus has been presented to the FRA, reports have been prepared by the ombudswoman and non-government organisations. One of them is the European Network Against Racism, which is an independent network of NGOs. In its special report on Cyprus, the ENAR, said “as an EU member, [Cyprus] has to comply with the acquis communautaire on migration, especially by granting long-term residence and employment rights to migrants on completion of five years of legal stay, as well as other rights, including family reunification, part-time employment to foreign students etc.” In the report, ENAR tries also to show the way for Cyprus to deal with the issue. “The main challenge is for Cyprus to acknowledge the failure of the present system of migration, accept that it is a multicultural society and develop policies and practices to promote social integration, enrich society and create conditions of equality for all its inhabitants, irrespective of national, ethnic, racial or other origin.”
Cyprus Mail



30/8/2007- The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) had mixed words of praise and criticism for Malta in terms of the ways in which it deals with and prevents ethnic discrimination. The FRA’s study, entitled Report on Racism and Xenophobia in the Member States of the EU, was presented at the European Parliament on Monday. The agency’s report frowned upon the fact that there is no Maltese case law on ethnic discrimination – meaning the key concepts of anti-discrimination legislation on ethnic or racial discrimination have not been applied, tested or interpreted by the courts – as well as on the fact that unemployment figures for immigrants from outside the EU do not exist. The FRA also criticised the fact that not a single sanction had been applied or compensation awarded in cases of ethnic discrimination during 2006, even though the laws and procedures to do so were in place.  On the other hand, the FRA commended two programmes underway in 2006 – one dealing with cultural awareness and anti-racism training of the Malta Police Force, and the other the in-service courses with a specific emphasis on human rights for social studies teachers. The report, which covers data and the state of affairs in 2006, also observed how Malta had been slow to adopt the legislation transposing the European Union’s Racial Equality Directive which, by the end of 2006, had not yet been seen through and that, last year, there had been no specialised body for the promotion of equal treatment on the grounds of race or ethnic origin. In April, however, the government published Legal Notice 85 – the Equal Treatment of Persons Order, 2007 – which transposes the EU directive. The Legal Notice, under the European Union Act, also extends the remit of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) from matters limited to gender equality to also enable it to investigate complaints on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin. The legal notice empowers the NCPE to look into complaints over social protection, social advantages, education, housing and other goods and services available to the public.

The agency called for statistics on unemployment of non-EU immigrants – lacking in Malta, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia – in order to better gauge discrimination of ethnic minorities, such as migrants who have received refugee or subsidiary protection status in Malta. “This imperfect comparison of unemployment rates illustrates the need for improved data in this area. Statistics on citizenship alone are of limited value for examining issues of discrimination, whereas data which identify ethnic and national origin would produce a much clearer picture,” the report recommended. Malta was also one of the countries that provided no indication that any sanctions had been applied or compensation awarded in cases of ethnic discrimination during 2006, although laws and procedures were in place. Another issue was that of existing case law on ethnic or racial discrimination in the courts of Malta which, the Agency said, did not exist in Malta as at the end of 2006. Other countries with an absence of such case law included Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Poland and Spain. “This means that in these countries the key concepts of anti-discrimination legislation concerning ethnic/racial discrimination have not been applied, tested or interpreted by courts,” the report noted. “Other Member States (including Malta) are also categorised as having limited data collection because they only report on a handful of court cases related to specific offence categories.” Malta’s police force was meanwhile applauded for having continued to give its staff training on racism and xenophobia and the relevant Maltese legislation, and on how trainees, as part of the police force, should deal with incidents of racism. The report observed how the course had been repeated seven times in 2006 as part of police in-service training. Similarly, the FRA also commended Malta’s training of social studies teachers with a specific emphasis on human rights. The report also noted that Malta and eight other EU member states had not yet joined the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education.
Malta Independent



27/8/2007- The Dutch government on Monday announced a four-year plan to combat radicalisation especially among Muslim youths, amid concern over domestic Islamic extremism. Most of the plan's budget of EUR 28 million will go to local governments to support projects designed to keep youths from turning against Dutch society and its values, officials said. "It is the first time that the Netherlands has launched an integral plan involving all eight relevant ministries to combat radicalisation and polarisation in our society," Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst said. The Netherlands has been shaken by radical Muslim violence since the assassination of filmmaker and columnist Theo van Gogh in 2004 by a Muslim who was angry at a film he had made criticising the treatment of women in Islam. The killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, came from the Slotervaart district of Amsterdam where Ter Horst presented her plan. "We are concerned with youths who do not feel at home in the Netherlands and who do not feel Dutch. While they are trying to find their own identity, they can become radical and we want to stop that," she said. "We are not only trying to fight radicalisation in Muslims but also in far-right groups." Despite these concerns there are no official figures on the problem of radicalisation among Dutch youths, although the minister said the government was funding a study of the problem. The action plan is mainly a grouping together of earlier measures in areas such as education, child support, anti-discrimination and employment.

Ter Horst said most of the work must be done by the municipalities. The government plans have few concrete measures and speak mainly of supporting local projects. Slotervaart district council president Ahmed Marcouch was one of the first to put radicalisation of Muslim youths on the agenda and says the neighbourhood has between 50 and 60 such young people. His budget to combat radicalisation will go from EUR 100,000 to EUR 500,000 a year under the new plan. That extra money will be spent on training teachers, social workers and parents on how to deal with youths who are coming under radical influences, he said. "It's not some form of thought control where we say what kids can and cannot think. We want to give teachers the tools to initiate the discussion and not be afraid," he explained. "We also have to make sure not every Muslim youth is seen as a potential problem," added Marchouch, who is of Moroccan origin. Ter Horst added: "There is no pill against radicalisation. You have to talk and talk and talk to those who are going through the process. We are focussing on prevention because a crackdown doesn't always work."
Expatica News



31/8/2007- Sweden's embassy in Pakistan has expressed regret over the publication of a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a Swedish newspaper. Pakistan had complained about the cartoon, which depicted the head of the Prophet on the body of a dog. Sweden's government said it regretted any hurt but could not apologise as it was not responsible for the drawing and could not prevent its publication. Other cartoons depicting the Prophet sparked worldwide protests last year. Thousands of Muslims took to the streets in several countries in early 2006 in protest at the drawings, which were initially published by a Danish daily and later reproduced elsewhere. Muslims regard any visual representation of the Prophet as blasphemous. Many Muslims also regard the dog as an impure animal.

Press freedom
The new drawing depicting the Prophet's head on the body of a dog was published in the Swedish newspaper Nerikes Allehanda on Sunday. The cartoon's creator, Lars Vilks, told the Associated Press news agency the drawing was art. "I'm not against Islam. Everybody knows that," he is quoted as saying. The publication prompted the Iranian government to complain to Swedish diplomats earlier this week. The Pakistani foreign ministry delivered its complaint to a Swedish diplomat in Islamabad on Thursday. A Swedish foreign ministry spokeswoman said the government had "expressed regret that the publication of the cartoons had hurt the feelings of Muslims". "We can't apologise for the cartoons because we did not publish them," spokeswoman Sofia Karlberg told the BBC News website. Ms Karlberg said the government could not influence the publication of such cartoons because of rules concerning media freedom in the country.

Restraint urged
The Pakistani foreign ministry expressed sorrow at what it described as a growing tendency "among some Europeans to mix the freedom of expression with an outright and deliberate insult to 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide". "Such acts deeply undermine the efforts of those who seek to promote respect and understanding among religions and civilisations," a foreign ministry statement said.
According to the Pakistani statement, the Swedish diplomat had said his government "fully shared the views of the Muslim community and termed the publication as unfortunate". The Swedish foreign ministry told the BBC News website it could not confirm its diplomat in Islamabad had made these remarks. A Swedish Islamic centre has planned a demonstration outside the paper's offices in the town of Orebro, the AP news agency says. An umbrella body representing 57 Muslim nations, the Organisation of Islamic Conference, condemned the latest cartoon and urged the Swedish government to punish those responsible. The chairman of the body also urged Muslims to remain calm and exercise restraint.
BBC News



26/8/2007- Ten youths were assaulted with sticks and glass bottles at an anti-racism concert in Farsta, in the south of Stockholm, on Saturday night. Police suspect that the attackers are neo-nazis. Four of those injured required hospital treatment. One of them, an 18-year-old man, was taken to Karolinska university hospital in a serious condition. "He was hit on the back of the head with a baton and was then punched or kicked in the head," said police spokesman Gunnar Samuelsson. Three other youths were taken to Söder hospital for treatment, though none had life-threatening injuries. "We believe that the attackers are neo-nazis. We don't have any descriptions. Witnesses said that they had black masks on their faces," said Samuelsson. The concert was part of a campaign against racism organised by the youth wing of the Left Party , the Young Left. Seluah Alsaati, the organisation's leader, was at the event at Tuben in Farsta. Along with ten other guests she was standing near the entrance at around 10pm when between 15 and 20 people wearing black charged at them. "They begain throwing glass bottles at us and most of us tried to run up the stairs to safety," said Alsaati. Several windows were smashed. Seluah Alsaati saw the injured 18-year-old lying unconscious and tried to pull him up the stairs. "But it wasn't possible. They just continued to punch and kick him. It was really horrible," she said. "I think it's obvious that it is nazis who were trying to scare us into silence. But those of us who were there just felt even more angry and more motivated to continue the fight against racism."
The Local



28/8/2007- The Town Hall in Havlickuv Brod is considering building a wall to separate the house where it had moved problematic families, mostly Romanies, several years ago from neighbouring residents, the daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) writes Tuesday. The house near a railway station is inhabited by 12 families, 11 of whom are of Romany origin. The renters make mess in the area and police often have to arrive to solve their conflicts, the paper writes. "The proposal [to build a wall] has been made by local residents. We are seriously considering it," town deputy mayor Cenek Juzl is quoted as saying. "They are socially inadaptable. They bother their neighbours, make mess and break parked cars," Juzl says. The residents of the neighbouring block of flats, run by a housing cooperative, who share a yard with the problematic families often complain about their behaviour. "The problematic families started devastating everything they see in the common yard. They are aggressive, smash windows, break off car mirrors and aerials, their children jump over the cars and throw stones into the cellar," neighbouring house representative Rudolf Stara is quoted as saying. The local residents therefore want a fence or wall to divide the courtyard into two parts. "There is a conflict every week. To separate the two houses would be the best solution," Juzl says. The town hall, however, wants the fence or wall to be paid by the housing cooperative. According to Juzl, the situation cannot be compared to the case of the ill-famed Maticni street in Usti nad Labem. The Maticni street became a symbol of Romanies' problems in October 1999 when Usti nad Labem authorities started to build a fence there, saying they wanted to protect the owners of private houses who repeatedly complained about the noise and disorder made by the residents of flats for rent defaulters on the other side of Maticni street. However, the residents of the flats, mostly Romanies, protested against the fence, along with Czech and foreign human rights activists, as they viewed it as an expression of racism. The ceramic fence was dismantled after six weeks.
Prague Daily Monitor



31/8/2007- Google wants to delete all videos containing far right content from its YouTube video community platform as quickly as possible. Google spokesperson Kay Oberbeck told, "It is clear that YouTube has a substantial interest in removing illegal or inflammatory videos from the site. We distance ourselves categorically from inflammatory content on YouTube. Such content is illegal and in breach of YouTube guidelines." According to Oberbeck, in future YouTube plans to monitor content uploaded by users more closely. "No system is perfect, and we need to work hard at designing it to be even tighter." Integration of the YouTube community into the complaints system has proved very effective in the past. "The complaints system for uncovering legal violations of this kind must be further improved in collaboration with users," emphasised Oberbeck.

Until recently the Nazi propaganda film "Jud Süß" was easy to find on YouTube. It is also easy to find songs by the far right band Landser - many are superimposed on photos of Hitler, swastikas or SS runes. Lyrics such as "We will wear the swastika with pride" and "Our model is the Waffen SS" are still relatively harmless compared to many other racist or anti-Semitic lyrics or lyrics which glorify violence. Messages shown during the videos lead to websites such as that of the racist organisation "Blood and Honour", which is banned in Germany. Most of the Landser videos, for example, are still available on YouTube at the time of writing, even if the first films have now disappeared. The Telemediengesetz (the German law regulating telephone and media services) requires service providers to remove web pages containing propaganda which is inflammatory or in breach of the constitution from the internet immediately once informed of it. The Central Council of Jews in Germany is considering making a formal complaint to the police against Google as a result of the far right content on YouTube. German politicians are demanding that the public prosecution service investigate the incidents.



31/8/2007- The mayor of a small town that was the scene of a racist attack against eight Indians is coming under pressure to step down because of controversial comments he made to a right-wing newspaper. The Central Council of the Jews in Germany has called upon Gotthard Deuse to resign, following his interview in Thursday's online edition of Junge Freiheit. Deuse told the newspaper that the recent attack in Mügeln, in the eastern German state of Saxony, was not racially motivated, adding that he was "proud to be German". The Free Democrat afterwards told the dpa news agency that he had been unaware of the newspaper's political orientation and that his mention of national pride was in connection with the World Cup hosted by Germany last year. "I detest right-wing violence," he added.
Not the first controversial remark
Deuse had already come under fire for earlier comments to the press about the incident in which the Indians were chased and attacked by a mob. Witnesses said a number had also shouted racist slogans, such as "Foreigners Out". "Anyone can come out with such slogans from time to time," Deuse told Financial Times Germany. Initially, he had also denied the perpetrators were from Mügeln where he said there was no right-wing scene. The General Secretary of Central Council of the Jews in Germany, Stephan Kramer, said in a television interview for Germany's N24: "The mayor is the mirror of the society that elected him."

No-go zones in eastern Germany
He also referred to "democracy-free zones" in eastern Germany where the rule of law does not apply. Asked whether he would go for a walk at night in an eastern German town, he said: "I wouldn't do it. I'm not tired of living." Sebastian Edathy (SPD), the chairman of the Bundestag's interior affairs committee, also said Deuse should consider resigning. He said that the situation in Mügeln was completely different than that portrayed by the mayor of the town. In Mügeln "there had been a pogrom-like atmosphere aimed at fellow citizens of foreign origin," he told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung. German transport minister Wolfgang Tiefensee (SPD) warned against any attempt to downplay what had gone on. "Looking away and playing things down are precisely the wrong approach," he told the Rheinische Post. The minister, who is responsible for the reconstruction of eastern Germany, added; "Citizens and associations have to act courageously against right-wing extremist tendencies."

Minister says problem bigger in eastern Germany
Tiefensee also said there was a greater problem with right-wing extremism in eastern Germany because there was not the same history of dealing with immigration and cultural diversity, but he also said the difficult labor market played a role in radicalizing society. The Free Democrats have also distanced themselves from Deuse's comments. FDP General Secretary Dirk Niebel said acts of violence and xenophobic attitudes should not be relativized. Legal proceedings have been launched against 12 suspects aged between 17 and 35, who are suspected of fomenting racial hatred and committing grievous bodily harm. The state prosecutor's office said, however, that there was no evidence that the attacks had been planned by right-wing extremists. A recent spate of racially motivated incidents has led to some SPD members calling for proceedings to ban the far-right NPD party to be restarted.
Deutsche Welle


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