InjusticeCategory Archives

US State Alcohol Laws

Although many don’t bother, there is no legal restriction on British women against enjoying a drink of wine occasionally during pregnancy.  However in the United States, this is certainly not as clear cut.  More than forty US states have laws and regulations around mothers to be drinking.  These range from criminal prosecution to mandatory rehab course for pregnant women caught drinking alcohol.

Now obviously exposing an unborn child to high levels of alcohol is harmful, it is proven that it can cause all sorts of health problems including disabilities.  However is it the role of the state to legislate what women can do when pregnant?  An interesting study recently highlighted a fact that states which strict laws against pregnancy and drinking also had very restrictive abortion laws too.

Of course the reality is that most women don;t drink when pregnant, so are these laws actually effective or indeed even required?   There has been virtually no studies on whether legislation actually affects drinking behaviour in pregnant women.   This is surprising considering the amount of studies and research which has been conducted on other alcohol related areas.

In some states the legislations are stricter than others, for example in 20 states pregnant women caught drinking can be liable for child abuse and in some actually face incarceration.    The stance definitely divides many people, even if the objective is shared.  Of course, most agree that drinking in pregnancy should be discouraged but the role of the state is more controversial.

Many organisations consider that drinking while pregnant should be a criminal offence and that this is essential in order to protect the rights of the unborn child.    Other sectors are concerned that these laws are merely a way for pro-life or religious groups to further control women’s choices and prevent options for them.  This seems to have some truth in it considering the legislation often passes onto abortion rights too.

There is no doubt that in the US alcohol disorders are a huge problems just like in many developed countries.   There are many innovative treatments that offer a solution including like this method based on a drug called Selincro and The Sinclair Method – referenced here – http://cipec.org/science/selincro-an-alcohol-wonder-drug – however these can be expensive and not always accessible to poorer members of society.

Many worry that legislation like this will act in the same way as criminal charges around drugs abuse – which are mainly ineffective.  It is very possible that threatening pregnant women who have alcohol issues with criminal charges will be detrimental to their and their baby’s health.  It is almost certain to deter women from seeking help or treatment if they have issues with alcohol during pregnancy.

Jason Williams

http://cipec.org/

Is the Right to Beg – a Fundamental Right

It’s an interesting question which will probably receive vastly different answers depending on where you happen to be. Now in New Zealand three defendants have gone to court to argue that the right to beg is a fundamental freedom of expression. The three men involved are from Napier City – Turei Cooper, Major Keelan and Myles Hemopo, have pleaded not guilty to charges of breaching a council bylaw that prohibits them in soliciting for cash without consent.

A major human rights attorney believes that the guys have a fantastic case, as any council bylaw that prohibited begging was illegitimate.

Apart from councils throughout the country are keeping a close watch on the Napier instance to learn what effect it may have in their very own pleading bylaws.

Cooper and Keelan will have their case heard in a judge-alone trial in August. Hemopo is going to be assessed on precisely the exact same day.  There will be local media covering the trials but it’s likely because of the nature of the case, there may be some international coverage.  Some people are even hoping that the BBC will be present although it’s blocked abroad from outside UK.
In a memorandum to the Napier District Court, Cooper and Keelan’s attorney, Alan Cressey said that the guys will attempt to challenge the authenticity of Napier’s bylaw “insofar as it pertains to pleading”.

“It’ll be filed, as it currently has in foreign jurisdictions, that to deny someone the right to ask others for help is the most fundamental violation of freedom of expression possible,” he explained.

“Moreover … pleading is a form of political expression that is located at the center of freedom of expression since it draws attention to the defendants’ predicament, thereby raising social and political awareness amongst the general public.”

The 3 guys’s alleged offending occurred on different dates in May. Keelan faces charges of soliciting for cash and breaching city bylaws, Hemopo of breaching a bylaw, and Cooper of soliciting for cash and disorderly behavior.

The council bylaw in question says which soliciting any subscription, either collection or gift or project any busking at a public place may only be accomplished with prior consent of the council or an authorised individual.

When asked ​what standards the Napier City Council considers before deciding to grant approval, regulatory options supervisor Hayleigh Brereton said it’s scope to issue licenses for busking, raffles, info stalls and street appeals, supplied a charitable objective was clearly exhibited.

Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis explained that when the beggars could demonstrate the bylaw was void under the Bill of Rights, the council wouldn’t have the ability to use it in order to lay charges.

“The whole point of freedom of speech that can be at the Bill of Rights Act, is that individuals ought to have the ability to talk no matter what people in authority believe of this message”

Auckland and Hamilton have bylaws that outlaw annoyance behavior – like intimidatory pleading – while Christchurch scrapped a pleading bylaw after deciding it would be too hard to enforce.

Wellington City Council voted this past year against a pleading ban. Nevertheless, it’s now reviewing its public spaces bylaw and pleading will be among several things tested.

Human rights attorney Michael Bott reported no council could build a bylaw which has been inconsistent with Bill of Rights.

“By outlawing pleading the [Napier City] council has essentially behaved unlawfully.”
Councils can legislate against beggars forcibly or aggressively approaching individuals for cash on footpaths, Bott said. However banning the weak from seeking assistance from others more fortunate is always overkill.

Further Information on BBC VPNs – available here.

China Still Last in Internet Freedom

It will probably come as little surprise to anyone who follows the stories of internet censorship and filtering that once again China has been listed as the least free place to use the internet.    The report was release by an organisation called Freedom House who produce this survey annually and monitor changes to the tables.  There is also a worrying global trend with overall online freedom declining across the world for the sixth year in a row.

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The survey uses a simple assessment which rates the level of freedom online from a 1 (completely free) to a 100 which is the worse possible score.  China again scored an oppressive 88, the same as last year and again higher than any other country in the survey.  These include countries like Syria, Iraq and Cuba who are known to heavily restrict and filter access to the internet.  China  is cementing it’s position as the most oppressive state with regards internet freedom.

There are some digital activists in China, those who are able to protest and who use VPNs like these to speak online.  However they are increasingly coming under pressure from  increasingly draconian legislation and restrictions.  For example one amendment to criminal law has added a 7 year prison term for those deemed to be spreading rumours – these are usually interpreted as anything which criticizes the state.  Other example include members of religious minorities who have been imprisoned for watching religious videos on their mobile phones.

Many thousands of websites are inaccessible from China and the list grows every day.  Any publication which criticizes any aspect of China or it’s policies is likely to be added to the banned list.  recently the Economist and the South China Morning Post (which operates from Hong Kong) were blocked for their political articles.   Most Chinese will routinely use a VPN to access something for an independent media source, it’s common to see BBC World News streaming on laptops and mobile phones although users will tend to obviously try and be discrete for obvious reasons.

Oddly China hosts a World Internet conference, which is full of irony in both practice and it’s speakers.  Last year the President Xi Jinping delivered a speech calling for ‘cyber sovereignty’ where no country holds a monopoly on internet governance and that Chinese internet users are allowed freedom online.  Of course, nobody pointed out that it was his Government who were wholly responsible for their lack of freedom.   There were some concessions though, foreign journalists were allowed access through the Great Chinese Firewall, local journalists though were blocked as normal.

 

The End of NGOs in Egypt?

It’s not been widely reported but there’s a chilling new law being drafted in the Egyptian parliament which would essentially block the existence of any civil groups unless they were controlled by the government.  Human rights organisations are universally condemning the rules which would essentially ban any non-governmental group from operating within Egypt.

Egypt

The draft was approved by the State Council on the 28th November and now is awaiting approval from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi which will sign it into the law books.  There is little doubt that the Egyptian state is trying to rush the law into force in order to bypass the public scrutiny of legislation which would simply ban all civil society groups from operating effectively.

Many are hoping al-Sisi will not sign through the legislation, for example it is in conflict with Egypt’s constitution and international law – this though seems unlikely.   The United Nations are concerned that the civil society which often perform essential work in African countries like Egypt will be merely transformed into an ineffectual Government puppet.

It is similar to previous drafts which have been heavily criticised by the international community however many experts suggest that this revision is actually even more far reaching.  For example it raises the maximum prison term for violating this law to five years, which considering many of the legislation’s vague provisions would make it extremely dangerous to be involved in any sort of civil group or charity.

For example individuals could potentially be imprisoned for up to five years if they conducted a public survey or anything which constituted field research without government approval.  Further conditions are equally vague relating to any work of ‘political nature’.  These terms as usual are not defined  by the legislation which means they will be interpreted by the authorities in any way that is convenient to their needs.

The law will put over 45000 local people and over 100 foreign groups working in Egypt at huge risk according to some estimates.   There are already many human rights groups being investigated on various ridiculous allegations of foreign funding, the latest laws would make running any sort of human rights groups in Egypt almost impossible and a huge risk to those involved.

It is already extremely difficult and dangerous to operate any of these groups as there are a myriad of laws that the Egyptian state can ‘utilise’ to target organisations it disapproves of.  There are also extensive internet surveillance and content filters in use to block access and monitor internet connections.  It is possible to bypass these using VPNs and technical fixes like using a US DNS server instead of an Egyptian one but there is still a risk.

Since al-Sisi led the military coup which overthrew the country’s first democratically elected president many thousands have been prosecuted for any opposition to the state whether peaceful or not.   This includes any one who have demonstrated in any minor way including such things like joking or criticizing on social media or online.  There are a myriad of activities protected under the Egyptian constitution which can easily be adapted by the authorities to prosecute and imprison anyone deemed to be a threat.    If the bill does pass then the future of civil and humanitarian groups in Egypt seems to be threatened.

John Williams

The Anonymous Torrent

Turkish Press Crackdown Escalates

The TV and press coverage were shocking, Turkish police force through steel gates with bolt-cutters, frightened demonstrators cower under a barrage of tear gas and water cannons. A wounded women staggers away from the crowd helped by  onlooking journalists.  However this wasn’t the breaking of a siege or closing down some extensive criminal enterprise, but merely the Turkish Government closing down a newspaper which had dared to voice it’s opposition.

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This is now how Turkey deals with dissent, free speech is a term subject to the approval of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government.

Turkey has long been treading down this path, it has fallen steadily down the league table of Press Freedom and now sits among the likes of Russia and Iraq where dissent is simply not allowed among  the press.  The newspaper is called Zaman and is the most popular daily newspaper in Turkey.

It is the latest in a long line of journalist casualties – hundreds are currently under prosecution, many independent broadcasters have been take off air or prosecuted on spurious charges.  The common ‘excuse’ is in the ‘national interest’ or to fight terrorism however the reality is that if you disagree with the government then you’d better not say it aloud.

Turkey is supposedly a democracy but it’s actions are beginning to mirror something quite different.  At the moment Turkish authorities are pursuing an aim of quicker integration into the European Union whilst simultaneously ignoring the building blocks of any democratic system.    This is not restricted to the persecution of dissenting journalists, there is a lack of freedom in other areas too.

The internet has long been seen as a problem for the Turkish government and it has actively been trying to control access from within the country.  It is considered  almost essential to use a fast VPN to gain access to many legitimate news sites via a Turkish controlled ISP.  This allows internet users to bypass IP blocks on specific sites which have been blacklisted by the Turkish Government , the list was established some years ago but has been growing exponentially over the last few years as dissent in the country grows.  If Turkey is admitted to the European Union in exchange for it’s help in the immigration crisis it would ironically be the first member where you need to buy VPN services in order to allow unfettered access to the internet, just like you needed to do in Syria and Afghanistan.

Height Discrimination in China

It’s not something you come across in most developed countries, although many professions have some common sense height restrictions.  However in China, discrimination due to height is quite open and expected.  Take the situation of two security guards in Dalian in North East China, one man was two inches taller than the other and hence received more money.   The reasoning was that the taller guard made people feel more secure due to his height, basically if you’re over 180 cms tall (about 5 ‘9″) you’ll get a premium tall rate.

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Now you could argue that increase height in a physical job like a security guard is acceptable, however it doesn’t stop there in China.  Height requirements are routinely specified in all sorts of careers – want to study tourism and hotel management in Huaqiao University?  Well you’ll need to be over 170cms tall for a man and 158cms for a women.  A company in Beijing is advertising for cleaners, who must be female over 162 cms tall.  Even if the job doesn’t specifiy this, many people (particularly tall ones!) will put their height on their CV, something that wouldn’t happen in most Western countries.

It’s difficult to see some of these adverts and job advertisements even the ones online due to the heavy restrictions in Chinese internet access.  You can get reasonable access if you find a reputable security or VPN provider which will at least bypass the content filtering – try this for information.

There have been several studies and most have found that height has a large effect on salary expectations particularly for women.  One study found that each centimetres above average will add about 2% to the women’s salary – the difference rises esepcially on higher salary scales.   Currently there is no legislation at all preventing this sort of discrimination although several Universities are working on some draft legislation to prevent discrimination based on physical characteristics like height.

One of the big problems here is  that this sort of discrimination is increasing divisions in what is already a society with many social and economic divisions.  The overall height of Chinese is rising greatly in tandem with the increase in economic prosperity.  This however is much marked in richer areas, where increased living standards and better nutrition mean people are generally taller.   Thus the richer groups are benefiting more and already large inequalities are growing larger.

Further Information:

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Gay Equality Takes a Huge Step Forward

The day was the 29th March, and the event may have passed you by – but for all gay couples it was an important date.  For many it represents a landmark in the country that for many epitomizes a fair, equal and tolerant society – the United Kingdom.  It’s important because it now pretty much represents legal equality with heterosexual couples, which when you think about it makes perfect sense.  For gay people living in fear in countries like Russia, Uganda and many strict Muslim countries, such a situation seems almost surreal.

It’s a great day and one that does our country great credit.  Of course many gay activists will rightly argue that although the gay community now have legal equality, there is still a great deal of social inequality and prejudice around.  I think though it’s something that will be achieved slowly and gradually, not with aggression and protests.

Let’s face it the British people are pretty tolerant and accepting, well mostly.  They tend to appreciate what is fair and what is right in their own time.  There are obviously some very anti-gay opinions out there, but mostly these belong to older generations and such are slowly drifting form the public mainstream.  They will continue to have an negative impact of course, but the effects will slowly diminish.

As it stands today, I think the social stigma has reduced drastically – many  teenagers are quite happy to admit their sexuality, although it is of course still incredibly difficult for many.  The way for continued change in my opinion is through education of our young people.  There is little to be gained from rallying against ingrained bigotry in the older generation, the battle should be fought in the classrooms and when necessary in the law courts – strategically of course.

But that’s enough for this piece, it’s been a great week for Gay rights in the UK.  But there is still an awful lot of inequality for other members of society and of course throughout the world.  I spoke to a young man who was trying to run an internet based business the other day, who was facing huge obstacles.  The reason was he was based in Nigeria, a country famed for it’s internet scams and fraudsters.  His problem was that living in this country he was tarred with the same brush and blocked and restricted at every digital turn.

It doesn’t sound like the same thing but this inequality has huge effects on millions of people online, discrimination creeping into the digital world.  There are technical solutions to his issue of course where people can use proxies based in different countries like Russia or the USA if required.  Digital inequality exists all over the world and it also has a huge impact on peoples lives – it might sound trivial that Viooz is blocked in my country, but that may have impacted the income of many families.   But still it shows that equality is not restricted to any single cause or sector of society.   It exists everywhere, and we are better placed to fight it as a whole rather than on specific issues.

The Injustice of Poverty and Health

If there is one thing that affects all people of all colors, creeds and religions without discrimination, it’s the state of people’s physical health. While there are some differences with regard to the level of affluence present in a person’s environment, there can be no excuses for suffering poor health through personal neglect.

Physical health is something that everyone is born with and it is their responsibility and theirs alone to ensure that it is kept in the best possible state they can manage. While there may be nothing a person can do about their home surroundings and whether poverty is a predominant factor, they can do something about their choices.

Good or Poor Choices

Some people are lucky enough to be born into a well to do family who live in a prosperous part of town and they want for nothing. Others are not so lucky and are born into a poor family and grow up in a poor part of town. But when a person reaches an age when they can make certain life choices for themselves, they get to choose whether to stay in the part of town they are, or to move on to something better.

There are plenty of poor people who remain in poverty for no other reason than they don’t choose to drag themselves out of it. There are also plenty of people who have all the apparent benefits of prosperity around them, yet they squander their good fortune and become addicted to drink or drugs.

Everyone Loves a Winner

Yet there are also plenty of people who refuse to be a slave to their circumstances. While friends and family may choose to remain in their poverty stricken locale, some choose to leave and search for more prosperous climes. Others seek to rise above their lowly station and aspire to greatness.

One such person who grew from humble beginnings to become truly great was Abraham Lincoln. He was a poor boy from a very poor family, yet there was something about him that made him break free from the life sucking beast of poverty that overshadowed his childhood to become the leader of a nation. His presidency saw him live through the dark time of civil war yet his strength and determination despite his many handicaps saw him bring about the end of slavery in America.

Much can be learned from people who make something of themselves despite apparent obstacles placed in their paths by circumstances. People can suffer ill health through their lack of understanding as much as through bad judgement and failure to make the most of opportunities when they arise. Or they can take a shot for health and enjoy good health by making good choices, grabbing at opportunity with both hands and doing whatever it takes. It just takes the will to want for better and to make the right choices to elevate from a lowly place to a higher one.