Archive for July 6th, 2009

Inspired by Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi’s brave promise last week to represent in court the family of Neda Agha-Soltan, murdered by Iranian militia during last weekend’s demonstrations in a rally in Tehran, the peace group CODEPINK has created a letter addressed to Ebadi for women worldwide to sign, a pledge of solidarity to the courageous women of Iran who have led the revolutionary demonstrations there for the past two weeks despite increasing threat of government retaliation.

Agha-Soltan, Ebadi, a 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner and contributor to CODEPINK’s 2005 book, “Stop The Next War Now,” and Effat Hashemi, the wife of former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who was among the first to call for public protests, represent the incredible strength of Iranian women and their hunger for justice. Demanding reform, regime change, more social freedoms and a fair election, women have sometimes outnumbered men at the demonstrations, and they’ve also fought back police and militia.

“Shirin and all Iranian women taking to the streets inspire us all with their courage and strength in the face of a kind of suppression that many of us will never know,” said Jodie Evans, co-founder of CODEPINK. “This letter to Shirin proves that we stand in solidarity with them and support their work for human rights and a more democratic Iran.”

CODEPINK, founded in 2003, has dedicated much of its work to stop U.S. sanctions on Iran and improve relations between the two countries. Since 2005, it has led a “Peace with Iran” campaign, which included a delegation of women to Iran to establish face-to-face ties between Americans and Iranians as well as a “Mayors for Peace” initiative, an effort to have mayors nationwide sign a resolution to oppose military intervention in Iran. This past September in New York City, CODEPINK women joined other American peace activists in a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to promote open dialogue, and in November, Evans and retired Col. Ann Wright led a citizen’s diplomacy trip to Iran and met with Iranian parliamentarians and women’s groups.

Iranian women have been longtime leaders in political efforts and have struggled to regain their legal rights for years, explained former first minister of women’s affairs Mahnaz Afkhami in the Nation on June 24. Iran’s mass protests around its recent election have given Iranian women a new platform.

“This battle between women and the government just keeps going on,” Afkhami said. “Right now it shows itself vividly.”

A Message to Our Sisters in Iran

Over the past several weeks, hundreds of thousands of Iranians – led by large numbers of women – have filled the streets in protest of the recent presidential election there. The Iranian government forbid the protests and responded with force. Despite the violence, protesters have continued to take to the streets. On June 20th, a young woman known as Neda – which means “voice” or “calling” in Persian – was shot in the head and died in the street. As video of her horrific death spread across the internet, Neda became the voice of the movement as people cried, “We are All Neda.”

As appalled by the use of force and violence toward people protestors, we are also in awe of the strength and courage of those Iranian women who continue to stand up for freedom, equality, and justice. For decades, Iranian women have been at the forefront of the movement for greater rights.

Today we stand in solidarity with our sisters in Iran who have been speaking out by signing this message to human rights advocate and lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who has agreed to represent Neda’s family. You can also leave a personal message of solidarity that we will pass onto our sisters organizations in Iran.

We are ever inspired by Shirin Ebadi’s words, featured in our 2005 book Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence & Terrorism:

“If one country sincerely wants to support democracy in another country that is under dictatorial rule, the only thing to do is to support the freedom fighters who stand for the democratic institutions of that country. Done this way, the sapling of democracy will bear the flower of freedom.”

Don’t forget to leave a personal message via the link below for CODEPINK to pass onto our sister organizations in Iran.

See also: Iranian Nobel Laureate Urges European Union to Condemn Post-Election Violence


In keeping with increasing instances of sexual misconduct by men in uniform and in positions of authority, the National Commission for Women (NCW) is pushing for a radical overhaul of laws on crimes against women, including the anti-rape law, to make punishment more stringent.

The NCW is seeking higher punishment for policemen, public servants and employers, for not just rape but sexual offences that stop short of forced penile penetration. The maximum punishment for non-rape offences, it proposes, should be increased from five years to 10 years in jail.

It has suggested a broader definition of sexual assault to include “introduction” instead of “penetration” as the defining crime and to include anal and oral sex on an unwilling woman or minor. Towards this end, the Commission has proposed a slew of changes in the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Evidence Act.

Said NCW chairperson Girija Vjas: “The need for a new law on sexual assault was felt as the present law does not define and reflect various kinds of sexual assault that women are subjected to in our country.” She said the Supreme Court had, in the Sakshi vs Union of India case, recognized the inadequacies in the law relating to rape and suggested that the legislature bring about the necessary changes.

NCW has also suggested changes in the process of reporting, medical examination and the role of police officials. While several of the amendments are already in practice following Supreme Court rulings, the Commission strongly pitched for bringing about changes in the law to dispel any ambiguity.

In its 172nd report, the Law Commission had examined the laws relating to rape and sexual assault and suggested their complete overhaul. In keeping with that, the NCW has sought amendments to sections 375, 376, 354 and 509 of IPC. While NCW has accepted almost all amendments suggested by the Law Commission, it has differed on one: the NCW has asked for deletion of section 376A that invites a two-year prison term and fine if a husband has sexual intercourse with his wife without her consent while the two are living apart.

The NCW has also come down heavily on sexual offences committed under judicial custody. It has proposed that if a police official commits sexual assault within the limits or on the premises of the police station where he is appointed or commits assault on a woman or child under 16 years of age, he should be liable for a minimum punishment of 10 years in jail and a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

The staff or management of a hospital, remand home or a women’s or children’s institution committing such an act should be liable to punishment from five years to 10 years in jail and a fine, NCW has said.

The commission has suggested the introduction of a new section — 376D — that would make any man who touches, directly or indirectly, any part of a woman’s body with sexual purpose, liable to three years’ imprisonment. In order to discourage incest, NCW has said that if the offender is related to the woman, the prison term should be increased to seven years. Unlawful sexual contact in the case of a minor would invite a five-year term and if the minor is in a relationship of dependency to the offender, the punishment could be increased to seven years.

The number of rape cases reported has been increasing steadily. NCW received 57 complaints in January 2009 which increased to 61 in June this year. “These are cases that have come to us. There are many other women who do not have the courage to complain,” Vyas said.

Accordingly, the commission has redrafted a scheme to rehabilitate victims and give them compensation. The NCW has also suggested repeal of the Section 377 of IPC (dealing with homosexuality) and addition of a new section that is in line with the Delhi High Court’s ruling. The commission on Saturday reiterated its stand that it would hold wide-ranging consultations on the issue of homosexuality.

See also: The National Commission for Women (NCW) on Saturday rooted for a rehabilitation scheme for rape victims which would help them get back their life on track.

A court ruled Thursday to decriminalize homosexuality in the Indian capital, a groundbreaking decision that could bring more freedom to gays in this deeply conservative country.

The Delhi High Court ruled that treating consensual gay sex as a crime is a violation of fundamental rights protected by India’s constitution. The ruling, the first of its kind in India, applies only in New Delhi.

“I’m so excited, and I haven’t been able to process the news yet,” Anjali Gopalan, the executive director of the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, a sexual health organization that had filed the petition, told reporters. “We’ve finally entered the 21st century.”

But some religious leaders quickly criticized the ruling. “This Western culture cannot be permitted in our country,” said Maulana Khalid Rashid Farangi Mahali, a leading Muslim cleric in the northern city of Lucknow.

The court’s verdict came more than eight years after the New Delhi-based foundation filed its petition — not unusually long in India’s notoriously clogged court system. The verdict can be challenged in India’s Supreme Court.

Sex between people of the same gender has been illegal in India since a British colonial era law that classified it as “against the order of nature.” According to the law, gay sex is punishable by 10 years in prison. While actual criminal prosecutions are few, the law frequently has been used to harass people.

The law itself can only be amended by India’s Parliament and gay rights activists have long campaigned for it to be changed. The government has remained vague about its position on the law, and Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily said he would examine the high court’s order before commenting.

The court’s verdict, however, should protect New Delhi’s gay community from criminal charges and police harassment.

“This legal remnant of British colonialism has been used to deprive people of their basic rights for too long,” Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “This long-awaited decision testifies to the reach of democracy and rights in India.”

While the ruling is not binding on courts in India’s other states, Tripti Tandon, a lawyer for the Naz Foundation, said she hoped the ruling would have a “persuasive” affect.

“This is just the first step in a longer battle,” Gopalan said.

Rights activists say the law, also popularly known as 377, or section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, sanctions discrimination and marginalizes the gay community. Health experts say the law discourages safe sex and has been a hurdle in fighting HIV and AIDS. Roughly 2.5 million Indians have HIV.

Homosexuality is slowly gaining acceptance in some parts of India, especially in its big cities. Many bars have gay nights, and some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues.

Still, being gay remains deeply taboo, and a large number of homosexuals hide their sexual orientation from their friends and families.

Religious leaders in the capital and in other parts of India argued that gay sex should remain illegal and that open homosexuality is out of step with India’s deeply held traditions.

“We are totally against such a practice as it is not our tradition or culture,” said Puroshattam Narain Singh, an official of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council.

In New Delhi, Rev. Babu Joseph, a spokesman of the Roman Catholic Church, told New Delhi Television that while homosexuals should not be treated as criminals, “at the same time we cannot afford to endorse homosexual behavior as normal and socially acceptable.”

You can download the text of the judgement High Court of Delhi on 2 July 2009 which finds the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code ” insofar as it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution” as a pdf file.

Homosexuality: Chronology of eight year-long legal proceedings

Following is the chronology of the eight year-long legal proceedings which ended on Thursday with the Delhi High Court legalising gay sex among consenting adults.

* 2001: An NGO fighting for gay rights, Naz Foundation files PIL seeking legalisation of gay sex among consenting adults.

* Sept 2, 2004 : Delhi High Court dismisses the PIL seeking decriminalisation of gay sex.

* Sept, 2004: The gay right activists file review petition.

* Nov 3, 2004: The HC dismisses the review plea. * Dec, 2004: Gay rights activists approach the apex court against the order of the High Court.

* Apr 3, 2006: The apex court directs the HC to reconsider the matter on merit and remands the case back to High Court.

* Oct 4, 2006: The HC allows senior BJP leader B P Singhal’s plea, opposing decriminalising gay sex, to be impleaded in the case.

* Sept 18, 2008: Centre seeks more time to take stand on the issue after the contradictory stand between the Home and Health ministries over decriminalisation of homosexuality. The Court refuses the plea and final argument in the case begins.

* Sep 25, 2008: The gay rights activists contend that the government cannot infringe upon their fundamental right to equality by decriminalising homosexual acts on the ground of morality.

* Sep 26, 2008: The Court pulls up the Centre for speaking in two voices on the homosexuality law in view of contradictory affidavits filed by Health and Home ministries.

* Sep 26, 2008: Centre says that gay sex is immmoral and a reflection of a perverse mind and its decriminalisation would lead to moral degradation of society.

* Oct 15, 2008: The High Court pulls up the Centre for relying on religious texts to justify ban on gay sex and asks it to come up with scientific reports to justify it.

* Nov, 2008: Government in its written submission before the High Court says judiciary should refrain from interfering in the issue as it is basically for Parliament to decide.

* Nov 7, 2008: High Court reserves its verdict on petitions filed by gay rights activists seeking decriminalisation of homosexual acts.

* July 2, 2009: High Court allows plea of gay rights activists and legalises gay sex among consenting adults.

See also: Queer Parade Defies Anachronistic Indian Law

Bhakti Shah is challenging her dismissal from the Nepal Army for “immoral activities”

Two years ago, 23-year-old Bhakti Shah, a cadet in the Nepal Army, was dismissed because she was seen to spend most of her free time with a fellow female cadet.

“They sacked me and my friend just because they thought we were having an affair but there was nothing like that. More than me, the girl’s life is ruined as she was not a lesbian,” says Shah.

On Jul. 16, 2007, a court of enquiry instituted by the army ordered that she be dismissed from the training academy for “immoral activities”.

According to Nepal Army regulations, action can be taken against those found involved in moral turpitude.

From the remote Achham district, in the far west of Nepal, Shah was a national volleyball player, who grew up quite content to dress in unisex clothes and “hang out” with male friends. “I always felt I was more male than female, and I loved to hang out with male friends,” she told IPS in an interview.

Track Record

U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal has voiced concern over the government’s failure to implement the December 2007 Supreme Court order on equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) people.

“However, save for a few exceptional cases, the decision has not been implemented. Thus, OHCHR encourages the government to take the steps necessary … so that all third gender people can live with dignity,” spokesman of OHCHR-Nepal Martin Logan told IPS.

An advocacy group, Blue Diamond Society (BDS), estimates there are some two million homosexuals and third genders in Nepal. Roughly 35,000 are registered as third gender in its offices in 35 districts across the country.

“The proper documentation of third genders in the census will determine how many there are, and to make plans to ensure their rights,” says BDS founder president, Sunil Babu Pant. “This way those belonging to the third gender will feel part of society.”

Ruling party CPN-UML advocate-turned-lawmaker Sapana Pradhan Malla feels that since the third gender is more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, it is essential that the government know just how many they are. “This way government programmes to prevent HIV/AIDS will be effective,” she says.
She joined the Nepal Army as a cadet on Jun. 15, 2003. Physically fit, she soon proved her mettle, and was promoted as a trainer for new female recruits. That brought her close to other female cadets. “But I did not have any kind of physical relationship with them,” she hastens to clarify.

Before too long, however, prejudiced male peers began spreading wild rumours about her sexual orientation. “My male colleagues used demeaning language against me,” she says. “I always challenged them to prove it (their unfounded allegations).” Still very hurt, she admits the abusive comments “did affect me psychologically.”

On May 18, 2007, Shah was taken into custody, and kept in an army prison for 60 days. Two months later she was dismissed for “immoral activities” from the training academy.

But Shah has not admitted defeat. She has challenged the army’s decision in the Supreme Court, Nepal’s apex court, and asked to be reinstated in her job. Her case, which has the backing of the Blue Diamond Society, a non-governmental organisation of rights activists and lawmakers, is due to come up for hearing on Sep. 13, 2009.

“The army later (after the inquiry) claimed that I was dismissed because of being close to female fellow cadets. If that is the case, then why should I be the only victim, and they should prove that I was involved in such ‘immoral’ activities,” says Shah.

She also intends to claim her right to change her citizenship status to ‘third gender’.

In December 2007, the Supreme Court ordered the government to annul all discriminatory laws against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) and recognise them as third gender. The court also said that they be allowed to claim all state facilities like male and female citizens.

Nepal is the only country in South Asia to recognise the rights of LGBTI. In practice, however, discrimination is widely prevalent. Only one person, Bishnu Adhikary, has been awarded a citizenship certificate that recognises her third gender status.

Sep. 17, 2008 is a date that 19-year-old Adhikary, will never forget. The youth received a new citizenship certificate signed by a section officer from Kaski District Administration Office.

Armed with a Supreme Court order recognising her right to be conferred third gender status, she persuaded her brother, and also the village development committee officer and the section officer at Kaski to reissue her citizenship certificate.

Born as a girl, Adhikary knew about her sexual orientation from a local non-governmental organisation (NGO). “I felt that since I want to have my own identity I should claim my citizenship under the new legal provisions,” Adhikary told IPS. “By denying our right to identity we are deprived of basic rights and should be duly respected and provided our rights.”

Nepal’s national Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) is contemplating including ‘third gender’ in the 2011 census. This Himalayan nation has a population of 23 million.

“We have been receiving demands to include ‘third gender’ in the next census and the discussions are underway at both national and regional levels,” says Dr Rudra Suwal, director of the population section in CBS.

But it is easier said than done. Census-taking is a huge operation and very expensive. According to Suwal, one added question alone costs 500,000 rupees (6,500 dollars).

In addition, can the enumerators who are high school graduates, “understand the concept of third gender and ask the question in a sensitive manner,” Suwal wonders.

CBS is also pondering the option of a survey to count the number of LGBTI in Nepal. Either way, this far is a mammoth achievement for tiny Nepal, which has taken a most progressive step in recognising the sexual rights of citizens. (END/2009)

See also:
* Nepal gives formal recognition to third gender (September 2008)
* Third gender may find a place in Nepal’s next census (June 2009)

Growing up in her native Viet Nam, Phan Thi Phuong Loan never gave a second’s thought to the rights her citizenship conferred. Not, that is, until she married abroad, lost her citizenship, came back home and entered the twilight world of the stateless.

Loan, 40, is one of thousands of Vietnamese women who became stateless in the last 15 years when they married foreign men – usually from Taiwan, South Korea or China – almost always for economic reasons. In most cases they were compelled to give up their Vietnamese citizenship, but if the marriages collapsed, they ended up back in the country of their birth without any legal status.

On Wednesday, Viet Nam was set to enact a law that will keep women like Loan from falling into this trap in the future. In addition, Vietnamese authorities have been working hard over the last few years to help the stateless economic brides get their citizenship back.

Taiwan required such brides to renounce their Vietnamese citizenship to be naturalized there, but often the marriages failed before they could acquire the new nationality. The new law does not allow a Vietnamese person to renounce citizenship until the person has acquired another nationality, and also permits dual citizenship.

“I know about the new law,” Loan says, sitting in her aunt’s home over a sewing-machine shop. “I have been reading about it very carefully in the newspapers. It will be very helpful to a lot of women still in Taiwan. Many women there have a much worse life than I did.”

Loan felt the pressure of being an “old maid” when she still hadn’t found a husband at the age of 27, so she married an older Taiwanese man who promised her a ticket out of poverty.

The marriage foundered on economic woes, linguistic confusion, in-law problems and cramped living quarters. The final blow came when Loan gave birth to two daughters, not the sons her husband desperately wanted. As she tells it, he brought her back to Viet Nam to give birth the second time and then deserted her, leaving her stateless and adrift.

Between 1995 and 2007, some 144,000 Vietnamese women married foreigners, according to Vietnamese government statistics. An official survey in 2005 showed that about 10 percent of the women married in Taiwan got divorced within three years, almost all of them ending up stateless.

When Loan came back, she says she was offered several good jobs, including one as a nurse, but they all fell through because she no longer had Vietnamese citizenship. Her older daughter could not attend a free state school.

It took Loan more than two years of running from office to office to get citizenship for all three of them. It also cost her about US$1,000 to pay all the fees – a hefty sum for someone who only makes US$10 a day as a cleaning lady.

But it was well worth it, she says in the crowded bedroom-cum-living room she shares with her daughters, now aged nine and six. “Now we are like other Vietnamese,” she says. “We don’t have any worries about our legal status. My children can go to state schools and we can buy social insurance and health insurance, which was not the case before. Now I can own a motorcycle.”

Vu Anh Son, UNHCR’s chief of mission in Viet Nam, worked closely with the government to make sure the UN refugee agency’s concerns for resolving and preventing statelessness were reflected in the new nationality law. “I’m glad that Vietnamese women who marry abroad will never have to become stateless again,” he says.

“Statelessness is incredibly traumatic and stateless people are at greater risk of exploitation and human rights abuse, so prevention is the best possible response,” says Mark Manly, head of UNHCR’s statelessness unit in Geneva.

“It’s very clear the Vietnamese government has taken a look at unforeseen consequences of its nationality legislation and has taken action to address these gaps,” Manly added. “This demonstrates leadership in Asia.”

Even so, Loan feels that at 40 it may be too late to get her life back on track in a country she says prizes youth. “I wish there had been a law like this when I got married,” she says tearfully. “Then I could have returned to Vietnam without any worries. I could have returned to my company and could be earning a much better income for myself and my children. Now it’s difficult for me to get a job in a company because companies require younger workers with better education. Now I will just devote the rest of my life to my two children.”

The legal drama in Hubei province after a young pedicurist stabbed two government officials, killing one, has generated an unprecedented groundswell of sympathy for the arrested woman among netizens and Chinese youth. Deng Yujiao, 21, was arrested after she stabbed the two men with a fruit knife on May 10 in a hotel in Badong, central Hubei province. The two officials had demanded “special services” – a euphemism for sex – and reportedly threw a wad of money at the young woman. Now Deng is the centre of an unprecedented campaign of internet activism demanding leniancy for her and targeting this as a typical example of the arrogance of power-crazed local officials, but also an exposure of the lack of protection of women’s rights in China.

Internet comment on web forums and blogs is usually negative towards corrupt officialdom, but has broken all records in this case. Coinciding as it does with the anniversary – invisible inside China – of the Tiananmen anti-autocracy and anti-corruption protests of 20 years ago, this case is causing a serious headache for the ruling ‘communist’ party. On Wednesday 27 May, Deng Yujiao was released on bail, reflecting official nervousness. Her lawyers say they have proof that Deng acted in self defence in the face of an attempted rape, and accuse the police of trying to conceal evidence, including her torn bra.

According to police, Deng got in a quarrel with one official, Huang Dezhi, when he “mistook” her for a bathhouse attendant and asked her for “cross gender” services. A second official visiting the hotel, Deng Guida, intervened and in the course of the ensuing argument pushed Deng onto a couch twice. Deng Guida, who died of his stab wounds, worked for an office overseeing investment projects in Badong. According to the Southern Metropolis Daily, prostitution was common at the hotel. When Deng Yujiao told the men she was not selling sex, Deng Guida responded: “Aren’t you all the same? You are a prostitute but you still want to have a good reputation.” Hitting her repeatedly with a wad of banknotes, he said: “Don’t you want money? Would you believe if I am going to beat you to death with money today?”

As well as official corruption, the case has highlighted the issue of men’s violence against women and led to an upsurge in women’s rights activism. Comments on an internet forum run by the People’s Daily newspaper, for example, call the stabbing a “heroic act” and a milestone for women’s liberation. May 10, the date of the attack, “will forever be remembered as the day on which a [girl] bravely defended herself and fought against the corrupt official when her life was threatened,” said one contributor.

Women’s rights activists, mostly students, have staged small but well-publicised demonstrations in support of Deng Yujiao in Beijing, but have also travelled to Badong to show their support. In one such protest action, a young woman wrapped in white cloth and wearing a face mask, lay on the floor next to sheets of paper that read “Anyone may become Deng Yujiao.” Alarmed at this trend, the regime’s propaganda department instructed media groups to stop covering the case, and for provincial newspapers – some with a tradition of greater openness – to recall their correspondents from Hubei.

The Deng Yujiao case underlines the seething discontent that exists in China as the gap between rich and poor, the second widest in Asia, continues to grow. Women are among those, along with migrants, factory workers, farmers and national minorities, who have lost most from the government’s pro-rich policies. Rural women face the reassertion of feudal family structures and, for example, in many localities are not allowed to lease farmland, only men can do this. Women make up the vast majority of the migrant workforce in the manufacturing and service sectors (the exception is construction and mining which are male-dominated), which places them at the bottom of China’s social ladder: the worst pay and working hours, and almost no job protection. The one-child policy also disadvantages women as the punitive measures imposed to enforce this policy are almost always directed against women, with involuntary abortion and sterilisation among the consequences. Women are the clear majority among the nearly 2 million attempted suicides every year in China. There is a crying need for a new fighting women’s movement in China, independent of the state and ruling Communist Party.

The case shows the widespread hatred of the abuses committed by the rich and powerful. Students in Hangzhou took the streets in early May after the son of a wealthy businessman killed a student due to reckless driving, but escaped immediate prosecution. Xinhua News Agency reported that the driver’s family have since agreed to pay 1.1 million yuan ($165,000) to the victim’s family. But it also shows the political vacuum that exists in China in the absence of any formal or organised opposition to the one-party state. One of the themes in the net debate of recent days is an idealisation of the individual ‘heroine’ who avenges the injustices suffered by the multimillion-strong masses. This is a trend we have seen before, in the outpouring of sympathy last year for Yang Jia, for example, the Beijing youth who was executed for killing six policemen in Shanghai. There is more than a germ of the idea of what Marxists call ‘individual terrorism’ in these moods, which are a product of the frustration of the masses over their seeming powerlessness in the face of the ruling party’s money-grabbing machine. The longer the masses are deprived of organisations of struggle – real trade unions, women’s struggle organisations, political parties that stand on the workers’ side – the more such moods can develop. This is not something that can advance the struggle against dictatorship and injustice.

Socialists solidarise with the outpouring of sympathy and support for Deng Yujiao. From the reports that have so far emerged it seems she was the victim of a horrific attack. Self defence is not a crime, and her actions have been instantly comprehensible to millions of other victims of official abuse. To end the system of bureaucratic terror however a mass movement is needed: open and democratic organisations based on the oppressed layers of workers like Deng Yujiao. By welding together a mass force with a programme to abolish all inequality, sexism and discrimination, in other words a programme for genuine socialism, the working class can insure such injustices are ended once and for all.

Online pedophiles are becoming more aggressive in their pursuit of children, often using suggestive photographs or inappropriate online conversations to blackmail their victims into face-to-face meetings.

The head of the Virtual Global Taskforce into online child abuse, Jim Gamble, said police were witnessing an explosion in child pornography, driven by the ready availability of digital media devices.

As a result, child abuse images were increasingly graphic as pedophiles sought to outdo each other by producing ever more serious images of abuse.

Mr Gamble said a pedophile’s credibility within a network increased if he or she could produce fresher, more graphic child images. “Of the images we are recovering, certainly they’re becoming more graphic,” he said. “They’re becoming more contemporary. What we did have for a long time were a lot of historic images that circulated the internet. But as people have become more competent with new digital material, we’re getting newer images.”

Mr Gamble is chief executive of the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and chair of the virtual taskforce, a global coalition of police agencies charged with cracking down on online child abuse material.

The Australian Federal Police, which Mr Gamble said was at “the cutting edge” of law enforcement’s crackdown on online child abuse, is a member of the taskforce.

He said that under the leadership of outgoing chief Mick Keelty, the AFP had done an “outstanding” job cracking down on online child abuse.

When asked about the most alarming new trend, Mr Gamble cited the increasingly aggressive modus operandi of online pedophiles. He said offenders were increasingly quick to blackmail victims into meetings.

He said pedophiles often entrapped their victims by posing as teenagers in online chat rooms and encouraging them to send lewd pictures of themselves, or to engage in sexually themed conversations.

Once a picture or a record of a conversation existed, victims were easily blackmailed, with pedophiles trawling through chat-room conversation logs in order to identify the most vulnerable children.

Mr Gamble said offenders would threaten to post sensitive material to a victim’s school or tell their parents.

“So suddenly you’re into a blackmail scenario whereby the child is forced to comply, or (they) believe they’re forced to comply,” Mr Gamble said.

“So it’s very, very difficult. Once you create those pictures, once you engage in that recorded conversation, the pedophile will become much more hostile.”

Mr Gamble said there was no “stereotypical pedophile”, nor were there stereotypical victims.

He said the widespread view that most victims were confined to poor parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe, was wrong.

Rather, he said, most appeared to be white, westernised children.

To give some idea of the scale of the problem, Mr Gamble said his centre had 860,000 unique images of child abuse.

“They’re not the Southeast Asian children that we know are victimised by travelling sex offenders. That’s not the greatest majority; it’s not even a significant minority. They are generally white, westernised children.”

He said police were also seeing more video online, much of which is dissected and disseminated as still images.,25197,25710535-601,00.html

Employees of abortion clinics in the Netherlands held a minute of silence on July 1 to raise awareness about violence against women seeking abortions and against the doctors and clinics conducting them.

‘This is a silent protest against those who are violent against women who want to undergo an abortion and their physicians,’ Thea Schipper, director of the Bea Huis en Bloemenkliniek which performs abortions, told the German Press Agency dpa on Tuesday.

The Dutch minute of silence is part of a series of protests being planned by other abortion clinics in France, Belgium, Spain, among others.

The staff of Belgian abortion clinics are due to dress in black, while French abortion clinics will hold a strike soon.

The international initiative was launched to protest the murder of US abortion physician George Tiller who was killed on May 31.

‘Violence and aggression against aid workers is an increasing problem,’ Schipper said.

‘In the Netherlands, we fortunately do not see the kind of violence like in the US against abortion clinics and physicians. However, general aggression against aid workers is a growing problem here too,’ she added.

Abortion clinics have existed in the Netherlands since 1971, but it was not until 1981 that it was legalized.

The number of abortions performed in the Netherlands each year remains relatively stable with 33,000 procedures, according to the 2007 Dutch health inspection year report.

Nearly 14 per cent of all abortions in this country are performed on foreign women who cannot undergo the procedure in their home countries.

Rights groups in Slovakia have attacked new abortion legislation they say not only breaches women’s rights to privacy and regulations on medical confidentiality but could force some women into undergoing risky, illegal abortions.

Under the legislation, approved last week, women who want abortions will only be able to undergo the procedure two days after they have been given official advice on the ‘risks and alternatives’ by their doctor. Information about them, including an identity number given to every Slovak at birth, will also be sent to a state health information institute.

The age at which adolescents have to gain their parents’ informed consent for an abortion has also been raised from 16 to 18.

But the legislation continues to allow abortion on request up until 12 weeks of pregnancy and until 24 weeks if the foetus has a genetic defect or the woman’s life or health is in danger.

Christina Zampas, senior legal advisor for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, told IPS: “This is the first time that an EU member state has managed to create significant barriers to women accessing abortion.

“This runs against a worldwide trend of liberalisation of abortion laws which reflect the fact that creating barriers to abortion does not reduce abortion numbers, it merely endangers women’s health and rights.”

MPs from the ruling coalition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) party and far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) who proposed the laws have dismissed the concerns from women’s rights groups.

Stefan Zelnik of the SNS told Slovak media after the law was passed by parliament: “I am convinced that after (women receive) this qualified counselling the number of terminations will fall, which is what we want – to allow life for everything that has a chance of life.”

The number of abortions in Slovakia in 2007 – the latest year for which figures are available – was 336 per 1,000 live births, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The country’s maternal mortality rate for 2002 – the most recent year in which the figures were available – was 1.97 per 100,000 live births, according to the WHO.

Pro life groups welcomed the legislation, which has yet to be signed into law by the president, saying it would, among other things, help stop sexual abuse as girls would have to inform their parents before they could terminate their pregnancies.

But women’s rights groups have said passages in the law, especially the raising of the age at which parental consent must be given for the procedure, will make many women and young girls scared of being open about their plans for abortion and lead them to opting for risky operations.

Jana Debrecienova from the Citizen and Democracy Foundation in Bratislava told IPS: “This legislation puts obstacles in the path of women having an abortion which could lead them to having either dangerous underground abortions or going ahead with risky pregnancies.

“The law says that women must be given counselling on the risks of abortion as well as ‘alternatives’ such as anonymous birth and adoption. But that counselling will be biased and will include non-medical advice. Part of it will see doctors giving women contacts to NGOs dealing with abortion issues, and these must by law include religious groups. This breaks constitutional law on the separation of state and religion.

Zampas from the Centre for Reproductive Rights told IPS: “The passage in the law on adolescents and informed consent is very troubling. It raises questions of the legal rights of adolescents and women to medical confidentiality.”

Debrecienova added: “The law creates a number of barriers to women’s right to freely decide on abortion and limit women’s access to this health care service. It conflicts with the Slovak Constitution, international agreements Slovakia has signed, and the recommendations of the WHO.”

The controversial law comes as women’s rights groups warn that a combination of a societal shift to the right on the back of worsening economic conditions and the historical strong influence of the Catholic Church in some of the former eastern bloc states has seen a rise in strength and support for pro-life organisations in the region.

“Part of the reason behind this move is the strength of the Catholic Church in Slovakia. In other countries in Eastern Europe where the Catholic Church is strong, pro-life groups have been gaining strength as well,” Zampas told IPS.

Under communism women’s access to abortion in many eastern bloc countries was relatively free. Some of the current abortion legislation in states in the region dates back to the communist regimes.

In staunchly Catholic neighbouring Poland the abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the world. The procedure is only allowed in the event of rape, incest or if the mother’s health is at risk.

“Politicians do almost nothing to deal with long-term problems faced by women like public and private discrimination or violence against them. So it is absurd that they are forcing something on us which is supposed to be good for us despite the fact that we do not think it is,” Debrecienova told IPS.