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Mexico debates its no-bail policy for nonviolent suspects

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MEXICO CITY — In Mexico, a long list of nonviolent crimes — such as home burglary and freight and fuel theft — bring automatic pretrial detention, with no bail or house arrest allowed.

Mexico’s Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on that “no-bail” policy, with some justices arguing it violates international treaties that say pretrial detention should be used only in “exceptional” cases to prevent suspects from fleeing justice.

Suspects accused of murder and other violent crimes seldom get released on bail anywhere in the world. But in Mexico, the list of charges that allow a suspect to be detained pending trial has grown to 16, among them abuse of authority, corruption and electoral crime.

Yet only about two of every 10 people accused of a crime in Mexico are ever found guilty. That means that of the estimated 92,000 suspects now in cells pending trial, often with hardened criminals, around 75,000 will spend years locked up in Mexico’s crowded, dangerous prisons, unlikely to be convicted.

Trials in Mexico can drag on for a surprisingly long time. Two men were recently released with ankle monitors after spending 17 years in prison while on trial for murder. Strangely, now that they have been convicted, they are both out while pursuing appeals.

One of them, Daniel García Rodríguez, said, “We are also worried that almost 100,000 Mexicans are held in prison pending trial. They and their families are overwhelmingly poor, and pretrial detention has made them even more vulnerable.”

It all adds up to a lot of innocent people spending years in prison. Activists say an increasing number of Mexicans are forced to opt for a form of plea bargain simply because they are likely to spend more time in a cell trying to clear their names than they would if convicted.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has expanded the number of crimes considered ineligible for bail and he has publicly called on the Supreme Court not to release more people pending trial.

His administration argues that would create additional pressures or threats against judges to accept bribes in exchange for releasing suspects, and create a “revolving-door” justice system in which suspects could walk out of jail as soon as they are detained.

“It is a question of preventing them from fleeing justice, or from attacking victims or threatening witnesses, or continuing to commit crimes or direct criminal activities,” an Interior Department statement said in urging the Supreme Court not to change the rules.

Assistant Interior Secretary Ricardo Mejía argued Friday that because judges in Mexico are so corrupt, “We wouldn’t just return to the ‘revolving door,’ rather we would be talking about open doors … when there was a feeling that judges freed some criminals faster that they could be caught.”

Activists say there is also a question of whether Mexico should be locking up people for years just on the say-so of police. The country’s police forces aren’t known for sophisticated investigative techniques and often keep suspects locked up on the thinnest of suspicions while they try to build cases against them.

“What they do is: ‘First I’ll detain you, and then I’ll investigate you,'” said independent Sen. Emilio Álvarez Icaza, a former human rights official.

Luís Alejandro Chávez spent two years in prison awaiting trial for a murder he says he didn’t commit. The evidence against him? He had the same nickname — “El Potro,” or “The Foal” — as a man in a neighboring state.

“Just for having a nickname, they can ruin somebody’s life,” Chávez said in a documentary produced by the activist organization Renace (Reborn), which eventually took up his defense and got him freed.

Chávez, like most suspects held pending trial, didn’t have money to pay a private lawyer, so he had to rely on one of Mexico’s underpaid, overworked public defenders, who often must handle 300 cases at one time. Chávez said that after his initial hearing, he almost never saw the lawyer again.

Mexico does not have cash or property bail like the United States. Instead, for those it does release before trial, there are more than a dozen mechanisms aimed at ensuring they show up in court, ranging from electronic monitoring devices to confiscation of passports to periodic check-ins.

Chrístel Rosales, of the government watchdog group Mexico Evalua — Mexico Evaluates — said those measures have been shown to be about 90% effective in ensuring people appear for trial, without the pain, cost and disruption of holding someone in prison.

Pretrial detention weighs heavily on women, Rosales said. About seven of every 10 women in Mexican prisons are being held pending trial, a figure that rises to nine of every 10 in some states.

Nor are drug cartel hitmen — the biggest culprits of Mexico’s violence — the main focus of pretrial detention, Rosales said. About 30% of those jailed pending trial are charged with home robberies, about 20% for domestic violence and 10% for low-level drug sales or possession.

Sen. Álvarez Icaza calls mandatory pretrial detention “punitive populism,” designed to divert attention from the government’s failure to stop violent crime.

López Obrador has been unable to reduce Mexico’s sky-high homicide rate, but counters that holding more people in prison is a sign of success.

Álvarez Icaza calls it “an act of desperation, meant to answer the public’s legitimate concern with public safety. They think they’re solving the problem, but they’re making it worse … because when these people get out of prison, they are going to be worse off.”

The president says he will respect the Supreme Court’s ruling whatever it is, but he has publicly pressured the court in a way no previous administration has before.

Mexico’s prison population has risen by about 30% since López Obrador expanded the number of “no-bail” offenses in 2019. Being put into Mexican prisons, which are overcrowded, underfunded and controlled by gangs, can be hell for those on pretrial detention, who often enter with no prison smarts or gang connections.

“Everything costs money” for the prisoners due to bribes and extorsion, Álvarez Icaza said. “Visits cost money, food costs money…. Sometimes you even have to pay protection money in order not to get killed. For every visit, you have to pay the guard.”

That has led an increasing number of suspects to opt for some form of plea bargain, known in Mexico as a “shortened trial,” in which they plead guilty. Rosales said research shows as many as 85% of cases that do yield convictions now are the result of such plea bargains.

“In the real world,” Rosales said, “when detention means you are immediately imprisoned, people are going to look for a solution, a way out,” even if that means pleading guilty to a crime they didn’t commit.


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Eight Mbale hospital staff held in State House raid

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The State House Health Monitoring Unit (HMU) in liaison with Police in Mbale City have arrested eight staff of Mbale Regional Referral Hospital over corruption and mismanagement of patients.

The arrest of the officials followed a two-week investigation by the Monitor and NTV Uganda, subsidiaries of Nation Media Group, into impropriety at the region’s largest public health facility.

The investigation unearthed a cartel involving some doctors, nurses, clinicians, and administrative support staff at the blood bank, guards, and other attendants that work together with private clinics near the hospital.

 The Mbale City Police Commander, Mr Samuel Abbedi Aliria, said those arrested will soon be taken to court.

“Most of the arrested are hospital staff for corruption and mismanagement of patients. They are currently detained at Mbale city Central police station,” he said.

The Monitor has learnt that about 20 people were amputated at the hospital after being mismanaged by either quacks or junior medical workers.

Mr Abbedi said as a result of beefing up security in the hospital, police managed to arrest a hawker, who has been stealing mobile phones from caretakers and patients at the facility for long.

A source familiar with the investigations told this newspaper that they are digging into procurement, financial and human resource management systems of the hospital that have led to smuggling patients from the facility to private clinics.

Dr Ayella Ataro, the assistant director of the State House Health Monitoring Unit, said they are following up the public outcry about the poor service delivery in the hospital.

 “Patients have fallen prey to these extortion and bribery syndicates, the effect on some of them is profoundly long-lasting,” Dr Ataro said.

 A 20-year-old boy, who requested not to be named,  said he was admitted to the hospital last December following a motorcycle accident that left him with a compound fracture.

After a few days at the hospital where he was barely attended to, he says he was sneaked out of the facility by unknown people to a private clinic in Nkoma Ward, Northern Division.

 At the clinic, the boy immediately underwent an x-ray and an operation that included clamping his bones, which cost Shs1.5m. Three months after the operation, the bone clamps snapped and his injuries degenerated.

 Scans conducted later showed the first operation was poorly conducted. For a new corrective operation, he required Shs4.5m which he doesn’t have.

The Mbale Resident City Commissioner, Mr Ahamada Washaki, said the intervention by  State House has changed the situation in the hospital.

Dr Warren Namara, the Executive Director of the State House Health Monitoring Unit, said they will leave no stone unturned.

“We are investigating a number of things and we have discovered a lot,” Dr Namara said.

Eight Mbale hospital staff

The State House Health Monitoring Unit (HMU) in liaison with Police in Mbale City have arrested eight staff of Mbale Regional Referral Hospital over corruption and mismanagement of patients.

The arrest of the officials followed a two-week investigation by Daily Monitor and NTV Uganda, subsidiaries of Nation Media Group, into impropriety at the region’s largest public health facility.

The investigation unearthed a cartel involving some doctors, nurses, clinicians, and administrative support staff at the blood bank, guards, and other attendants that work together with private clinics near the hospital.

 The Mbale City Police Commander, Mr Samuel Abbedi Aliria, said those arrested will soon be taken to court.

“Most of the arrested  are hospital staff for corruption and mismanagement of patients. They are currently detained at Mbale city Central police station,” he said.

Daily Monitor has learnt that about 20 people were amputated at the hospital after being mismanaged by either quacks or junior medical workers.

Mr Abbedi said as a result of beefing up security in the hospital, police managed to arrest a hawker, who has been stealing mobile phones from caretakers and patients at the facility for long.

A source familiar with the investigations told this newspaper that they are digging into procurement, financial and human resource management systems of the hospital that have led to smuggling patients from the facility to private clinics.

Dr Ayella Ataro, the assistant director of the State House Health Monitoring Unit, said they are following up the public outcry about the poor service delivery in the hospital.

 “Patients have fallen prey to these extortion and bribery syndicates, the effect on some of them is profoundly long-lasting,” Dr Ataro said.

 A 20-year-old boy, who requested not to be named,  said he was admitted to the hospital last December following a motorcycle accident that left him with a compound fracture.

After a few days at the hospital where he was barely attended to, he says he was sneaked out of the facility by unknown people to a private clinic in Nkoma Ward, Northern Division.

 At the clinic, the boy immediately underwent an x-ray and an operation that included clamping his bones, which cost Shs1.5m. Three months after the operation, the bone clamps snapped and his injuries degenerated.

 Scans conducted later showed the first operation was poorly conducted. For a new corrective operation, he required Shs4.5m which he doesn’t have.

The Mbale Resident City Commissioner, Mr Ahamada Washaki, said the intervention by  State House has changed the situation in the hospital.

Dr Warren Namara, the Executive Director of the State House Health Monitoring Unit, said they will leave no stone unturned.

“We are investigating a number of things and we have discovered a lot,” Dr Namara said.


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For Iranian protesters, a digital double-edged sword

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Iran’s anti-government protests, which were sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody, have gone viral, and then some.

The internet is an essential tool for these demonstrators. For more than a week, millions have shared wrenching videos and vivid online images of confrontations between protesters and Iranian authorities.

They’ve topped news broadcasts and ricocheted across the globe.

The hard-line government in Tehran has deployed digital trackers and waged an all-out media war against protesters and their supporters — a strategy it used in 2019 to quash protests in just three days. Back then, authorities took control of the internet and unleashed a violent crackdown that resulted in thousands of arrests and as many as 1,500 deaths.

This time is different. The protests are well into their second week and show little sign of waning.

They began Sept. 16 after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who allegedly had violated the country’s conservative dress code, and quickly tapped into wider discontent with government corruption and declining living standards. Officials say 41 people have been killed, including demonstrators and police, and 1,200 arrested, while rights groups claim much higher figures.

A key reason protesters have been able to keep the demonstrations going and maintain the world’s attention: They were ready to do battle in cyberspace.

“In 2019, everybody was shocked authorities could impose a massive internet shutdown, but this time many predicted it would happen,” said Mahbod, a 27-year-old student at Tehran’s Sharif University. Like others interviewed, he gave only his first name for fear of reprisals.

Hackers and tech experts worldwide have weighed in to help cyber-savvy activists organize, fight back and dominate in the digital domain — a key battleground that Iran’s leadership, more than ever, appears unable to control.

Hours after the protests began, internet monitor Netblocks reported a 33% loss in connectivity in Tehran, which later spread to other cities and provinces across Iran.

But activists quickly outmaneuvered the government, turning to Instagram and WhatsApp — some of the few social media sites still functioning — to call for demonstrations or set up meeting points. They started a hashtag under the Persian version of #Mahsa_Amini that was retweeted by some 30 million people despite the shutdown. It has reached more than 100 million users, making it the most retweeted hashtag in Twitter’s history, Iranian opposition outlets say.

Then on Wednesday, the government restricted access to most social media, curtailing it sharply between 4 p.m. and approximately 1 a.m., when most protests take place. Apple and Google Play stores are blocked to prevent people from installing Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps they could use to circumvent surveillance.

Still, Mahbod’s more tech-inclined friends at university share information on which software and settings to use; it’s not uncommon for people to have four or five different programs to switch between depending on the day and area.

“The VPNs we use are much more complex than they were a few years ago,” said Mehdi, a 39-year-old self-described computer geek from Tehran. “Cheap ones you need to switch every three or four days, but the more expensive ones with subscriptions work well.”

Help has also come from outside Iran’s borders. The tech collective Anonymous has hacked government websites, including that of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On Sunday, it doxxed members of parliament, releasing lawmakers’ phone numbers and other data.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department on Friday eased sanctions by authorizing technology companies to offer “secure, outside platforms and services” to Iranian users.

“As courageous Iranians take to the streets to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, the United States is redoubling its support for the free flow of information to the Iranian people,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.

“With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to surveil and censor them,” the statement added.

Hours later, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk said that the Starlink satellite system, which relies on a low-Earth-orbit satellite network to offer broadband internet, was now activated in Iran.

Tehran soon blocked access to the Starlink website, and dummy activation links containing malware were planted in the Iranian Twittersphere in an apparent attempt to lure anti-government protesters.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani on Saturday said that by loosening communication-related sanctions but keeping up others, “America is seeking to advance its own goals against Iran with hypocrisy.”

He added that “attempts at violating the Iranian sovereignty will not go unanswered.”

Iranian tech experts working abroad have also joined the fray. Kooshiar Azimian, who heads the U.S.-based biotech company 310.ai and is a former Facebook engineer, regularly gives updates on his Instagram page on the latest method for accessing internet service in Iran.

Another U.S.-based Iranian computer scientist, Moshfegh Hamedani, has posted information on Twitter on how to bypass website filtering, and excoriated programmers working with the government.

A growing chorus of government officials are threatening punishment for those who take part in the unrest.

Iran’s hard-line judicial chief, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, said in a visit to police headquarters this week that protesters, whom he described as rioters, were “the foot soldiers of the enemies of the Islamic Republic.” Echoing previous harsh statements by President Ebrahim Raisi, he declared that those who defy authorities would be shown “no leniency.”

Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment tweeted that the government wanted to restrict internet access “so it can repress people in the dark.”

The best way the United States and other Western allies can help Iranians, he wrote, is to keep the Iranian government from blocking access to the internet. Protesters’ best hope of effecting change, Sadjadpour said, lies in “connecting with one another and the outside world.”

Special correspondent Khazani reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Bulos from Beirut.


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Man jailed for violating sex offender conditions of parole – The Morgan Messenger

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West Virginia State Police troopers have jailed a Berkeley Springs man on charges that he violated the requirements of his sec offender registry here.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Morgan County Magistrate Court, Roy Rankin Jr., 36, of Rankin Lane was arrested on a warrant issued September 22 for failing to register or update information with the West Virginia Sex Offender Registry.

Sgt. J.D See reported that the State Police had been contacted in July by Rankin’s parole officer, who asked that Rankin’s cell phone be examined.

At that time, Rankin was on parole for a Pennsylvania conviction in 2019 for indecent assault and corruption of minors. The sex offender registry specifies that Rankin’s victim was a female under the age of 5, and that Rankin served three months in prison and given five years’ probation.

Sgt. See reported that Rankin’s parole has special conditions, including that he was not to purchase or use any explicit materials or devices, that he was not permitted to use any computer or device with internet access without authorization of his parole officer, and that he must report any internet access or accounts to the parole officer.

Upon examining the SIM card in Rankin’s cell phone, the West Virginia State Police found the device contained instant messages, social media accounts, web bookmarks and web internet history, plus data files from more than 100,000 images, 5,158 videos and texts, plus an email address.

Police reportedly found no pornographic images or evidence of child pornography but did find photos of young girls and videos of young girls dancing.

Rankin’s sex offender registry information had not been updated to reflect his new cell phone number or his email address.

Rankin was jailed at the Eastern Regional Jail in lieu of a $20,000 cash or surety bond.




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