A Saudi Arabian court on April 21 sentenced three people to death for their roles in attacks on expatriate resident compounds in Riyadh in May 2003, bringing the total death sentences to eight. Another 77 people have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to 35 years by the court, which was created to handle terrorism cases. The 2003 attacks, in which blasts at three residential compounds in Riyadh left 35 people dead, were part of a three-year campaign by al-Qaeda aimed at destabilizing Saudi Arabia. The identities of the 85 defendants have not been disclosed, though the Sabq news website has reported that five men sentenced to death a day earlier had been found guilty of assembling the car bombs used to attack the compounds. They have 30 days to appeal their sentences, all of which were handed down for charges of taking part or abetting in the attacks.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on April 21 alleged that armed rebels engaged in ethnically targeted killings during a raid on the northern city of Bentiu last week, resulting in more than 200 civilian deaths and 400 injuries. Rebels loyal to deposed vice president Riek Marchar reportedly sought to capture Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, in order to seize the city's significant oil fields and installations. The UN reported that the massacres took place at a mosque, a hospital and an abandoned UN compound.
A new anti-terrorism bill presented in the Brazilian National Congress on April 19—two months ahead of the 2014 World Cup—has raised concern among human rights groups who allege the law threatens free speech and peaceful assembly. Brazilian lawmakers argue the legislation is required to fill a missing piece in the Brazilian legal system as the country's international exposure grows. The anti-terrorism bill would impose a 15-30 year prison sentence for "causing or inciting widespread terror by threatening or trying to threaten the life, the physical integrity or the health or liberty of a person." The broad language of the bill is a major point of concern for human rights groups, but the drafters of the law stated they will amend the language to clear up ambiguities. Two human rights groups are leading the challenge against the bill: Brazil's Institute of Human Rights Defenders and Amnesty International. The rights groups believe any change in language will not alter the new police power embedded in the law, and the measure may criminalize freedom of expression.
Notable human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair was taken into custody in Saudi Arabia April 15 after a hearing at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. Abu al-Khair, founder and chief of the Saudi Arabia Monitor of Human Rights, faces charges that include inciting public opinion. Amnesty International (AI) condemned Abu al-Khair's imprisonment demanding his immediate release. In their press release AI criticized Saudi authorities stating that "Waleed Abu al-Khair's detention is a worrying example of how Saudi Arabian authorities are abusing the justice system to silence peaceful dissent. Nobody should be jailed for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression." According to AI, Abu al-Khair faces charges including breaking allegiance to and disobeying the ruler, disrespecting the authorities, offending the judiciary, inciting international organizations against the Kingdom and founding an unlicensed organization. In October Abu al-Khair was sentenced to three months in prison on similar accusations related to "ridiculing or offending" the Saudi Arabian judiciary.
The new commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD) William Bratton announced April 16 the disbanding of a surveillance unit used to spy on Muslim communities. The Demographics Unit, established in 2003, utilized plainclothes detectives to map communities both inside and outside New York City, tracking the movements and conversations of Muslim individuals. According to the New York Times, the unit, composed of around 12 detectives, was created to look for "hot spots" of radicalization that could theoretically provide early warning of possible terrorist activities. Surveillance focused on 28 "ancestries of interest." At a pretrial examination (PDF) before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Commanding Officer of the Intelligence Division Thomas Galati admitted that the program had never generated a lead. The tactics of the unit had drawn significant criticism and generated two federal lawsuits.
The Iraqi Justice Ministry on April 15 temporarily closed Abu Ghraib prison due to security concerns. Reports indicate that Iraqi authorities are concerned about the growing power of a Sunni-backed insurgency within the Anbar province, in close proximity to the prison grounds. A government official reportedly announced wednesday, however, that the prison's closure was temporary until security issues can be resolved. In the meantime, the government has transferred approximately 2,400 inmates to other high security prisons throughout the nation.
An Egyptian court on April 14 ruled that the militant organization Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (BBC backgrounder) be officially considered a terrorist group. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which means "Warriors of Jerusalem," has claimed responsibility for the majority of attacks on Egyptian military and police that have occurred since former President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July. The US Department of State on April 9 also designated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as a terrorist organization. Egypt's military said that this designation will not change its strategy toward fighting the group, but it will make punishments more harsh for members of the group who are captured.
Amnesty International (AI) expressed concern April 11 over the new Egyptian anti-terror law set to be approved by interim president Adly Mansour. The law, which was passed in response to an attack on Cairo University, is aimed at deterring the recent escalation of terrorist violence in Egypt during its transition following the ouster of president Mohammed Morsi. Included in the amendments to the law are provisions increasing the penalties for those acts deemed as "terrorist acts" as well as provisions broadening the scope of the law itself. The main problem with such changes, AI contends, is that they allow the government to levy terrorism charges on a broad range of offenses and could be used as a tool to root out dissent. The laws also make no mention of respecting human rights of the accused. AI called upon Mansour to reject the draft laws which were passed earlier this month.