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THE INDEX – June 11, 2010

The Italian Senate has passed a controversial bill limiting police wiretaps but also imposing sanctions on newspapers that publish information obtained from these wiretaps.

The measure, which awaits passage by the lower house of Parliament, will require investigators to provide “grave evidence of a crime” to a panel of three judges before a phone tap is authorized. In addition, wiretaps will last no longer than 72 days, down from the present limit of 18 months. Currently, prosecutors and magistrates have broad authority to authorize taps on telephone lines, making them more common in Italy than any other European nation.

Since leaks of wiretapped conversations are common, the law also imposes fines up to €450,000 ($540,000) on papers that publish information obtained from phone taps. Journalists who write articles containing this information will face up to 30 days in prison and €10,000 ($12,000) fines.

Critics of the bill claim wiretaps have been instrumental in cracking down on organized crime, especially in Sicily. But the measure’s proponents say that mafia-related and terrorism investigations will be exempt from the bill’s restrictions. Others have argued that the bill curbs freedom of the press. Prior to Thursday’s vote, Senate opposition leader Anna Finocchiaro stalked out of the chamber, saying, “Today will be the start of the massacre of freedom.” But Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who supports the bill, claims that it is aimed only at protecting Italian citizens’ privacy. On Wednesday, Berlusconi attached a confidence vote to the bill to ensure its passage and quell internal dissension within his People of Freedom Party.

Opposition leaders have suggested that Berlusconi’s own interests played a role in his support of the law. His cabinet has often been investigated using wiretaps, and Industry Minister Claudio Scajola was forced to resign last month after information obtained from wiretaps was published in the Roman newspaper La Reppublica. But Berlusconi claims that Scajola’s resignation reflects the problem with Italian phone taps: Giving the press too much discretion to publish confidential information can harm officials’ reputations before anything has been proven in court.

Protestors are expected to take to the streets to voice their opposition to the bill. In the Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples, demonstrators planned to wear gags and wave ripped newspapers in protest of what they call the nation’s “gag law."                                                                                                          —Peter Bozzo

The European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS), a group comprised of 50 European aid agencies, has published a report accusing an international oil consortium of playing—in the words of ECOS coordinator Egbert Wesselink—“a crucial role in the atrocities” of the Sudanese civil war.

The report charges that Sweden’s Lundin Oil, Malaysia’s Petronas Caragali Overseas, Austria’s OMV Exploration, and Sudan’s Sudapet encouraged the Sudanese government to secure land in politically unstable areas of Southern Sudan to allow drilling there. In response, Khartoum sent government and government-affiliated armed forces into the area, which resulted in the death of 12,000 and displacement of 200,000 southern Sudanese. By continually supporting Khartoum’s actions, the report alleges, the oil companies “were complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by others during the period 1997-2003.”

The report is especially critical of Lundin Oil (now known as Lundin Petroleum), causing a stir in Sweden, a country that prides itself on its concern for human rights. Ian H. Lundin, the company’s chairman, has condemned the report as containing “conclusions, innuendo and false allegations based on partisan and misleading information.” However, at present, it appears likely that the Swedish international prosecutor’s office will investigate ECOS’s claims.                                                                                                  —Caroline Soussloff

Nine Somalis have been killed and another 40 are believed missing after a boat reported to be carrying 82 illegal immigrants sunk off the coast of Mozambique.

AIM News Agency in Mozambique reported that 33 passengers were brought to shore by Mozambique authorities. The Canadian Press reported that as the boat sank, the crew ordered passengers to jump and attempt to swim to shore.
"A lot of effort is put into at least recovering the bodies of missing persons," police spokesman Pedro Cossa said.

It is believed that the passengers, all Somalis, were seeking to flee the conflict and danger they face in their country. Mozambique has become a popular transit point for refugees attempting to make their way toward South Africa. Mozambique authorities have arrested 618 Somali refugees this past week.

According to the UN, the violence in Somalia displaced 270,000 people in May. The International Organization for Migration reported in February that due to adverse circumstances, Somalis and Ethiopians have made ever riskier attempts to flee their nations.                                                 —Seth Walder

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