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Bangladesh's High Court on Sunday confirmed the death penalty for two people tied to a banned Islamist militant group for the killing of an atheist blogger critical of radical Islam.

The court also upheld jail sentences for six others after appeals were filed challenging the verdicts handed down by a trial court in 2015.

Sunday's decision involves the killing of Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was hacked to death in 2013. Haider had campaigned for banning the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which opposed Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan in 1971.

One of the defendants was Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani, the leader of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, and the rest were university students inspired by his sermons.

During the trial, the students said that Rahmani incited them to kill Haider in sermons in which he said all atheist bloggers should be killed to protect Islam.

The two North South University students who received the death sentences included Faisal bin Nayeem, who the court said hacked Haider with meat cleavers in front of his house in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital. Another was tried in absentia. The others received prison sentences ranging from three years to life. Rahmani was sentenced to five years.



Arkansas prison officials asked the state's highest court Friday to stay a judge's order that they must disclose more information about one of the drugs they plan to use in the executions of eight men over a 10-day period in April.

The attorney general's office asked the state Supreme Court to issue a stay of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's order requiring Arkansas to release copies of the package insert and labels for its supply of potassium chloride, one of the three drugs used in its lethal injection protocol.

The state said it had released the documents, but had redacted information on the labels that it says could lead to identification of the drug's supplier. Steven Shults, the attorney who sued the state for the information, declined to comment on the case Friday.

Shults' attorneys asked the court to deny the state's motion, saying there was no evidence that the information withheld would identify the drug's supplier.

The filing said releasing all of the information would give Shults "an unreviewable victory that will completely undermine and obviate the confidentiality provisions" of the state's lethal injection law.

Arkansas hasn't executed an inmate since 2005 because of legal challenges and difficulty obtaining drugs. The state's 2015 lethal injection law keeps secret the source of the state's execution drugs.

The prison officials, who plan to execute eight inmates in a 10-day period next month before another one of the state's lethal drugs expires April 30, had refused to release packing slips that detail how the drugs are to be used. The Associated Press has previously used the labels to identify drugmakers whose products would be used in executions against their will. The AP renewed its request after the state acquired its potassium chloride in March, but was also rejected.


Democrats tighten opposition of high court pick

•  Recent Cases     updated  2017/04/01 10:19


Senate Democratic opposition to President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee swelled Friday as Democrats neared the numbers needed for a filibuster, setting up a showdown with Republicans who have the votes to confirm Neil Gorsuch.

Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Brian Schatz of Hawaii became the latest Democratic senators to announce their opposition to Gorsuch, a 49-year-old federal appeals court judge in Denver whose conservative rulings make him an intellectual heir to the justice he would replace, the late Antonin Scalia.

McCaskill’s decision came a day after she said she was torn over the decision. She said she’s opposing the federal appeals court judge because his opinions favor corporations over workers and he’s shown “a stunning lack of humanity” in some of those decisions.

She also criticized Trump in her statement announcing her opposition, saying “the president who promised working people he would lift them up has nominated a judge who can’t even see them.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York warned Republicans against changing Senate rules, which could prove momentous for the chamber and would allow all future Supreme Court nominees to get on the court regardless of opposition from the minority party. He says President Donald Trump should just pick a new nominee if Gorsuch is blocked.



Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled it can take over the powers of congress in what opponents of socialist President Nicolas Maduro as well as foreign governments denounced as the latest step toward installing a dictatorship in this South American nation.

In a decision late Wednesday, the magistrates said that as long as lawmakers remain in contempt of past court rulings nullifying all legislation coming out of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, the high court can step in and assume congressional duties itself.

Peru's government immediately recalled its ambassador in protest while condemnations poured in from governments across Latin America. The head of the Organization of American States called for an emergency meeting to deal with what he called a "self-inflicted coup d'etat" by Maduro against the congress. Some hard-line Venezuelan opposition members went on social media to appeal for the military to intervene, and a few protests broke out in the capital.

The U.S. State Department reiterated its call for immediate elections to resolve Venezuela's political crisis, saying the decision to "usurp" the National Assembly's powers represented a "serious setback for democracy in Venezuela."

"This rupture of democratic and constitutional norms greatly damages Venezuela's democratic institutions and denies the Venezuelan people the right to shape their country's future through their elected representatives," the U.S. statement said.

While past decisions by the government-stacked Supreme Court had stripped power from congress, Wednesday's move allows Maduro to rule by fiat, said Julio Borges, the assembly's president. He joined opposition leaders in calling for a new round of demonstrations beginning with a march Saturday, although recent attempts to apply street pressure on the government have failed to attract a large following.

High Court Struggles Over Hospital Pension Dispute

•  Legal Events     updated  2017/03/30 11:05


The Supreme Court seemed to struggle on Monday over whether some of the nation's largest hospitals should be allowed to sidestep federal laws protecting pension benefits for workers.

Justices considered the cases of three church-affiliated nonprofit hospital systems being sued for underfunding pension plans covering about 100,000 employees. But the outcome ultimately could affect the retirement benefits of roughly a million employees around the country.

The hospitals — Advocate Health Care Network, Dignity Health and Saint Peter's Healthcare System — say their pensions are "church plans" exempt from the law and have been treated as such for decades by the government agencies in charge. They want to overturn three lower court rulings against them.

Workers suing the health systems argue that Congress never meant to exempt them and say the hospitals are shirking legal safeguards that could jeopardize retirement benefits.

"I'm torn," Justices Sonia Sotomayor said at one point during the hour-long argument. "This could be read either way in my mind."

Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Internal Revenue Service issued hundreds of letters over more than 30 years approving the hospitals' actions. That shows they were "proceeding in good faith with the assurance of the IRS that what they were doing was lawful," he said.

The case could affect dozens of similar lawsuits over pension plans filed across the country.

Much of the argument focused on how to read a federal law that generally requires pension plans to be fully funded and insured. Congress amended that law in 1980 to carve out a narrow exemption for churches and other religious organizations.



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