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European Union; Lithuania: Euro Zone Membership on January 1, 2015

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(Dec 18, 2014) Lithuania, after a long and arduous process, has been found by the European Commission and the European Central Bank to meet the required criteria and will join the euro zone on January 1, 2015; as of that date it will also adopt the euro as its currency. With the addition of Lithuania, there will be 19 euro zone members. (January 1, 2015 Is €-Day for Lithuania, Delegation of the European Union to the United States website (last visited on Dec. 17, 2014).)

All 28 European Union Member States are eligible to join the euro zone, but the United Kingdom and Denmark have opted out of it. EU Members that aspire to join the euro zone must meet the economic and legal convergence criteria; that is, their national central banks and pertinent monetary policies must be compatible with the EU rules. (Adopting the Euro, European Commission: Economic and Financial Affairs website (last updated July 23, 2014).)

The economic convergence criteria that every candidate EU Member State must meet are:

1. Price stability, with the inflation rate in the applicant EU Member no higher than 1.5 percentage points above the previous year's rate for the three EU countries with the lowest inflation;
2. Budget deficit below 3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP);
3. National debt not exceeding 60% of GDP;
4. Long-term interest rates of not more than two percentage points above the previous year's rate in the three EU countries with the lowest interest rates; and
5. Exchange rate stability, with the national currency exchange rate being within the authorized fluctuation margins for two consecutive years. (Convergence Criteria, European Central Bank website (last visited Dec. 17, 2014).)

The European Commission and the European Central Bank may assess the progress of a candidate EU Member in meeting the criteria to join the euro zone. The next candidate EU Member slated to join the euro zone, on January 1, 2019, is Romania. (Who Can Join and When? (last updated July 28, 2014), European Commission: Economic and Financial Affairs website.)

Author: Theresa Papademetriou More by this author
Topic: Currency More on this topic
 Finance and financial sector More on this topic
Jurisdiction: European Union More about this jurisdiction
 Lithuania More about this jurisdiction

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Cameroon: New Law on Repression of Terrorism Passed

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(Dec 18, 2014) Cameroon's legislature has passed new anti-terrorism legislation that includes the death penalty for citizens who, either as individuals or in a group, carry out, abet, or sponsor terrorism. The legislation will now be considered by President Paul Biya for promulgation into law. (Ngala Killian Chimtom, Cameroon's Anti-Terrorism Law – Reversal of Human Freedoms, INTER PRESS SERVICE (Dec. 5, 2014); Disproportionate Penalties for Media in Cameroon's Anti-Terrorism Law, Reporters Without Borders website (Dec. 18, 2014).)

The law specifies that terrorist crimes are the taking of action likely to cause death; to endanger or damage the physical integrity of another; or to do damage to the nation's natural resources, environment, or cultural heritage, when done with the intent of:

a) intimidating the population, provoking a situation of terror or forcing the victim, the government and/or an organization, national or international[,] to accomplish or abstain from accomplishing any act whatsoever, to adopt or renounce a particular position, or to act according to certain principles;
b) disturbing the normal functioning of the public services, the provision of essential services to the population, or creating a situation of crisis within the population;
c) creating a general uprising in the country. (Cameroon Government Clarifies Position on New Terrorist Repression Law, OPEN SOURCE CENTER (Dec. 9, 2014), Foreign Broadcast Information Service online subscription database, Doc. No. AFL2014120940742115, quoting art. 2. ¶ 1.)

The new law also imposes capital punishment on anyone who, for the same motives as stated above:

a) provides or makes use of arms and war materials;
b) provides or makes use of micro-organisms or any other biological agent, especially viruses, mushroom clouds, or toxins;
c) provides or uses chemical, psychotropic, radioactive, or hypnotizing agents; or
d) takes hostages. (Id. art. 2 ¶ 2.)
If these actions are taken against animals or plants, the perpetrator is subject to a punishment of life in prison. (Id. ¶ 3.)

Criticism of the New Legislation

The new anti-terrorism law has become a topic of concern among some political leaders and civil society groups inside the country and internationally. Joseph Banadzem, a member of the parliament from the opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF), expressed the fear that the government could use the law to suppress dissent and control the media. As now written, the new law would require journalists to submit stories for government approval before publication. The SDF also suggests that the measures could increase public disorder and tension. Banadzem added that while the opposition supports the fight against terrorism, it is concerned that the law would permit the administration to criminalize opponents of the regime. Commenting on the demonstration held by civil society groups in Yaoundé on December 5, he said "[t]he population is very irritated about it and they are calling us every day and they are saying that if the president signs it, it could lead to some public disorder." (Peter Clottey, Cameroon Opposition 'Concerned' over Anti-Terrorism Bill, VOICE OF AMERICA (Dec. 10, 2014).)

Kah Wallah, the leader of the Cameroon People's Party. also criticized the legislation, stating "[t]his [anti-terrorism] law is manifestly against the fundamental liberties and rights of the Cameroonian people … . In the guise of fighting terrorism, the government's real intent is to stifle political dissent." (Chimtom, supra.) She added that "the government is taking us back to the worst days of the most barbaric dictatorship … ." (Id.)

The international freedom of the press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders has also criticized the new legislation, calling on Biya to reject the law because it has "provisions that would have a disastrous impact on freedom of information if implemented in a heavy-handed manner." (Disproportionate Penalties for Media in Cameroon's Anti-Terrorism Law, supra.)

Government Response to Criticisms

Justice Minister Laurent Esso has supported the law, stating that "Cameroon will never be complicit to those whose only agenda is to cause mayhem and destabilise the normal functioning of the state." (Chimtom, supra.) The administration argues that the new measures are necessary due to the fight in the northern part of Cameroon against raids across the border from Boko Haram, a militant group based in the neighboring country of Nigeria. Thousands of Cameroonian troops have been deployed in the border region, at great cost both in human lives and economic resources. (Id.)

The government has further said that many of the criticisms are "false allegations" and compared the legislation to the United States' Patriot Act, adopted after the September 11, 2001 attacks. (Cameroon Government Clarifies Position on New Terrorist Repression Law, supra; Patriot Act, Pub. L. 107-56, 115 Stat. 272 (2001), Government Publishing Office website.) It also argued that the law is needed to meet Cameroon's obligations under the international agreements to which the nation is a party. Specifically, in a statement to the press, the Ministry of Communications suggested that domestic legislation was necessary to meet Cameroon's anti-terrorism obligations as a member of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC). (Cameroon Government Clarifies Position on New Terrorist Repression Law, supra; for information on the Community, see Communauté économique et monétaire de l'Afrique central, CEMAC website (last visited Dec. 17, 2014).)

Author: Constance Johnson More by this author
Topic: Capital punishment More on this topic
 Crime and law enforcement More on this topic
 Human rights More on this topic
 Terrorism More on this topic
 Treaties and International Agreements/Terrorism More on this topic
Jurisdiction: Cameroon More about this jurisdiction

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Egypt: Court of Appeal Dismisses Theft Charges Against Boy for Stealing Bread

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(Dec 17, 2014) On December 10, 2014, the Court of Appeal in Bani Swief, south of Cairo, Egypt, dismissed theft charges against a nine-year-old boy who had been charged with stealing five loaves of bread. The first instance court had found the boy guilty of a crime under article 311 of the Penal Code and had accordingly decided to send him to a juvenile detention center for one year, based on article 101 of Law 12 of 1996. (An Egyptian Court Repeals the Decision of a First Instance Court to Send a Child to a Juvenile Detention Center for One Year for Stealing Bread, AL ARABIYA (Dec. 12, 2014) (in Arabic); Law No. 58 of 1937 (Criminal Code of 1937, revised 1952, as amended by Law No. 95 of 2003 & Law No. 147 of 2006), AL-WAQA'I' AL-RASMIYYA [Official Gazette] (1937); Law 12/1996, 13 AL JARIDDAH AL-RASMIYYA 2 (Mar. 28 1996) (in Arabic), PROTECTION PROJECT.)

The case has raised a lot of discussion among legal scholars and human rights activists. Legal scholars who opposed the court of first instance decision said that the court followed the law by ordering that the child be sent to a juvenile detention center upon finding him guilty of a misdemeanor. However, in their view, the court ignored the motives behind the theft, which were hunger and poverty. The court also could have given the child a lesser sentence, they noted, because it was his first offense. (The Detention of a Child in Egypt for Stealing Bread, AL ARABY AL JADEED (Dec. 10, 2014) (in Arabic).)

Human rights activists have stressed that the case exemplifies the social injustice plaguing Egyptian society. According to news reports, many of those activists have expressed frustration with the justice system. The activists have pointed out that many of the white-collar cases related to corruption and embezzlement by businessmen were dismissed by the courts, while a hungry child is sentenced to a year's imprisonment for stealing bread. (Child Who Needs Bread Is Detained and Businessman Who Steals a Billion Egyptian Pounds Becomes a Cabinet Minister, KLMTY (Dec. 11, 2014) (in Arabic).)

Author: George Sadek More by this author
Topic: Crime and law enforcement More on this topic
 Judiciary More on this topic
 Juvenile crime More on this topic
Jurisdiction: Egypt More about this jurisdiction

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Thailand: Draft Laws to Promote Digital Economy

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(Dec 17, 2014) On December 16, 2014, it was reported that Thailand's Cabinet approved two draft laws on information technology. The laws were put forward by the Information and Communications Technology Ministry. (Thailand: Cabinet Nod for Draft Laws on Digital Economy Committee, Restructuring of ICT Ministry, NATION (Dec. 16, 2014).)

One proposed law is on the establishment of a National Digital Economy Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister and with the deputy Prime Minister in charge of the country's economy serving as deputy chairman. The role of the new body would be "to coordinate the implementation of digital-economy policies between the government and state agencies." (Id.)

The second draft law would restructure the current Information and Communications Technology Ministry and rename it the Digital Economy and Society Ministry. The new Ministry would comprise five offices: the ministry office, the permanent' secretary's office, the digital economy office, the meteorology office, and the office of national statistics. (Id.)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha pledged support for a "digital economy" when speaking at a forum held in Bangkok on December 4. He acknowledged that the country "still has some way to go before it can benefit" from such an economy, "including passing of necessary laws, infrastructure development and technology transfers," and he gave assurances that the government would pass the necessary amending laws to facilitate the digital economic policies. (Prayut Pledges Support for Digital Economy, BANGKOK POST (Dec. 4, 2014).)

The proposed legislative amendments are to be put before the National Legislative Assembly in January 2015, Prayut stated. He added that Thailand also must establish an efficient national data center, national broadband networks, and digital gateways for gathering and integrating government information that would be accessible to both Thai and foreign business groups. (Id.)

The government published its draft plan for a digital economy on November 14. The plan calls not only for the efficient provision of digitized government information and a national broadband infrastructure, but also for such measures as affordable Internet access by citizens, the strengthening of online identity verification methods and of cyber security, and the digitization of procurement by means of e-contracts and invoices. (Medha Basu, Thailand Drafts Digital Economy Plan, FUTUREGOV (Nov. 14, 2014).)

Author: Wendy Zeldin More by this author
Topic: Business investment and capital More on this topic
 Government More on this topic
 Information technology More on this topic
Jurisdiction: Thailand More about this jurisdiction

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Indonesia: Government to Permit Extra Distribution of Subsidized Fuel

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(Dec 17, 2014) Indonesia's government plans to issue a regulation that would permit the distribution of a greater quantity of fuel at subsidized prices, beyond the amount set in the 2014 state budget, should the need arise. The regulation would be in effect until the end of the year, and the fuel would be distributed by PT Pertamina, the state oil and gas company. (Govt to Issue Regulation Allowing Distribution of Subsidized Fuel Exceeding the Quota, JAKARTA POST (Dec. 15, 2014).) The fuel subsidy has been in place for many years and is re-authorized annually. (See for example description of Ministry Regulation No. 3 (2013), Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry website (in Indonesian).)

According to Naryanto Wagimin, acting Director General for Oil and Gas at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, "[i]f the subsidized-fuel quota is not enough, then there will be an order letter for Pertamina to keep distributing subsidized fuel until Dec. 31, 2014." (Govt to Issue Regulation Allowing Distribution of Subsidized Fuel Exceeding the Quota, supra.) He also said that Pertamina does not anticipate that fuel consumption would exceed the 45.36 kiloliters budgeted this year for his company to sell at the reduced price. The total amount of subsidized fuel available is slightly greater, however, because another company, PT AKP Corporindo, also has a subsidized fuel quota and will be able to distribute over 300,000 kiloliters. Any increase in the amount subject to the subsidy would be discussed with the legislative committee concerned with energy, House of Representatives Commission VII, the acting Director General stated. (Id.)

The plan has been generally praised by Komaidi Notonegoro, an energy expert, who added that in his view Pertamina could increase the amount of subsidized fuel it provides without consulting with the legislature, if the Ministry issues the regulation now contemplated. (Id.) However, the subsidy has been controversial recently. Indonesia's new President, Joko Widodo, who took office on October 20, 2014, had said that he might want to raise fuel prices as a budgetary measure. The subsidy has cost the country about the equivalent of US$20 billion annually, but suggestions to change the situation have met with opposition from those saying that higher prices for fuel would hurt the poor. (I. Made Sentana, New Indonesia Leader Widodo Looks to Tackle Fuel Subsidies, WALL STREET JOURNAL (Oct. 20, 2014) [full text by subscription].)

On November 17, the Widodo administration did reduce the subsidy rate, resulting in about a 30% increase in gasoline prices, to IDR8,500 (about US$0.70) a liter, and a 36% increase for diesel fuel, to IDR7,500 a liter. (Christine Tan & See Kit Tang, Indonesia's Automotive Giant Backs Fuel Subsidy Cut, CNBC (Nov. 20, 2014).) One reason for the timing of the cut in the subsidy is the global reduction in fuel costs, allowing the market to absorb this price increase without as much of an impact as it would have felt otherwise. (Geoffrey Smith, Indonesia Exploits Oil Price Weakness to Scrap Fuel Subsidy, FORTUNE (Nov. 18, 2014).)

Author: Constance Johnson More by this author
Topic: Administrative law and regulatory procedures More on this topic
 Energy More on this topic
 Energy prices More on this topic
 Oil and gas More on this topic
Jurisdiction: Indonesia More about this jurisdiction

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