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Removing face veil in court ‘no problem’, in eyes of Muslims

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

I can only see the eyes of that defendant.

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Those are the words of a magistrate in a Brisbane courtroom, pondering about what he called the “validity” of a Muslim woman wearing a niqab in an Australian courtroom.

He didn’t pursue the matter further, but it was enough to push the issue back into the headlines.

Ron Sutton reports on reaction within the Muslim community.

Leading Australian Muslim figures say they support judges asking women to remove their face coverings if necessary after the issue arose again recently in a Brisbane courtroom.

Brisbane magistrate John Costello actually declined to ask a woman wearing a niqab to uncover her face as he sentenced her for leaving her baby unattended in a hot car.

But he asked her lawyer whether it was appropriate that he could only see her eyes before proceeding to sentence her, and his remarks attracted extensive media coverage.

The assistant secretary of Muslims Australia, Keysar Trad, says the country’s Islamic scholars have clearly determined it is no problem for women to remove their face coverings.

“The Islamic scholars in Australia have already reached a position on this, and they’ve published a statement to say that, whilst a person is required to be identified, there are certain points — for example, entering the court building, et cetera — they can remove it temporarily, and, if they’re in the court and they’re giving evidence, they can remove it for the duration of the period that they’re giving evidence. So, where it’s necessary and there’s a legitimate reason for removing it, the scholars have said that they should remove it for that period and then they can put it back on when they finish.”

In Brisbane, the president of the Muslim community festival Eid fest, Yasmin Khan, says it is not an issue.

Ms Khan says it is a matter of fairness and the courts have every right to see the people standing before them.

“They should be able to see the person that they’re standing in judgment on. I think that the judicial system is supposed to be fair and equal for everybody, and I think it’s important that it’s there to protect everybody. In this particular case, it was a matter of court expediency, that she pleaded guilty and away they went, they just signed the papers, and the job was finished. But if she’d pleaded not guilty, or if there was some contest to the charges that were laid against her, then it would be vitally important that they made sure that they had the right person.”

Queensland’s chief justice and the state’s anti-discrimination commissioner both have stated that processes are in place in the state’s court system allowing coverings to be removed.

And the chief justice says that has always been done in a respectful way if required.

Jamila Hussein, formerly with the Muslim Women’s National Network of Australia before becoming a lecturer in law, says it is not just a matter of identification either.

Ms Hussein, now a senior lecturer at the University of Technology in Sydney, says it can be important to see the face of a person giving testimony as well.

“I think, if somebody’s being cross-examined in court, giving evidence, I think that it is relevant that the magistrate, or the judge, should be able to see the person’s facial expressions. If not, if it’s just a routine matter, perhaps it doesn’t matter.”

Yasmin Khan, whose forefathers built the first mosque in Brisbane, says she is unhappy about the way the matter has arisen again because it was a routine matter.

She points out the magistrate did not ask the woman to remove her face covering and the woman did not refuse to do so.

Ms Khan says a report in The Courier-Mail newspaper in Brisbane, which turned the remarks into a headline and a front-page story, worsened already-existing stereotypes.

“It reinforces (accusations) like not integrating into Australian society. It reinforces one rule for one, and another rule for another. You know, people will always say, ‘Oh, well, they want sharia law,’ so there’s always those sorts of issues. You know, (people say) they want their own legal system, you know, women are oppressed, women have to be covered, and yet husbands can walk around uncovered. So there’s a whole heap of stereotypes that go on there that we try so hard to dispel constantly.”

Yasmin Khan estimates fewer than 50 out of 15,000-20,000 Muslim women in Queensland’s southeast wear the niqab.

The niqab is worn most frequently in deeply conservative Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and parts of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan.

The woman in the Brisbane courtroom, who was sentenced to a six-month good-behaviour bond, was from Saudi Arabia.

Jamila Hussein says it can be embarrassing to a woman from such a background to face men in open court without her face covered.

But she says other arrangements can sometimes be enough, especially in cases of merely needing to confirm a woman’s identity.

“She could go to another room to reveal her identity to a female officer. There should be no difficulty about that.”

Ms Hussein says the head covering of a niqab is usually easy to remove, with an attachment beside the face.

Keysar Trad, of Muslims Australia, says there simply is more flexibility to the rules for those Muslim women in Australia who cover their heads or bodies than many people think.

“In Islam, many rules have a proviso, or an exemption, under certain circumstances. This situation, this situation of giving evidence in the courtroom, is one of the exemptions, even under their school of interpretation.”

Officers hospitalised in Belfast riots

Sixteen Northern Ireland police officers were injured while battling to quell sectarian clashes in Belfast on Saturday as the row over the flying of the British flag showed no sign of abating.

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Police used water cannon and fired a plastic bullet during the clashes in Belfast, the latest to blight the British province after more than five weeks of violent disorder over the flag issue.

A police spokesman confirmed that some of the officers required hospital treatment for injuries sustained during disorder in the Castlereagh Street of east Belfast.

“Water cannon has now been deployed. Police have fired one AEP round”, the spokesman added, referring to so-called baton rounds, or rubber bullets.

Witnesses said rocks and fireworks were thrown as lines of police tried to keep loyalists — the Protestant community’s working-class hardcore — apart from Catholic nationalists in the Short Strand area of Belfast.

Nearly 1,000 people earlier gathered outside Belfast City Hall to protest, and the trouble erupted around 2.30pm (1430GMT) as the group passed by the republican neighbourhood.

Northern Ireland has been swept with a wave of sometimes violent protests since December 3, when Belfast City Council voted to restrict the number of days the British flag is flown at City Hall to 18 per year.

Loyalists see the council’s decision to restrict the flying of the flag as an attack on their identity and an unacceptable concession to republicans seeking a united Ireland.

First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy Martin McGuinness will join Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Ireland’s Tanaiste (deputy leader) Eamonn Gilmore for talks next week on how to deal with the ongoing unrest.

“This violence is being orchestrated and those behind it are known criminals, intent on creating chaos,” Gilmore said.

“This has nothing to do with real issues around flags and identity in a shared society, which are the subject of intensive political discussions at present.”

Nationalist SDLP MLA lawmaker Conall McDevitt said “these are depraved acts which immediately dismiss any claim on a protest being peaceful.”

Alliance MLA member Judith Cochrane added: “This violence cannot continue. People want to go about their daily lives, but are really angry at the disruption they have faced in recent weeks.

“These protests and violence are doing untold damage to traders and businesses and Northern Ireland’s image is being tarnished.”

A 1998 peace agreement brought an end to the three decades of sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics known as the Troubles, but sporadic bomb threats and murders by dissident republicans continue.

Australia plumb fresh depths

Australia’s defeat in the second test was the sixth in a row this year after losing 4-0 in India, their worst run since they were thrashed by a mighty West Indies side in the 1980s.

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Along the way they failed to advance past the first round of the Champions Trophy, lost coach Mickey Arthur who was sacked 16 days before the Ashes series began and suspended batsman David Warner for throwing a punch at England’s Joe Root in a Birmingham bar.

Warner is currently playing for Australia A in Zimbabwe in a so far unsuccessful attempt to regain sufficient form to force his way back into the Ashes eleven.

Root, by contrast, was named man-of-the-match for his monumental 180 in England’s second innings. He also dismissed Australia’s top scorers Usman Khawaja (54) and captain Michael Clarke (51) in consecutive overs with his part-time off-spin before showing he was human by dropping a regulation catch at third slip.

“I’ve loved every minute of it and it’s great to get a win,” the fresh-faced Yorkshireman said at the post-match victory ceremony. “To get a hundred against Australia is always something you dream of growing up and to do it at Lord’s is very special.

“It’s nice to contribute, when you get the opportunity you want to take it and help the team.”

England’s match-winner was Graeme Swann, who won an lbw decision against the stubborn James Pattinson (35) four balls before the close of play after England had taken the extra half hour available when a finish is possible in order to avoid returning to the ground on Monday.

Swann finished with nine wickets, including five for 44 in the first innings when he became only the second England spinner after Hedley Verity in 1934 to take five wickets in an innings against Australia at Lord’s.

“It’s the first time in my 17 years of first-class cricket that extra half hour has got a wicket, we’re so happy it’s over now,” he said

“We were 30 for three on the first day but the fightback to end up posting 350 which everyone thought was below par but subsequently proved to be a good score.”

“WORLD-CLASS SPINNER”

England’s win came without any sort of contribution with the bat from either captain Alastair Cook or Kevin Pietersen, who did not take the field on Sunday because of a strained left calf muscle.

Instead Root and Ian Bell, who followed his 109 in the first innings with 74 in the second innings, laid the basis for England’s massive victory.

“You can’t control the weather but when it is dry, we have a world-class spinner and the seamers know how to reverse the ball but we back ourselves in all English conditions, really,” said Cook.

The Australian pace attack worked hard and did not let their side down but left-arm spinner Ashton Agar did not look like taking a wicket and, despite his spectacular 98 batting at number 11 on his debut in the first test at Trent Bridge, his position must be under threat.

The top-order batting, though, is the real problem and it again looked desperately weak at Lord’s after failing twice in Nottingham. It is also hard to see where any substantial improvement will come from, although Khawaja’s second innings was a step in the right direction.

“Our first innings with the bat really let us down, it was not acceptable and against good opposition it’s hard to win from that position,” said Clarke.

“We’re putting extra pressure and expectation on our bowlers, our top seven has experience but once we lose one wicket we’re losing two or three in quick succession.

“We know we have to win the next three tests to win this series. It’s going to be hard but I’d be silly to go into Manchester expecting to lose, we’ll do everything in our power to improve our game but England outperformed us once again in this test match.”

(Editing by Alan Baldwin)

Live blog: Eastern Australia battered by severe weather

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50PM: A shot of the swollen Brisbane River, taken by SBS reporter Kathy Novak.

4.40PM: Reporter Kathy Novak is in Brisbane inspecting flood damage. This shot is from Milton, where residents are sandbagging ahead of possible rising floodwaters.

More details from Kathy on how Queensland residents are coping with the big wet coming up in the news bulletin at 6.30.

4.20PM: Queensland flood insurance claims have already hit $28 million according to reports from AAP, a figure that could rise as residents realise the full extent of damage caused by ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald.

Insurers are not expecting the Australia Day long weekend disasters to be as severe as the floods of December 2010 and January 2011, when rising floodwaters in Brisbane, Ipswich, Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley cost almost $2.4 billion.

4.15PM: Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised federal government support to those in flood-affected areas of Queensland.

The PM spoke from Victoria where she was visiting fire-ravaged parts of the state.

Warning eastern Victoria residents that they are still facing a fire danger, she said communities in Queensland are going through a tough time with the flood crisis there. Read more.

4.10PM: IN PICTURES: Queensland’s wild weather

4PM: That same weather system shown on the national map. Both images courtesy of the Bureau of Meteorology.

3.45PM: A screenshot from the bureau shows the weather over Sydney at the moment. The rain band is still moving slowly south, and rain and winds are expected to increase overnight.

3.15PM: A round-up of affected Queensland areas from Premier Campbell Newman:

Burrum Heads: Sewerage out

Maryborough: CBD flooded

Eidsvold, Mundubbera, Gayndah, Albert and Logan: Flooding issues

Gympie: Significant flooding

Laidley: Homes inundated

Grantham: Flooding

Kalbar: Evacuations may be necessary

Ipswich: Water rising to 15 metres. More than 200 properties could be affected.

Gold Coast: No major issues

Brisbane: 2.6m flooding. Around 100 roads closed around the city.

There are power outages in effect right across south east Queensland.

3.10PM: More than 2,000 properties are affected by floodwaters in in Bundaberg. North Bundaberg is about to be isolated.

“Leave now if it is safe,” says Premier Newman.

Patients at Bundaberg Hospital are being moved from the Ground Floor up to higher levels.

3.05PM: In Queensland, Premier Campbell Newman is giving a press conference on the state’s flood emergency.

“To the people in the midst of this disaster, we are doing everything possible to help you,” he said. “You are not on your own.”

Bundaberg continues to be the main area of concern for Queensland, with the Burnett River currently at 9 metres, according to Premier Newman.

However, Rockhampton catchment is still taking in water, and could flood by next weekend.

3PM: Residents along the Tweed River in northern NSW are bracing for heavy flooding, with the water level at 4.41 metres and rising at around 2pm this afternoon. Hundreds have already called for help.

A major flood warning is in place for Murwillumbah.

Along the Tweed Coast, residents at Chinderah, Kingscliff, Fingal Head were being asked early on Monday afternoon to prepare for a possible evacuation.

Fingal Head residents were told to stay were they were because they were already isolated.

2.50PM: SBS reporter Kathy Novak is on her way to Brisbane to bring you the latest reports from the region. Full details tonight on SBS at 6.30pm and 10.30pm.

2.45PM: Live traffic information for NSW shows a number of roads flooding in the north of the state. Several roads in and around Sydney are also affected. For detailed and up-to-date roads information click here.

2.30PM: Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has launched an appeal in conjunction with the Red Cross, to assist people affected by floods across the state.

Matthew Cox, Red Cross Acting Executive Director in Queensland, said in a press release the affected communities would need ongoing support as they returned to their homes to begin the difficult process of recovering from disasters.

“This is particularly distressing time for a lot of people as they won’t know the extent of damage to their homes until the floods and storms pass through,” he said. “Coming so soon after the 2010/11 disasters, this is a heavy blow for many communities.”

Those who would like to donate should visit the Red Cross website for more information: www.redcross.org.au.

2.15PM: The bureau of meteorology has issued an update on NSW weather, which is expected to worsen particularly along coastal areas as the storm tracks south this evening.

Very heavy rain and strong winds in excess of 125km/h will extend to coastal parts of the Hunter this afternoon and this evening. These winds will reach metropolitan Sydney overnight and possibly extend to the South Coast tomorrow.

Due to abnormally high tides and dangerous surf conditions, coastal areas should be avoided. View the full report from the BOM here.

2.10PM: There are a number of delays and cancellations for flights in and out of Sydney and Brisbane airports, due to weather.

Passengers are advised to check with their airlines for the status of their flight.

QANTAS flight information

TIGER AIRWAYS flight information

VIRGIN AUSTRALIA flight information

JETSTAR flight information

2PM: Queensland update: As below, Bundaberg North has been issued with a mandatory evacuation order. Floods are expected for Gympie, Maryborough and Ipswich.

Brisbane valley and Lockyer valley expected to peak around noon tomorrow.

Bremer River, Ipswich, is expected to peak at 6pm according to Queensland SES.

1PM: A forced evacuation has been declared for Bundaberg North, effective immediately. The order came as Burnett River broke its banks.

“All residents in NORTH BUNDABERG including Belmont Park and One Mile Road are to evacuate IMMEDIATELY to Oakwood State School,” a notice on the council website reads.

12.40PM: Visit our Social Hub here for the latest social media updates from emergency crews and official sources.

12.30PM: While the Prime Minister inspects bushfire affected areas of Victoria, Deputy Wayne Swan is tweeting from flood-stricken Brisbane.

On the corner Clayton St and Nineth Ave in Sandgate in my electorate – locals saying its the worst since 1974 twitter.com/SwannyDPM/stat…

— Wayne Swan (@SwannyDPM) January 28, 2013

12PM: Ipswich City Council in Queensland has opened evacuation centres for those affected by flooding. Further details (including where to go if you want to take pets) can be found here.

Are you affected? Brisbane City Council has released a list of streets that are expected to flood or partially flood. Details here (via couriermail.com.au).

11.45AM: Volunteers are being sought in Queensland to help fill sandbags. Anyone interested should register online here and wait to be contacted.

11.35AM: The Triple Zero emergency services number is currently inaccessible to some Queenslanders due to damage to Telstra networks.

If you cannot get through, and need urgent assistance, try one of the following numbers:

Emergency numbers for northern and central Queensland:

· Cairns 4030 7000

· Mareeba 4030 3340

· Townsville 4750 5581 or 4750 5583

· Mt Isa 4744 1111 or 4744 1808

· Mackay 4968 3530

· Gladstone 4971 3222

· Rockhampton call via alternative carrier only

11.20AM: The weather bureau has issued an update for NSW, with widespread heavy rain, damaging and locally destructive winds and damaging surf expected to continue. Click here for more details.

11AM: Queensland police are warning residents NOT to dial triple zero for road updates. The best number to call for road information is 13 19 40.

You can find more contact numbers for state-based emergency and assistance services here.

10.50AM: It’s been a harrowing weekend for Queenslanders pummelled by wild weather caused by ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald. These images, taken from our weekend news coverage, show the extent of the damage suffered by some residents:

10.40AM: The death toll from Queensland’s flood crisis has risen to three, after the body of a man was discovered in floodwaters south of Brisbane this morning.

He is believed to be a motorcyclist who was swept off the road at Greenbank at Logan on Sunday night.

It follows the earlier death of an 81-year-old man who was pulled from waters near Bundaberg, and a 27-year-old man killed near Gympie.

10.35AM: A mother and child who became trapped under a fallen tree in Queensland have been taken to hospital after being freed by emergency services, ABC journalist John Taylor reports via Twitter.

Incident now over at Kedron Brook Gordon Park after a tree fell on a family. Woman & child taken away by ambulance. @abcnews #bigwet

— John Taylor (@_JohnTaylor_) January 27, 2013

10.30AM: There are fears for a young Brisbane family trapped under a fallen tree at Kedron Brook in north Brisbane.

Witnesses say the family was standing on the banks of Kedron Brook at Gordon Park when the large tree suddenly fell, trapping them.

Emergency crews are working to free the woman while the child has been taken to hospital. Read more: Tree falls on Brisbane family.

10.20AM: Details of dramatic rescues continue to emerge as parts of Queensland continue to be battered by extreme weather.

In one Brisbane rescue, 24 people were rescued in the Windsor area as waters rose there.

The SES received more than 1800 requests for assistance in the 24 hours to 4am on Monday.

It follows the nerve-wracking rescue of a toddler who was put in a bag and winched to the safety of a helicopter hovering above, in Biloela in central Queensland yesterday.

WATCH VIDEO: Toddler winched to safety in daring arial rescue

10.15AM: There are fears for the Queensland city of Maryborough, where floodwaters are expected to be higher than the devastating 2011 floods.

Floodwaters have spread across parts of the city’s CBD and about a dozen homes are flooded, Maryborough’s mayor Gerard O’Connell told AAP. More details.

10AM: Meanwhile in Victoria, emergency officials continue to battle fires and fire threats across the state.

Current fire warnings and incidents across Victoria: For more up-to-date information, visit the CFA site here.

A Watch and Act warning is in place for a slow-moving bushfire in the Violet Town-Harry’s Creek Road area. Full details from the Victorian Country Fire Authority.

The Prime Minister is currently in Heyfield being briefed on the latest fire risks.

9.30AM: There are flood warnings in place for 15 rivers across Queensland, as well as destructive winds, abnormally high tides and dangerous surf in coastal areas, although the bureau notes heavy rainfall and strong winds in the south are easing.

Click here for current Queensland flood warnings.

9AM: Severe weather warnings are in place for NSW this morning, with Ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald continuing to move south.

The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting very heavy rain which may lead to flash flooding in the Northern Rivers, Northern Tablelands and the Mid North Coast forecast districts. Click here for current NSW weather warnings.

Heavy rain is expected to continue in the Hunter, Sydney Metropolitan, Central Tablelands and Illawarra regions.

Read more: Severe weather warnings as Oswald hits NSW

The weather system shown in this Bureau of Meteorology radar map will bring heavy rain and strong winds to much of the NSW coast.

EARLIER: Wild weather causes havoc across Queensland, where the army has been called in to help with rising flood waters and severe winds.

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French cyclist was ‘first shot in Alps shootings’

Sylvain Mollier was thought to have been shot simply because he stumbled on last month’s attack on the British-Iraqi family.

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But the ballistics report revealed that he was the first person shot, before the killer turned on the al-Hilli family the website of Le Parisien reported.

Saad al-Hilli, 50, his wife Iqbal, 47, and her mother Suhaila al-Allaf, 74, were all shot and killed.

Seven-year-old Zainab al-Hilli nearly died after being shot in the shoulder and hit repeatedly around the head by the attacker. She has been unable to help the enquiry in any meaningful way.

Her four-year-old sister survived by sheltering under her mother’s skirt in the back of the family’s BMW estate car.

Investigators think only one person was involved in the shootings.

Having examined the soles of his shoes, they think Saad Hilli was first shot outside the car and then finished off after he got back in the car and tried to drive off, Le Parisien reported.

After having shot the three members of the family in the car, the killer then turned back to the cyclist and finished him off, investigators think, basing their theory on the different angles of some of entry wounds.

Their reconstruction suggested that the killer had moved around a lot in an apparently disorganised manner, going from one victim to another and then back again.

That seemed to undermine the theory that a professional killer had been behind the killings, investigators told the paper.