Euro tribunal unfreezes Sison’s assets

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — The European Union’s Court of Justice on Wednesday overturned a decision by EU governments to freeze the assets of exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison, who is on the EU’s terror list.

The Luxembourg-based court said EU governments breached European law by not informing Sison why his assets were frozen under the EU’s anti-terrorism policies.

In its ruling, the court pointed to a similar judgment in December that overturned an EU decision to freeze the assets of the People’s Mujahadeen of Iran, an Iranian opposition group.

The EU ruling said ‘’rights and safeguards were not respected’’ by EU governments in adopting decisions to freeze the assets of Sison in 2002, and the Netherlands- based Al Aqsa Foundation in 2003.

The court’s decision did not rule on whether Sison or Al Aqsa should be removed from the EU’s terror list entirely. But the ruling raises more questions over the EU anti-terror measures rushed in after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Under its previous ruling, EU governments were asked to review whether the Paris-based People’s Mujahadeen Organization of Iran should be taken off the terrorist list. The EU has refused to remove the group and argues that it has met the court’s demands by providing it with the required information about its inclusion.

The organization has responded with a lawsuit seeking 1 million euros ($1.35 million) in damages, claiming the EU is obliged by the court ruling to annul the 2002 decision designating it as a terrorist group.

An EU panel added Sison, a Philippine national living in exile in the Netherlands, to its terror list in October 2002. He was placed on the list both as an individual and as a member of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Sison’s lawyers argued that he has not been a leader of the Philippine communists since he was put in prison in 1977 in the Philippines. He left the country in 1986 and now lives in the Netherlands.

Also yesterday, the country’s top security official criticized the anti-terror law yesterday, saying safeguards introduced by Congress had defanged its provisions.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said stiff penalties on wrongful arrests, for example, made it impossible for security forces to arrest terror suspects without warrants as provided by the law.

At a forum at the National Press Club, Gonzales assured journalists the law would not be used to persecute the opposition or to justify the wiretapping of the media, and that an information campaign sought to avoid false impressions of the law.

For example, he said, street protesters would not be considered terrorists unless they destroyed property or injure other people. Rebels and coup plotters, on the other hand, were considered terrorists.

Despite its flaws, he said, the new law would bolster the government’s campaign against the Abu Sayyaf bandits and the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo recently signed the anti-terrorism bill into law.

The United States and Australia welcomed the move, saying the law was timely and would help counter terrorism in the Philippines, but critics have warned against possible human rights abuses.

In the Senate yesterday, Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the communist rebels and other groups could not be classified as automatic targets of the new law.

He told a press briefing that the government could not implement the law on July 15 unless it had complied with the publication requirements specified by the law.

Senators Rodolfo Biazon and Manuel Roxas II agreed, saying the new law could only be carried out after the government released the guidelines for its provisions.