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News :: Environment & Food

Rich Get Richer on Subsidies: Schwab Duck Club Qualifies for Federal Rice Crop Supports

Published on Wednesday, December 19, 2001 in the San Francisco Chronicle
Rich Get Richer on Subsidies
Schwab Duck Club Qualifies for Federal Rice Crop Supports
by Glen Martin

There's not much to mark the place -- a steel gate topped with stylized silhouettes of ducks, a metal sign engraved with the legend, "Casa de Patos." A driveway wends through a grove of oaks. Rice fields stretch to the west, and a thick woodland jungle hugs Butte Creek, the eastern border of the property.

Locals know this 1,550-acre expanse of marsh and cropland owned by stockbroker Charles Schwab as one of the finest duck clubs in the Sacramento Valley.

True, Schwab raises rice on his property, but his primary reason for ownership is duck and goose hunting. He and his guests shoot over the property's permanent wetlands and seasonally flooded rice fields just north of the Butte Sink, a prime area for migratory waterfowl.

But Schwab -- whose net worth is estimated to be $4 billion -- doesn't have to foot the entire bill for Casa de Patos. He gets plenty of financial help in the pursuit of his sport. Last year, he and his family received $564,000 in federal price supports for rice.

Subsidies for agricultural commodities -- rice, cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans -- long have been a staple of the federal farm bill, which is adopted at multiyear intervals.
CLOSER SCRUTINY OF SUBSIDIES

But as Congress debates this year's farm bill -- a behemoth piece of legislation involving expenditures of $170 billion -- commodity payments are engendering increasing controversy, especially when the recipients, like Schwab, are rich.

Although such subsidies are made in the name of family farms, small farms are not their main recipients. In fact, financial tycoons and Fortune 500 corporations reap bales of cash from farm programs. Payments go to farmers residing in such unlikely places as Aspen and Atherton.

Critics of the crop subsidy structure say Schwab is a textbook example of what is wrong with the system.

"There are plenty of family farmers who are struggling and need help in California," said Susanne Fleek, director of government relations for the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C., group that has compiled individual subsidy data for the first time.

"But Charles Schwab is not among them," Fleek said. "I doubt anyone would even call him a farmer. The payments to Schwab are doing nothing to keep land in agricultural production, and that mocks one of the basic tenets of the subsidy program."

A Schwab spokesman said Schwab declined to comment.

Supporters of U.S. farm policy counter that the commodity subsidy programs are necessary to keep land in production, farmers working, food prices low and rural communities healthy.

While California is the nation's biggest agricultural producer, most of the crop subsidies go to Midwest grain farmers. Only 9 percent of California's farmers, mainly large Central Valley cotton and rice growers, get crop subsidies.
RICE PAYS TWICE

Like most of California's 2,500 rice farmers, Schwab gets his rice money from two different U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.

The first pays a subsidy based on production: The more rice produced, the greater the payment. The second program makes up the difference between the loan a farmer typically takes out each year to plant a crop and the price received for a crop.

The programs assure that Schwab's rice will always be sold at a profit. Essentially, his crop is insured by the government -- at zero cost.

Criticism of the current crop subsidy structure is coming from the right as well as the left. "Cases like (Schwab's) are representative of the problem in a nutshell," said Cena Swisher, a senior program director for Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C., budget watchdog group.

"Study after study proves that these commodity payments go to large corporate farms," Swisher said. "You end up with people like Mr. Schwab, people who don't need the money, asking the taxpayer to beef up their bottom line -- or help them hunt ducks."

But rice industry advocates, government farm service agents and even many environmentalists contend that there is great public benefit to promoting rice cultivation in the northern Sacramento Valley -- regardless of who receives the subsidies.

Rice culture is essential to the region's economic and social fabric, said Donald Perez, the executive director for the Glenn County office of the federal Farm Service Agency in Willows. The agency issues federal commodity payment checks to eligible growers.

"What do you have in Glenn County?" asked Perez. "In Willows, you have government -- county, state and federal -- and businesses that support agriculture. In the rest of the county, you have rice. That's it. Without rice supports, this entire area would depopulate."

ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS

Federal rice subsidies have also had tremendous environmental benefit, supporters argue.

"Ten or 15 years ago, the Sacramento Valley held about 3 million overwintering waterfowl," said Tim Johnson, the president of the California Rice Commission. "Now the number of birds have more than doubled, and that's because of rice."

Most rice fields were burned after harvest to destroy the stubble. But clean air regulations changed that -- now they're flooded. The flooded fields constitute a tremendous habitat for migratory waterfowl, which feed on leftover grain and aquatic invertebrates.

"What you end up with are thousands of acres of seasonal wetlands," Johnson said. "That's a terrific benefit to all kinds of wildlife -- not just ducks and geese."

Environmentalists acknowledge the wildlife benefits of rice planting but say there must be greater equity in the way federal farm subsidies are distributed.

"When we're spending $20 billion a year in public dollars on these programs,

it's absolutely necessary we make sure the money is going to the people who need it the most," said Fleek, of the Environmental Working Group. "We do not see why it's necessary to give Charles Schwab these payments, when they obviously aren't necessary to keep him farming."

Perez, of the Farm Service Agency, said that the question of commodity payment eligibility is a legitimate one -- and that it is also beyond the purview of the Farm Service Agency.

"That's decided at the congressional level," he said. "If you want to put a new means test to eligibility, you can -- you can make a case for it either way. But right now, if you grow rice, you're entitled to the payments. It doesn't matter who you are."

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle

###

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News :: Environment & Food

West Valley hydro plan creates problems

West Valley hydro plan creates problems

Modoc County Record
June 23, 2005

Distraught residents and landowners made emotional statements and fired critical questions during two intense scoping meetings held at the Likely fire hall last week, voicing their opposition to the proposed hydroelectric power project in West Valley, east of Likely on the South Fork of the Pit River

Federal Energy Resource Commission (FERC) staff members conducted the meetings to gather public opinion regarding the future project.

As proposed, the project would consist of two small hydroelectric turbine generators, one located near the West Valley Reservoir dam and the other near the Jess Valley highway at the bottom of the canyon where Short Creek spills into the South Fork. Both plants, with a combined output of about 2600 kilowatts-enough to power about 2,000 average homes-would use water diverted from the South Fork River by an existing canal owned and operated by the South Fork Irrigation District (SFID)

Nick Josten, the engineer who filed an application for the power plant with FERC in 2003, was on hand for both meetings to present a slide presentation about the project and to field questions. "I think hydropower is a wonderful source of energy. It's not without impacts, but it's a perfectly clean source of energy," he declares. The outspoken opponents are approximately six families who live along the river or own land in the canyon and the Hammawi Tribe of Native Americans, which has joined them in their opposition. These critics decry the lack of information they have been given about the project and the proposed water diversion.

"There's clearly some information that has to be supplied," Josten acknowledges. "It's a lot of things gone over many times in many different words, but the number of actual issues isn't that big. The answer to those issues is information.

"And so the first step after this meeting is to try and collect that information-that's going to be my responsibility-and to give that information to the people that are asking for it and to make sure they understand it and believe it."

The opponents' primary concern is the diversion of 100 cubic feet of water per second from the river, leaving about three miles of South Fork with dramatically reduced stream flows. That water would then be returned to the river at its confluence with Short Creek. Gail Griffith, one of the affected residents, is adamant in her opposition to diverting water from the river. "I don't like it. I know from being on that river that there isn't enough water to sustain (a power plant)."

After speaking with Josten, she was not dissuaded. "He assured me that he did a feasibility study," Griffith reports. "I asked him to please re-look at it again, to come out in July and August and examine the river with me. He said É those were the months they would not produce electricity."

Clearly frustrated, Griffith reiterates, "I see the river every day, I live on the river (and) I walk the river. They believe it's feasible. I'm trying to tell them it's not."

Objections also focused on the project's potential impact on property values, stream flows, fish and wildlife habitat, water turbidity and noise. "If it happens, the river will dry up pretty well. I don't like it because the habitat would be destroyed," emphasizes Griffith, citing a litany of dire environmental impacts if the project is realized. Linda Bruzzone, another landowner along the impacted portion of the river, is equally distraught at the prospect of losing water in the river. She spells out a detailed analysis of water flows to demonstrate that the river will virtually cease to exist if the proposed project goes through. "We are totally opposed to the project because we believe that that preserved area É is deeply in jeopardy."

Emotionally distraught, Bruzzone tearfully relates that she and her husband feel that their dream will be shattered if the power plant becomes a reality. "We love our property. It was our dream. It was our future. We feel awful; we feel terrible. Everything we've ever worked for is at risk. We put our entire retirement investment into Modoc County."

An engineer and owner of GeoSense, an Idaho-based consulting firm for small power projects, Josten is not surprised by the reaction. "This is normal for any project that proposes to divert additional water."

In spite of the objections, Josten is upbeat. "I think that it can be done in a responsible way. I'm a fisherman, a backpacker and a member of Trout Unlimited. I know what these folks are thinking about. And I think that I'm inclined to do it in a more responsible way than some people who might develop this resource

"The real question is: What will change? How can any negative impacts associated with (this project) be minimized so that this is acceptable-and it can be-as a compromise between groups of people that want to use the resource?"

Patricia Cantrall, county supervisor for the district, candidly says, "I'm for the project." She hopes that the "few who live on the river that are against it will come around to the right way of thinking." Cantrall believes that opponents' charges of hidden agendas and backroom deals to benefit the owners of Alturas Ranches, the county's largest agricultural enterprise, and the owners of South Fork Irrigation District, which controls all the water rights in this project, are misplaced, misleading and shortsighted

"Yes, you may have six families along the river," she explains. "But (consider) also, Alturas Ranches-no matter who it's owned by or where they live-and all the people that work for them from here to Alturas, which are all in my district. The county of Modoc benefits from Alturas Ranches and anything it does like this to enhance the river

"You need to look beyond," Cantrall continues, "and you need to look down the road for the next 20 years. Who's going to feed America?" Only after a number of required reviews, analysis and an environmental assessment are completed will FERC be ready to decide whether or not to allow the project to move forward. The earliest the decision can be expected is June of 2006.

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News :: Health & Drugs

Feds Target Pot Dispensaries in California

Feds Target Pot Dispensaries in California

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: June 22, 2005

Filed at 11:27 p.m. ET

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Federal drug agents launched a crackdown on medical marijuana providers in California Wednesday, raiding more than 20 dispensaries and charging two people.

In San Francisco, drug agents searched three pot clubs and more than 20 homes and businesses, capping a two-year investigation into an alleged marijuana trafficking ring. Officials would not say how many people were arrested or give other details, pending a news conference Thursday.

In Sacramento, Dr. Marion Fry, and her husband, Dale Schafer, were arrested on charges they grew and distributed marijuana from their storefront California Medical Research Center between August 1999 and September 2001.

The actions came two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that medical marijuana users can be prosecuted under federal law even if their home states allow use of the drug. California is one of 10 states that allow medicinal marijuana use.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown said the Supreme Court ruling ''lays to rest any question whether federal authorities have jurisdiction.'' Prosecutors also said the cases involve illegal drug runners operating under the guise of legitimate medical marijuana providers.

But Laurence Lichter, an attorney representing Fry and Schafer, questioned the charges against his clients, who according to the indictment grew more than 100 marijuana plants during the two-year period.

''Marijuana was legal in this part of the United States until this month, so any attempt to hold them as serious criminals would have been, I think, inappropriate,'' he said.

Elsewhere Wednesday, the Rhode Island House passed a bill that would allow certain patients to grow and smoke marijuana. A similar bill passed the state Senate two weeks ago.

Gov. Don Carcieri has threatened to veto the legislation, but lawmakers said they are confident the bill had enough votes to override a veto.

''For me, it has always been a matter of compassion -- simple compassion,'' said Democratic Rep. Steven Costantino. ''And I've always been amused by the fear that this is going to cause all of a sudden'' an out-of-control use of marijuana.

------

Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report from Providence, R.I.

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News :: Arts & Culture : Resistance & Tactics

Police gear up for anarchy march

Police gear up for anarchy march

HORSES, HELICOPTERS WILL HELP MONITOR PALO ALTO ANARCHISTS' MARCH

By Dan Stober and Anna Tong

Mercury News

The anarchists are coming! And Palo Alto police, who haven't seen a major protest since the Vietnam War 30 years ago, are calling in horses and helicopters to deal with what the police chief says could be a violent protest by 800 anarchists marching past downtown restaurants on University Avenue on Saturday night.

But the young self-described anarchists who dress in black and hang around downtown's Lytton Plaza held a press conference to say that they won't be the first to disturb the peace.

"I expect a lot of police. I am a little afraid of the horses," said Megan Haigh, a 17-year-old from Palo Alto.

Police are on edge after losing control of a smaller gathering in May by the same groups to protest the Iraq war, capitalism and rampant consumerism. About 200 self-described anarchists ran through the streets and Borders bookstore, where a few books were overturned.

Some protesters jumped on cars, and two were arrested, including an 18-year-old man from Berkeley who allegedly broke a window of an American Express office.

This time, Palo Alto Police Chief Lynne Johnson said, she wants her officers to do a better job of protecting property. They've been surfing anarchist Web sites, comparing experiences with San Francisco police and attempting to infiltrate the anarchists.

Tuesday, police sent an undercover officer in blue jeans to Lytton Plaza to videotape a dozen young local anarchists as they held a press conference. When approached by a Mercury News reporter, the officer identified herself as ``Cindy Smith,'' a freelance journalist. She said she hoped to sell the tape to a television station.

"That was one of our officers," Johnson told the Mercury News later. "She should not have lied to you." The police chief had seen part of the tape herself, apparently to help her prepare for her own press conference, held three hours after the anarchists spoke to reporters.

Johnson said the taping was legal. "We're not going to use it to try to identify people who will be protesting," she said. The police will move only against protesters who break the law, she said.

Police plan to close off some streets to parking Saturday. A few businesses may close; American Express plans to board up its windows to prevent more damage.

Both police and protesters -- from groups called Anarchist Action and Peninsula Anarchist Cooperative -- say they expect a mix of people Saturday night, from homegrown anarchists to more radical militants from other parts of the Bay Area. William O'Connor, the Berkeley man arrested at the last demonstration, told police he was a socialist, not an anarchist.

Some demonstrators will attend the "Reclaim the Streets" event for entertainment.

"People are really bored with their lives, and the rally is fun," said a 16-year-old protest organizer who would not give his name.

Dissatisfaction with the government is said to drive some people toward anarchism. "We don't want other people who may not know what's up around here deciding what's good for us," said Ben Fox, a Palo Alto resident who said he is a "former anarchist" at the age of 18. "Especially if those people have massive business interests and are making their decisions so they can force their products down our throats."

The term "anarchist" does not have a clear meaning today, said Susan Olzak, a Stanford University sociologist who studies protest movements.

In some ways, their views are not far removed from mainstream leftist politics. In conversations Tuesday, the anarchists argued that corporations control America; that corporate news media are driven by profit, not public service; that U.S. soldiers dying in far-off wars are recruited from working class families, while the children of the rich go to college.

Some of the anarchists had studied anarchist theory, and the movement's historical ties to the labor movement. Police remember the 1999 street riots in Seattle in protest of the World Trade Organization meeting.

Anarchists feel like they cannot identify with either political party. "I think it's a growing trend," Haigh said. "A lot of anarchist ideals are becoming mainstream. Voting is so low; people are completely disillusioned. No one voices support for John Kerry or Bush."

Contact Dan Stober at dstober@mercurynews.com or (650) 688-7536.

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News :: Animal Rights : Government & Elections : Police State

Animal Rights Extremism a Priority for FBI

By PAUL ELIAS, AP Biotechnology Writer Tue Jun 21, 1:53 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA - Violence by environmental and animal rights extremists against U.S. drug makers has increased so much in recent years that it's currently the FBI's top domestic terrorism issue, a top agency official says.

"There has been an increase in the use of incendiary devices as well as explosive devices," said John Lewis, FBI deputy assistant director in charge of counterterrorism. "There's a very clear indication that there's no move to slow down or stop — in fact, just the opposite is true."

The agency has about 150 open cases of arson, bombings and other violent crimes associated with militant environmental and animal rights activists protesting the experimental use of animals in medical research, he said.

Lewis made the comments Monday in an address to some of the 18,000 biotechnology executives gathered here at the four-day Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual convention.

Some of the same groups associated with the wave of violent attacks on biotechnology companies said they planned demonstrations outside the convention center Tuesday.

Though the protesters vowed to be peaceful, convention organizers and Philadelphia police were taking no chances.

Security was high inside and outside the convention center. A helicopter hovered over the National Constitution Center on Sunday night while police on the ground formed a corridor through a small smattering of jeering demonstrators to ensure the conventioneers could arrive unmolested to a party inside.

Meanwhile, as the attacks nationwide increase along with hits to companies' bottom lines and worker morale, industry leaders and their crisis consultants are advocating a radical shift in strategy. They are beginning to fight back aggressively.

Chiron Corp. of Emeryville, Calif., which was bombed in 2003 and is still the subject of actions that include credit card fraud against some of its employees, won a restraining order in a California court against a group allegedly involved in much of the activity. The company also refused to renounce its ties to the protesters main target: Huntingdon Life Sciences, a Millstone, N.J. laboratory that does animal experiments for biotech and drug companies.

"We believe if we just kept our heads down, it would go away," said John Gallagher, director of Chiron's corporate communications. "That was unrealistic."

Gallagher said the attacks have cost Chiron at least $2.5 million, much of it associated with heightened security at public company events such as analyst meetings.

"That money would have been much better spent on drug development," Gallagher said.

The FBI is searching for the fugitive Daniel Andreas San Diego, who has been charged with the Chiron bombing and another at a Pleasanton, Calif. cosmetic maker. Neither bombing wrought serious damage or injuries.

San Diego has ties to several animal rights groups, including one called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, which is better known as SHAC.

SHAC and its adherents have waged a decade-long campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences. Some of the tactics used against Huntingdon and the companies it contracts with include the vandalizing of executives' cars and houses, harassing employees and their families and the posting of personal information on public Web sites.

Six SHAC members face federal charges of conspiracy and interstate stalking that carry maximum penalties of between three and five years, plus fines up to $250,000. They are charged under the federal Animal Enterprise Protection Act, a 1992 law that was expanded in 2002 and equates their alleged activities with domestic terrorism.

A judge in Trenton, N.J., declared a mistrial in the case Monday after the lawyer for one of the defendants was too ill to continue with the trial. The case is not likely to come to trial before September, said Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

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News :: Labor & Economics

Wal-Mart store tells workers to be ready to work any shift

Wal-Mart store tells workers to be ready to work any shift


NITRO, W.Va. (AP) — Workers at a West Virginia Wal-Mart (WMT) store have been ordered to be available to work any shift at any time or face dismissal.

The new "open-availability" policy at the Wal-Mart store in Nitro is needed to ensure there is adequate staff during peak hours, said John Knuckles, a manager at the store.

"We have many people with set schedules who aren't here when we need them for our customers," Knuckles said.

"It is to take care of the customers, that's the only reason."

Workers who cannot commit to being available for any shift between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., seven days a week, will be fired by the end of this week. The store employs more than 400 workers.

"It shouldn't cause any problem, if they are concerned about their customers," Knuckles said.

Wal-Mart corporate spokesman Dan Fogelman said other stores have such rules.

"This is something that is done throughout Wal-Mart stores," Fogelman said. "The reality of retail is that our busiest times are evenings and weekends, so it only makes sense that we have higher staffing levels at those times."

Workers who are fired because they cannot meet the new requirement likely will qualify for unemployment benefits, said David McMahon with Legal Aid of West Virginia.

"If these people lose their jobs through no fault of their own, as a general rule they will be eligible for unemployment benefits," McMahon said Wednesday.

A union spokesman criticized the policy at the non-union retailer's store.

"This is a chilling new direction for Wal-Mart," said Chris Kofinis, communications adviser for Wake Up Wal-Mart, a promotional campaign financed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union. "It shows that when you work at Wal-Mart, you can neither afford a decent standard of life or even have a life."

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News :: Animal Rights : Environment & Food : Health & Drugs

U.S. Cow Tests Positive for Mad Cow Disease

Don't believe the spin. BSE has been in the US for quite sometime. It's just getting more and more difficult for the government to conceal it.

Remember that ANY animal can transmit these infectious prions, even without having symptoms. They can also contaminate an environment and spread from one specie to another. (For more information, see http://www.organicconsumers.org/madcow.htm )

Animal activists, please thoroughly educate yourself on this issue. If animals, such as mink, are fed meat scraps (and they are), they could very likely be contaminated with this disease and go on to contaminate other animals, the environment and people, with encephalopathic disease-causing proteins. PLEASE consider the bigger before you act!

Meanwhile, a vegan diet never sounded so good....

---------------------------------------------

Cow in US tests positive for BSE

Saturday 11 June 2005 6:40 AM GMT

US officials say the meat has not entered the human food supply

A cow has tested positive for mad cow disease in the United States, the US Department of Agriculture announced.

The positive result on Friday came on a third round of testing of the animal, which had previously tested negative to a different type of confirmatory test, a statement from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said.

"Because of the conflicting results ... a sample from the animal will be sent to the OIE-recognised reference laboratory for BSE in Weybridge, England. USDA will also be conducting further testing, which will take several days to complete," it said.

The animal was non-ambulatory - a so-called downer animal - and thus banned from human consumption. There is no chance its meat had entered the human food supply, officials said.

The announcement came the same day that Portugal announced its first suspected case of the human form of mad cow disease, while France said it had identified its 13th case of the degenerative brain ailment.

Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is a human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) - commonly called mad cow disease - caused by a rogue protein that proliferates in the brain, turning it spongy.

Britain was the epicentre of the BSE outbreak that occurred in the late 1990s. Its suspected source was cattle feed that came from cows with brain disease.



The pathogen leapt the species barrier to humans through the consumption of contaminated beef, experts believe.

US beef ban

Japan, previously the top export market for US beef, halted imports of US beef in December 2003 after a cow infected with BSE was discovered in the US state of Washington.

"We received final results a short time ago. Of the three samples, two were negative, but a third came back reactive"

USDA statement
The US has applied intense pressure on Japan to resume imports of US beef, but Japan has so far resisted the call amid further safety assessments.

The USDA said on Friday it had tested more than 375,000 animals for BSE since June 2004.

Three animals tested inconclusive and were subjected to immunohistochemistry or IHC testing, with negative results, the USDA said.

But earlier this week, the department's inspector-general recommended further checking of the meat samples using a second internationally recognised test, the SAF immunoblot or Western blot test.

"We received final results a short time ago. Of the three samples, two were negative, but a third came back reactive," the USDA statement said.

The animal was processed at a facility that handles only animals unsuitable for human consumption, and its carcass was incinerated," the department added.

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News :: Civil & Human Rights : Gender & Sexuality : Womyn

Woman may get 15 years for critcising a Judge

Published: 5 June 2005


"Bahraini Woman Activist on Trial for
Slander"

by Adnan Malik

QUOTES FROM TEXT:
"A leading women's rights activist pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of slander for her public criticism of family court judges."

"could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted"

"There are no written personal status laws in Bahrain."
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
----------------------------------------------FULL
TEXT:

MANAMA, 5 June 2005 - A leading women's rights activist pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of slander for her public criticism of family court judges. A small group of women, many cloaked in head-to-toe black abayas, gathered in the courthouse to support Ghada Jamsheer, 40, who has been lobbying for years against the use of Sharia in family courts, which she says undermines
women's rights.

Jamsheer, wearing a beige T-shirt and orange slacks and her shoulder-length dark hair streaked with blond highlights, calmly chewed gum as the
three-judge panel read the charges against her, including slander for calling family court judges in Bahrain "corrupt, biased and unqualified" and
using abusive language against a former judge.
The judges said the comments were made between October 2002 to June 2003.

Jamsheer's defense team of six lawyers asked for more time to prepare their case and the trial was adjourned to July 2. Jamsheer could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, said Mohammed
Al-Mutawwa, one of her attorneys.

After entering her plea, Jamsheer called for the resignation of the general prosecutor, prompting applause from the nearly 20 supporters in the
audience. Jamsheer has led efforts to move family cases to civil courts rather than religious courts. She also wants women granted the right to divorce and a ban on polygamy.

Bahrain's family courts are based on Islamic law. Two separate courts exist for Sunni and Shiite Muslims, ruling on personal status cases including
marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance cases.
There are no written personal status laws in Bahrain, which gives judges the authority to render judgments according to their own interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence.
"I have nothing personal against the judges. I am just trying to fight the system that hinders women's rights," Jamsheer, a businesswoman, said after yesterday's hearing.

Jamsheer heads the Women's Petition Committee, which monitors family court cases for women's rights violations. She is also president of the Bahrain Social Partnership for Combating Violence Against Women, which is under the supervision of Amnesty International.

In April 2003, the Women's Petition Committee collected some 1,700 signatures on a petition demanding legislative and judicial reform of the
courts. For the past several years she has organized protests, vigils and a hunger strike in an effort to draw attention to the suffering of women in the existing family court setup.
Jamsheer's trial has caught the attention of international rights group and local activists who are rallying for her cause.

International watchdog Human Rights Watch on Wednesday called on the Bahraini government to drop the charges against Jamsheer.

"Bahrain should also eliminate criminal penalties for slander in cases that do not involve direct and immediate incitement to acts of violence or
discrimination," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

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