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The Global Legal Monitor is an online publication from the Law Library of Congress covering legal news and developments worldwide. It is updated frequently and draws on information from official national legal publications and reliable press sources. You can find previous news by searching the Global Legal Monitor.

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Sri Lanka: New Tax Law Designed to Facilitate Investment

(July 20, 2017) Sri Lanka’s parliament recently adopted new tax legislation. Sri Lanka’s Minister of Finance and Media, Mangala Samaraweera, described the new Inland Revenue Act as designed to make the country attractive to investors. Provisions that will broaden the tax base and simplify the system, he says, will create an investor-friendly atmosphere.  (Sri Lanka’s New Inland Revenue Act Aims to Broad Base and Simplify the Tax System for an Investor Friendly Atmosphere, COLOMBO PAGE (July 11, 2017).)  Samaraweera added that in the past investors have found the tax system overly complex and that the new Act will incorporate international principles of taxation to handle cross-border relations.  (Id.; Inland Revenue Act (last updated July 19, 2017), LAWS OF SRI LANKA.)  The view that the tax system was too complicated and needed reform was also expressed by Moody’s Investors Service, which stated in June that the system was not sufficiently transparent to entice investors, made the local tax officials’ efforts at supervision inefficient, a contributed to a “very low tax-to-GDP ratio.” (Sri Lanka’s New Inland Revenue Act Aims to Broad Base and Simplify the Tax System For an Investor Friendly Atmosphere, supra.)

The new law includes:

  • a capital gains tax on the sale of immovable property;
  • new tax administration rules;
  • a fine of up to LKR10 million (about US$64,585) and/or imprisonment for up to two years for those convicted of tax evasion; and
  • a penalty of up to 2% of the total transaction value for any Sri Lankan company that violates transfer pricing rules by not disclosing any information required for transactions between related parties. (Janice Locke, Sri Lanka: New Income Tax Law, TAX NEWS SERVICE (July 6, 2017), International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation online subscription database.)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) helped in the drafting of the Act, using a model it developed for Ghana. (Bandula Sirimanna, Govt. Moves Fast with New Inland Revenue Bill, SUNDAY TIMES (Apr. 2, 2017).)  Late last year, the IMF predicted that the new legislation would increase tax revenues in Sri Lanka by 1.4% of gross domestic product. (Lorys Charalambous, IMF Welcomes Sri Lanka’s New Inland Revenue Act, TAX-NEWS (Dec. 19, 2016).)

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Brazil: New Law Reforms Labor Relations

(July 20, 2017) On July 13, 2017, Brazil enacted Law No. 13.467 (Lei No. 13.467, de 13 de Julho de 2017, PLANALTO), which amended the Consolidation of Labor Laws (Consolidação das Leis do Trabalho, Decreto-Lei No. 5.452, de 1 de Maio de 1943, PLANALTO) and other laws for the purpose of implementing a labor reform bill approved by the National Congress.  (Laís Lis, Temer Sanciona Texto da Reforma Trabalhista em Cerimônia no Planalto, G1 (July 13, 2017).)

According to the labor reform, negotiations between companies and workers will prevail over the law in such matters as the use of annual leave (which previously had to be used all at once and now may be broken up), flexible work schedules, profit sharing, lunch breaks, career planning, and the creation of a bank of hours to be used by the employee within six months.  Furthermore, a union contribution is no longer mandatory and telework becomes a new option.  However, certain standards, such as social security, minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and maternity leave, cannot be negotiated. (Id.)  The new rules will come into effect in four months.  (Id.)

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Indonesia: Radical Groups May Now Be Banned Without Court Decision

(July 19, 2017) On July 10, 2017, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo signed a decree that makes it possible to ban radical organizations without a court procedure. The measure was announced publicly on July 12 by Wiranto, the Coordinating Minister for Politics, Security, and Law.  (Stephen Wright, Indonesia’s President Signs Decree to Ban Radical Groups, JOURNAL STAR (July 12, 2017); Indonesia President Jokowi Inks Decree to Ban Radical Groups, CHANNEL NEWSASIA (July 12, 2017).) According to Wiranto, the decree is designed to protect the unity of Indonesia. (Wright, supra.)  He also said that there are groups “threatening the nation’s existence and creating conflict in the society,” but neither he nor the decree itself mentioned any group by name. (Indonesia President Jokowi Inks Decree to Ban Radical Groups, supra.)

The change is implemented through an amendment to the country’s law on mass organizations, which covers nongovernmental organizations and under which disbanding an organization would involve a lengthy process. (Wright, supra; Undang-Undang Republik Indonesia Nomor 17 Tahun 2013 Tentang Organisasi Kemasyarakatan [Law of the Republic of Indonesia Number 17, 2013, Concerning Mass Organizations] (July 22, 2013), Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat [House of Representatives] website.)

Under the revised legislation, a group can be disbanded without trial by the government if that group challenges the national philosophy of Pancasila, which promotes pluralism. Although predominantly Muslim, the Indonesian population includes Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists.  (Indonesia President Jokowi Inks Decree to Ban Radical Groups, supra.)  In addition, the decree makes it possible to ban organizations advocating atheism and communism.  (Id.)

Background

The change comes at a time of tension due in part to the actions of Islamic groups considered to be radical, such as the Islamic Defenders Front and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, which were involved in months of protests against the former Governor of Jakarta, a Christian. The Governor, who is considered to be an ally of the President of Indonesia, has been accused of blasphemy against Islam.  (Id.; Wright, supra.)  Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) calls the Islamic Defenders Front, or Front Pembela Islam, a domestic, Indonesian terrorist organization.  (Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front – FPI), TRAC (last visited July 12, 2017).) TRAC’s website states that it provides researchers in a number of fields with “content that provides comprehensive data and analysis for complex topics.” (About TRAC, TRAC website (last visited July 12, 2017).)

Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, allied with an international group of the same name, has been advocating the adoption of Shariah law and the establishment of a Muslim caliphate. That group is one of the likely future targets of the law; Indonesia announced several months ago that it plans to ban the organization.  (Indonesia President Jokowi Inks Decree to Ban Radical Groups, supra.)

Reaction to the Amended Law

The measure has support from the Commission for the Laity of the Indonesian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The Commission’s Executive Secretary, Father Guido Suprapto, stated that “[b]oth the government and society see activities organized by radical groups … are clearly against the national ideology.”   (Indonesia Issues Decree Against Radical Groups, VATICAN RADIO (July 12, 2017).)

Other organizations have expressed reservations about the measure. Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organization based in New York, calls the decree a “troubling violation” of rights.  The organization’s Indonesia researcher, Andreas Harsono, stated “[b]anning any organization strictly on ideological grounds … is a draconian action that undermines rights of freedom of association and expression that Indonesians have fought hard to establish since the Suharto dictatorship.”  (Wright, supra.)  The head of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, Asfinawati, called the decree a “setback of Indonesia’s democracy.”  (Indonesia President Jokowi Inks Decree to Ban Radical Groups, supra.)  Wiranto countered that criticism and said that the decree is not designed to stifle nongovernmental organizations. (Id.)

Ismail Yusanto, a spokesman for Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, said the group will ask the Indonesian Constitutional Court to review the decree. He added, “[t]he move just shows an arbitrary action aimed at disbanding Hizbut Tahrir.”  (Id.)

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Israel: Court Decision Protects Political Advertising

(July 19, 2017) On June 26, 2017, Israel’s Supreme Court unanimously rejected an appeal against a decision by the Court for Administrative Matters (CAM) to void a decision by the Givat Shmuel Municipality to remove politically oriented outdoor billboard advertisements in areas designated by the municipality for commercial advertising. The paid advertisements were intended “to raise public discussion regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Among other statements, the advertisements said “the conflict appears to be necessary for the sake of the army.”  (Adm. App. 4058 Givat Shmuel Municipality v. Arik Institute for Conciliation Tolerance and Peace (Danziger opinion, ¶ 1) (decision rendered June 26, 2017), STATE OF ISRAEL: THE JUDICIAL AUTHORITY (in Hebrew).) According to the municipality, the advertisements should be removed based on their political content and the harm they cause to public sentiment.  (Id. ¶ 2.) Justice Yoram Danziger rendered the main decision for the Supreme Court..

Decision by Court for Administrative Matters

In a hearing on the legitimacy of the municipality’s decision to remove the advertisements, the CAM relied on relevant provisions of the Municipalities Ordinance and the appropriate Givat Shmuel municipal bylaw. (Danziger opinion, ¶ 3; Municipalities Ordinance [New Version], DINEI MEDINAT YISRAEL (NUSACH CHADASH), (REVISED TEXT OF LEGISLATION ENACTED BEFORE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE STATE) 5724-1964 No 8 p. 197, as amended).)

The CAM concluded that the authority of the municipality to remove or prevent advertising was limited to situations where the content might constitute a criminal offense or harm public sentiment, neither of which situations the municipality had proved to exist in the current case.  The CAM further decided that the relevant bylaw did not distinguish between “political” and “commercial” advertisements.  The law does not and cannot justify restricting different advertisements to specific locations based on their content, the CAM opined, as such differentiation could limit freedom of expression without legal authority.  (Danziger opinion, ¶ 3.)

Supreme Court Verdict

Danziger held that section 246 of the Municipalities Ordinance provides the mayor a general authority to control display of advertisements within the jurisdiction of the municipality.  The specific regulation of the licensing of advertising within Givat Shmuel is found in section 4(a) of the city’s bylaw, which authorizes the mayor to allow advertisements subject to conditions regarding location, size, color, and content, among other aspects, and to prohibit those advertisements that may constitute a criminal offense or pose harm to public order or sentiment.  (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.)  The language of section 4(a), Danziger wrote, “might … mislead the reader” as that language may “support the position that the mayor has broad authority also to intervene in the content and language of advertisements posted throughout the city.”  (Id. ¶ 11.)

In fact, however, according to Danziger, “the authority granted to the mayor to impose limitations on the content of advertisements based on the above-cited provisions was much more limited and … naturally intended to ensure public order, the city’s esthetics, and the safety of the passers-by so that they are not harmed by the ads.” (Id. ¶ 12.)  Additionally, several precedents indicate that the mayor’s general authority to impose limitations on advertisements does not include the power to issue extended content-based restrictions, especially when they involve expressions of a political nature.  (Id. ¶ 13.)  Rather, Danziger noted, “the mayor has to be ‘blind’ as to the question of what has been published.  S/he must be indifferent to the content of the advertisement and not exert any discretion in the matter.”  (Id. ¶ 14.)  Moreover, based on precedent, the authority to prohibit an advertisement that “might constitute a criminal offense or harm public policy or sentiment” under section 4(b) of the bylaw requires that the advertisement would almost certainly lead to “especially harsh and significant” harm to public sentiment or would “clearly constitute a criminal offense.”  (Id. ¶ 16.)

The facts presented in this case, Danziger determined, are different; section4(b) does not authorize the municipality to impose a general limitation on all political advertisement, but was intended instead to authorize the mayor to prohibit any specific advertisement found to be criminal or harmful.  In the current case, there was no claim that the advertisement was criminal, and, rejecting the claim that the advertisement constituted harm to public sentiment, Danziger held that “[t]he threshold for imposition of limitations on freedom of expression for harming public sentiment, especially in the political context, is very high.”  The advertisement that was the subject of the appeal request, according to Danziger, did not meet this high bar.  (Id.)

Danziger concluded that the removal of advertisements of a political nature from certain areas by the Givat Shmuel Municipality harmed the ability of the appellant to exercise its right to freedom of expression.  In the absence of legal authority for it, therefore, the municipality’s act was unlawful.  (Id. ¶ 21.)

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Bahrain: Two-Year Imprisonment for Publishing Rumors and False News

(July 19, 2017) On July 10, 2017, the High Criminal Court in Manama, Bahrain, convicted Nabeel Rajab, a human rights activist, of “publishing and disseminating rumours and false news” and sentenced him to two years of imprisonment. (Bahrain: Jail Term for Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab Exposes Authorities’ Relentless Campaign to Wipe out Dissent, Amnesty International website (July 19, 2017).)

The actions of which Rajab is accused appear to be limited to expressing his political opinions publicly. According to Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, “[i]mprisoning Nabeel Rajab simply for sharing his opinion is a flagrant violation of human rights, and an alarming sign that the Bahraini authorities will go to any length to silence criticism.”  (Id.)

In June 2016, Rajab was arrested for making tweets alleging torture in a Bahraini prison and denouncing the killing of Yemeni civilians in the war waged by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition against Yemen. (Id.)  On December 28, 2016, the court ordered the release of Rajab, apparently while still awaiting trial on these charges, but the government arrested him on new charges related to TV interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016, accusing him of “insulting public authorities [the Ministry of Interior]” and “insulting a foreign country.”  (Id.)  The trial on these new charges is still pending; the next hearing is scheduled for August 7.  (Id.)

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