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Summary

  1. The sitting began at 08.00 GMT with a debate on fighting internet child abuse.
  2. After that, MEPs held the traditional Thursday morning debates on human rights cases, before resolutions on the cases were approved at lunchtime - see 'Key Video'
  3. The first highlighted the case of Bob Rugurika, a journalist in Burundi who was arrested last month.
  4. MEPs then discussed the case of Raif Badawi, the blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison by the authorities in Saudi Arabia for insulting Islam.
  5. The final case related to the alleged exhumation of graves of people who went missing during the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus.
  6. MEPs also gave their approval to setting up a special committee to look into tax rulings in EU countries, following last November's "Luxleaks" revelations.

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

Thanks for watching

And with only a handful of MEPs having chosen to explain their votes today, Parliament vice-president Ramon Luis Valcarcel brings this month's session to a close.

The European Parliament will next meet in plenary for a one-day sitting on 25 February in Brussels.

The next full plenary session from Strasbourg is scheduled for 9-12 March. We hope you can join us then.

Ramon Luis Valcarcel
BBC

A committee? What kind?

European Voice

Newspaper

James Panichi at European Voice has been looking into the disagreements between the political groups over what kind of committee to set up into EU tax rulings - noting that "a special committee of investigation is not the same as a committee of inquiry".

Confused? You can read the

full post here.

Final vote

MEPs have passed a joint resolution condemning violence by Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, the final vote at today's sitting.

There will now be short speeches in which the MEPs can explain how they voted.

Disagreement over how to investigate

The calls for a committee have also led to divisions between the Parliament's political groups - both the left-wing GUE group and the Green/EFA group had called for a more powerful, "inquiry" committee to be set up into the affair - instead of the special committee mentioned in today's resolution.

However, the leaders of the bigger political groups blocked this proposal, citing advice from the Parliament's legal service that said the object of investigation for such a committee was not clear enough and that it would break the Parliament's rules of procedure.

GUE and the Greens have dismissed this as a political manoeuvre.

Motion passed

The motion calling for a special committee to be established into tax rulings has been passed, by 612 to 19, with 23 abstentions.

The

text specifies that the body shall be composed of 45 members and will last for six months.

Result
BBC

Investigate tax rulings

MEPs are now voting on a resolution to set up a committee to look into tax rulings by EU member states.

The call for an investigation follows what many in the EU bubble now refer to as the "Luxleaks" revelations that emerged only days after the new Commission took office last November.

A

report by the International Consortium of Investigate Journalists alleged that companies such as Pepsi and Ikea had made "sweetheart" deals with the government of Luxembourg - where the Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, used to be prime minister.

Mr Juncker has denied any wrongdoing - but the affair has overshadowed the first few months of the new Commission, with many MEPs saying that Mr Juncker's association with the story undermines the Commission's attempts to carry out investigations into state aid.

Access to graves demanded

The resolution calling for access to be given to the authorities to the mass graves near the village in Ashia is also passed.

Blogger's release called for

The resolution calling for blogger Raif Badawi to be released is passed by 460 to 153, with 29 abstentions.

The joint text was agreed between six groups - agreement could not be found with the centre-right EPP on the exact wording of the text.

Resolution approved

The resolution calling for the release of Burundi journalist Bob Rugurika is approved on a show of hands.

Voting about to begin

As this final human rights debate winds up, MEPs are now taking their seats for today's voting session.

As well as the resolutions on this morning's three human rights debates, MEPs will also be voting on a resolution calling for a special parliamentary committee to be set up to look into tax rulings in the EU member states.

MEPs will also vote on a resolution on the humanitarian situation in Iraq and Syria.

Truth commission

Ukip's James Carver calls for a "truth and reconciliation commission" to be set up in Cyprus, along the lines of a similar commission set up at the end of apartheid in South Africa.

James Carver
BBC

‏@Europarl_EN

European Parliament tweets: Foggy, frosty morning in #Strasbourg, France. #EPlenary

continues inside #EuropeanWinter

Strasbourg
other

Access to graves

Centre-right Cypriot MEP Lefteris Christoforou accuses Turkey of "stubbornly refusing" to allow the authorities access to the graves to investigate the circumstances of the deaths - something he says is "typical" the country.

Missing persons

Ignazio Corrao, from Italy's Five Star movement, praises the work of Cyprus's Committee on Missing Persons, whose work he says brings hope to the relatives of those who went missing during the conflict that they might have "closure" on their deaths.

He says the Turkish government must be urged to "do its bit", and should be put under pressure to "shed some light" on the matter, he adds.

Ignazio Corrao
BBC

Background to conflict

The village of Ashia was bombarded by Turkish air forces in August 1974, during an invasion by Turkish forces of the north of the country in response to a military coup on the island which was backed by the Athens government.

The island was effectively partitioned, with the northern third inhabited by Turkish Cypriots and the southern two-thirds by Greek Cypriots.

The Turkish-held area declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983 - but is recognised only by Turkey, which keeps around 30,000 troops in the north of the island.

The southern part of the island - known as the Republic of Cyprus - became an EU member in 2004.

Cyprus debate

That's the debate on Raif Badawi finished. MEPs will vote on a resolution at lunchtime.

The last of this morning's human rights debates relates to the graves of 106 people who went missing from a village in Cyprus in 1974 after an invasion by Turkish forces.

The Cypriot Parliament has accused Turkey of having exhumed the remains from some of the graves.

Cyprus in 1974
AP

Intervention

Mr Badawi's plight has drawn widespread media attention.

It has been

reported that Prince Charles raised his case with Saudi Arabia's new king during a visit to the country this week, although the details of the "private" talk have not been revealed.

Amnesty International had urged Prince Charles to raise the case during the visit, calling on him to "pass on a few well-chosen words" to the new Saudi monarch.

Prince Charles in Saudi Arabia
EPA

Arms sales clouding the issue?

SNP MEP Alyn Smith, echoing a point made by a number of other members in this debate, says the credibility of certain EU member states - including the UK - in dealing with Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses might be improved if they "thought a little bit less about arms sales" with the country.

Alyn Smith
BBC

Abuse of human rights

Labour MEP Richard Howitt tells MEPs that each of the lashes that Mr Badawi has been sentenced to are an abuse of human rights, in which they "must all feel the pain".

Richard Howitt
BBC

Who is Raif Badawi?

Raif Badawi is the founder of Liberal Saudi Network, a now-closed online forum that sought to encourage debate on religious and political matters.

In 2012, he was arrested and charged with "insulting Islam through electronic channels" and "going beyond the realm of obedience".

A year later, he was cleared of apostasy, which could have carried a death sentence.

Saudi Arabia enforces a strict version of Islamic law and does not tolerate political dissent.

It has some of the highest social media usage rates in the region, and has cracked down on domestic online criticism.

Raif Badawi
BBC

Raif Badawi debate

That's the debate on Bob Rugurika finished.

The next debate will highlight the case of Raif Badawi, the blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison by the authorities in Saudi Arabia for insulting Islam.

It was

recently announced that a second round of 50 lashes on the blogger had been postponed, following reports that he was left physically unfit to face the penalty after receiving the first flogging outside a mosque last month.

MEPs will vote on a resolution this lunchtime calling for him to be immediately released.

Commission commitment

Commissioner Stylianides reassures MEPs that the Commission will do "all it can" to secure Mr. Rugurika's release - whose arrest he says has been made to send a "warning" to other journalists in the country.

He also calls for "transparent and credible" elections in the country later this year.

Commissioner Stylianides
BBC

The media in Burundi

Operating in a turbulent political climate, Burundi's media are subject to self-censorship and occasional censorship from the government.

In June 2013, President Nkurunziza

approved a new media law which critics condemned as an attack on press freedom.

It forbids reporting on matters that could "undermine national security, public order or the economy".

However, diverse political views are aired and the opposition press does function, albeit sporadically.

Media in Burundi
Reuters

Background on Burundi

The government in Burundi is headed by President Pierre Nkurunziza, who won elections at the end of the civil war in 2005.

There is speculation that he plans to run for a third term at elections due this June.

Since his last re-election in 2010, opposition leaders and international observers have complained of increasing attacks and pressure on opposition parties and the media.

The EU has also criticised his government in the past for limits on political expression.

Arrest denounced

Polish Conservative Ryszard Czarnecki - who is also one of the Parliament's vice-presidents - denounces Mr Rugurika's arrest, and says the journalist was guilty of nothing more than simply "doing his job".

Ryszard Czarnecki
BBC

Bob Rugurika debate

That's the debate on online child abuse finished. MEPs will vote on a resolution at next month's plenary sitting of the parliament.

We now move on to the first of this morning's three human rights debates, which is on the case of Bob Rugurika, a journalist in Burundi.

He was arrested last month after broadcasting the testimony of a man who accused senior people in the government of involvement in the assassination of three Italian nuns in the country last year.

MEPs will vote on a resolution at lunchtime, calling for his immediate release.

'Catch the eye'

We're now on to the "catch the eye" procedure, when MEPs who didn't make it onto the official speakers' list can make short interventions before the Commissioner responds.

Tor network

Maltese Socialist Miriam Dalli urges the Commission to do more to clamp down the so-called "Tor network" - a browser used by the military, activists, businesses and others to keep communications confidential and aid free speech.

It allows access to the so-called "dark web", many of which are used for legitimate purposes, but some are used to trade illegal images and arrange drugs sales.

You can read an interactive BBC guide to Tor

here.

'Infestation' of dark web

French liberal Nathalie Griesbeck quotes research which says 10% of child abuse victims are under 2 years old.

She urges action on the dark web - a part of the internet that doesn't show up in normal search results - which she says is "infested" with criminals trading in child abuse images.

Noting that the deadline for countries to implement the terms of the 2011 directive was 2013, she asks the Commission for more information about progress that is being made towards this in the different member states.

Nathalie Griesbeck
BBC

Call to "speed up" directive

German centre-right MEP Monika Hohlmeier opens the debate on behalf of the EPP group, and urges urges implementation of the 2011 directive to be "sped up" in the member states, noting that some have not yet fully transposed it.

She adds that

Europol - EU security agency - must be given adequate resources in order to tackle internet abuse, claiming that at the moment only three people in the organisation are working full-time on online sexual abuse cases.

Monika Hohlmeier
BBC

Commission position

Commissioner Stylianides opens the debate by telling MEPs that the Commission has no immediate plans to propose any amendments to the current 2011 directive, but hopes to look at ways to improve its implementation.

He highlights the specific need of law enforcement authorities in EU countries needing to get access to evidence held by private companies in different countries in order to bring prosecution - which he describes as a "major obstacle" - and urges co-operation as a means to solve the problem, which he adds is "common to other forms of cyber crime".

Given the worldwide nature of the internet, he says the EU must take account of need to co-operate with countries outside the bloc.

Commissioner Stylianides
BBC

Current EU laws

The main piece of EU legislation in this area is a

2011 directive on the sexual abuse of children and child pornography.

Directives are EU laws that oblige national governments to pass certain laws, thereby "transposing" the terms of the text.

The 2001 directive harmonised laws in the EU states by, among other things:

  • Banning the organisation of "trips aimed at committing acts of sexual abuse"
  • Setting a minimum penalty of of ten years for forcing a child into child prostitution
  • Obliging member states to offer programmes to those convicted of child abuse offences to reduce the risk of re-offending

Session begins

Alexander Lambsdorff
BBC

First debate

First up, however, is a debate with Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Management Commissioner Christos Stylianides about the fight against the sexual abuse of children on the internet.

After some changes made at the opening of this week's opening of the plenary, MEPs will also now vote on a resolution on this subject at next month's session.

The idea was tabled by the centre-right EPP group, the largest in the Parliament.

Good Morning

Welcome to BBC Democracy Live's coverage of the final day of this month's plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

This morning, MEPs are going to be holding a series of debates on topical human rights cases - an activity traditionally reserved for Thursday mornings - before they vote on resolutions during the lunchtime voting session.