If I Don’t Oppose Dictatorship, Am I Still a Man?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘GLOBAL VOICES’)

 

‘If I Don’t Oppose Dictatorship, Am I Still a Man?’: Chinese Activist Gets Eight Years in Prison

Wu Gan via Apple Daily News. Licensed for non-commercial use.

“For those living under a dictatorship, being given the honorable label of one who ‘subverts state power’ is the highest form of affirmation for a citizen.”

Chinese human rights activist Wu Gan made this statement to a Tianjin court after receiving an eight-year prison sentence on December 26, 2017. In early January, he filed an appeal to the sentence.

Wu Gan, better known by his nickname “Super Vulgar Butcher”, has been active in Chinese human rights circles since 2008, when he began campaigning on behalf of Deng Yujiao, a waitress who was charged with murder after she stabbed and killed a government official when he attempted to rape her.

His earned his nickname after writing a blog post on “how to slay pigs” (a euphemism for bringing down corrupt officials) and thus established his reputation as a “butcher”. Speaking with the New York Times’ Sinosphere blog, Wu’s lawyer, Ge Wenxiu, explained that the name is intended to mock state officials’ use of vulgarity with a sarcastic suggestion that he wants to “slay” for them their corruption and misconduct.

Wu was arrested in 2015 after a protest outside a court in Jiangxi province over a rape and murder case in which the defense was denied access to court documents. His arrest marked the beginning of a nationwide crackdown on human right lawyers and activists.

He was initially charged with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” and defamation but upon his refusal to confess to his crime, the police changed the allegation to “subversion of state power.”

Wu explained in his statement (via China Change) that he had refused to trade a lighter sentence with public confession:

For those living under a dictatorship, being given the honorable label of one who “subverts state power” is the highest form of affirmation for a citizen. It’s proof that the citizen wasn’t an accomplice or a slave, and that at the very least he went out and defended, and fought for, human rights. Liang Qichao (梁启超, famous reformist at end of Qing dynasty) said that he and dictatorship were two forces inextricably opposed; I say: If I don’t oppose dictatorship, am I still a man?
They have attempted to have me plead guilty and cooperate with them to produce their propaganda in exchange for a light sentence — they even said that as long as I plead guilty, they’ll give me a three-year sentence suspended for three years. I rejected it all. My eight-year sentence doesn’t make me indignant or hopeless. This was what I chose for myself: when you oppose the dictatorship, it means you are already walking on the path to jail.

Wu Gan’s friends were disheartened upon hearing the news of his sentencing. On Twitter, Old Wine said:

看到朋友一个个陷入囹圄,除了愤怒,内心还是很纠结的,既希望他们像屠夫一样做个铁骨铮铮的汉子,又不想让他们受苦受非人的折磨,该妥协时也可以做些底线上的让步。前者我是敬重的,后者我是理解的。
新年伊始,每每想到冰冷铁窗里的他们,心如刀绞,恨己无能。

One after another, my friends were sentenced to jail. Apart from anger, I have complex feelings: I wish that my friends would stand up to their principle like Butcher. On the other hand, I don’t want them going through torture and wish that they could compromise. I respect Butcher and I understand those who make compromise. It is now the new year, whenever I think about those who are in jail, my heart hurts and I feel so helpless.

After Wu’s statement was widely circulated, another round of smear campaigning targeting him and other human rights lawyers has emerged. A number of Twitter bots spread posts (examples onetwothree and many others) accusing Wu Gan of garnering personal benefits through online activism backed by anti-China forces.

Knowing that the Chinese dissident community has been overwhelmed with pessimism, Wu Gan wrote a letter to the Chinese Twitter community, urging them to carry on defending conscience and freedom on December 31:

I wish that fellows outside [the Great Firewall] would not be silenced and overwhelmed by pessimism. No matter how bad the situation is, you can’t conspire with [the dictator]. We can be nervous and frightened, but we can’t be blind to the cruel reality and tell lies that are against our common sense, or imagine that an enlightened emperor can save us, or that the battle can be won without paying efforts. We have to spread the truth, defend conscience, respect knowledge, encourage bravery. Everyone has weaknesses, including me. But I believe that with openness to ideas, more understanding, and less calculation for personal gain, more contribution and acts will be rewarded. The fact that I can feel your support and attention is the best proof.

Lastly I want to borrow a sentence from The Shawshank Redemption: some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers carry the color of freedom. [The original quote from Stephen King is: some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice.]

In response to the letter, veteran Chinese activist Wu’er Kaixi from the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement wrote:

让我们在这一天一起郑重面对未来,我们并不活在一个美好的时代,但我们可以作一个美好的个人。我们可以被屠夫感染,而了解无惧是个有效选项,而我们的无惧,将令恐怖无法降临,这个时代也就可因此变美好一些。希望2018是这样的一个时节点。各位新年快乐! pic.twitter.com/NnI49Pn83H

Let’s face the future in a solemn manner today. We are not living in a good time, but we can be good people. We can be affected by Butcher and see fearlessness as an option. Our fearlessness will block terror and make our time better. I hope 2018 can be a starting point for this attitude. Happy New Year!

Wu Gan’s lawyer filed a written appeal to the court’s ruling on January 8 2018 (English version via China Change) defending citizens’ rights to free speech:

When rendering judgement on whether an individual’s conduct is criminal, it is vital to examine the character of their actions. The actions of the appellant — whether speech made via Weibo, WeChat, Twitter, his three “Guides,” interviews given to foreign media, or audio lectures — all fall under the rubric of legitimate exercise of freedom of speech. Similarly, the appellant’s participation in 12 noted cases — which involved ‘stand-and-watch’ protests, appealing in support of a cause, raising funds, or expressing himself via performance art — are also all exercises in freedom of expression, provided for in his civil rights of: the right to criticize and make suggestions; the right to lodge appeals and complaints; the right to report and expose malfeasance, and so on. These rights are innate, and are provided for in the constitution and law of the People’s Republic of China. The exercise of these rights has nothing at all to do with so-called subversion of state power.

 

Angolans Left Snickering After Post-Launch Glitch in Country’s First Satellite

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Angolans Left Snickering After Post-Launch Glitch in Country’s First Satellite

The launch of Angosat-1 was broadcast live by Televisão Pública de Angola. Image: screengrab, Clubk Clubk/YouTube.

On 25 December, Angola’s first satellite went into orbit, and the launch was celebrated with a large screen broadcasting it live at Marginal de Luanda, one of the city’s main avenues, accompanied by fireworks.

Named Anglosat-1, the satellite is Russian-made, the fruit of a Russian-Angolan partnership started in 2009, and is intended to bring high-speed internet and radio and television transmission to various countries in Africa and parts of Europe.

However, hours after its launch from Kazakhstan the satellite lost communications with its Earth platform and remained silent for several hours.

Angolans treated the launch and the glitch with humor, but also took the opportunity to question the narratives of the world’s media and the wisdom of spending money on a satellite when human development remains so poor in the country.

Social media was full of comic reactions when news of the satellite’s temporary malfunction broke:

Os fazedores de memes estão cada vez mais rápidos e de humor apurado. “O satélite levou chip da Movicel por isso perdeu rede”; “Encontrou-se o satélite algures no Kwanza-Sul, destruiu as viaturas do soba e do administrador”😆

Meme makers are getting quicker and sharper in wit. “The satellite used a Movicel chip, that’s why it lost connection” [Movicel is a cellphone operator in Angola]; “The satellite was found somewhere in Kwanza-Sul [province in Angola], it destroyed the vehicles of the soba [community-leader] and the administrator”

Ontem os Angolanos lançaram fogo de artifício para comemorar o lançamento do primeiro satélite angolano.
Hoje a agência espacial russa perdeu contacto com o satélite.

Yesterday the Angolans launched fireworks to commemorate the launch of the first Angolan satellite.
Today the Russian space agency lost contact with the satellite.

“Moscovo perde sinal do satélite angolano” já não há porno pra ninguém 😂😂😂

“Moscow lost the signal of the Angolan satellite” now there is no porn for anybody

Must be without a system…
After all, the satellite is Angolan

Some, though, criticized so much attention being given to the fault in the satellite – which finally re-established contact two days later, according to the Russian maker RSC Energia.

Tanta midia internacional subitamente interessada apenas no fracasso do satélite angolano… hate e vontade de não ver um país africano sobressair é assim tão grande ?

So much international media suddenly interested only in the Angolan satellite’s failure… the hate and will to not see an African country stand out is so great?

Angola has become the seventh African country, alongside Algeria, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, and Tunisia, to have a communications satellite in orbit.

The Angolan government reports that it has invested 320 million US dollars in the project, which it forecasts that it will recover in two years. According to Minister of State Carvalho da Rocha, the telecommunications operators of Angola spend, together, between 15 and 20 million US dollars each month in renting space on other satellites for the region.

Furthermore, the minister said that 40% of the satellite’s capacity has already been sold, to be used by national telecommunications operators, while the rest should be hired by other operators in Africa and parts of Europe. Angosat-1 should stay in orbit for 15 years.

Imagens exclusivas do Angosat.
Satélite angolano será lançado no próximo mês. Técnicos estão a dar os últimos retoques para a conclusão do angosat.

Exclusive images of Angosat.
The Angolan satellite will be launched next month. Technicians are giving the finishing touches to Angosat’s preparation.

However, some raised concerns, such as activist Pedrowski Teca:

I ask:
1 – What is the Russian flag doing on our satellite?
2 – Why is the Russian flag most prominent and Angola’s in second place?
3 – Why is the writing on the satellite in a foreign language (seemingly Russian)?

For Raúl Danda, the satellite is not his priority as an Angolan citizen:

[…] If it is a reason of pride, because it is not just any country that sends its own satellite into space, this episode reminds me of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations; a lot of show for nothing or almost nothing. Many of the stadiums that cost millions and millions of dollars (a “cost” cost and a stolen cost) remain there with grass growing for the goats to graze. At that time, the government of President Eduardo dos Santos (now “ex”) intended only to show that “we can too”! This time that repeats itself. Launching a satellite is a good thing, even really good. But it is first necessary to achieve other things. Buying a BMW while, at home, the children have no bread, is, more than absurd, irrational. Launching a satellite into space while on the ground there is no medicine, food, quality education, healthcare worthy of that name, basic sanitation … and other really basic things, seems to me a terrible irrationality…

Another Angolan activist questioned why the government had brought religious practitioners to attend the launch ceremony:

Aqueles “Lideres Religiosos” que foram levados à Moskovo- Rússia, no âmbito do lançamento do tal satelite que já anda desaparecido foram mesmo fazer o que ?
Este governo parece que ainda não deixou o habito de gastar dinheiro desnecessáriamente, ou estes custiaram a sua viajem?

Those “religious leaders” who were brought to Moscow-Russia, for the launch of the satellite which has already gone missing, were there to do what? It seems that this government has not stopped its habit of spending money unnecessarily, or did they pay for their own travel?

Corruption and Poverty Lead to Rage and Despair in Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Corruption and Poverty Lead to Rage and Despair in Iran

Screenshot from video of protests in Tehran from January 4, 2018. Available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/hNNVlONyNGs

This piece was cross-posted on the website of Arseh Sevom website, a non-governmental organization that promotes peace, democracy, and human rights for Persian-speaking communities.

“Where’s my money?” That’s what many in Iran have been asking over the past few years as they’ve watched inflation and corruption decimate their earnings.

Inflation has hit the poor and working class the hardest. The costs of food, utilities, and healthcare have risen dramatically over the past five years. In 2013, the cost of food increased by just over 57%; in 2017, it rose by a further 13.9%. Meanwhile, the youth unemployment rate hovers at about 25%.

Simply put, there is plenty of economic despair to go around. But it doesn’t end there. Desperate people have invested in pyramid schemes that enriched a few at the cost of the many. Workers all over Iran have waited up to a year to be paid for completed work. This traps them in inescapable debt and many land up in prison for using bad checks, placing even more stress on already struggling households.

In the last half of 2017, there were near-daily protests in front of Iran’s parliament. Teachers, laborers, and bus drivers demonstrated to demand higher pay and better working conditions. This is not new: these protests are more than a decade old now.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been unable to deliver the freedoms and financial stability that its citizens long for. Some of this is the result of sanctions imposed by the United States; much of it, however, is due to corruption and bad governance.

US-imposed financial sanctions have actually provided excuses for bad planning and rampant corruption. As long as they are in place, the Iranian government can hide behind them, blaming everything from milk shortages to poor aircraft maintenance on sanctions.

Meanwhile, those who learned to game the system have raked in the big bucks. A perfect example is Iran’s Babak Zanjani who became a billionaire many times over thanks to international sanctions against Iran and his clever manipulation of his position as the Islamic Republic’s money launderer. In late 2013, he was arrested

We’re not all in this together

Paykans in Northern Tehran. Photo by Wikipaykan – Own workCC BY-SA 3.0Link

In 2003, Iran’s streets were filled with the boxy white Paykan sedans and the occasional foreign-made compact car. Cafes were rare; any public signs of wealth, subtle. Many people lived on salaries that wouldn’t pay even a month’s rent — $1,000 a month seemed like an extravagant amount of money.

By the time I left Tehran in 2007, consumerism was on the rise. International companies and luxury products were finding a market in Iran. Soon after, couples would be eating gold-flaked ice cream in tower-top restaurants and flaunting their wealth in Jaguars and Porsches. Soon, there would be a rise in evictions of long-term tenants in order to build apartment towers. Soon, all pretense of shared struggle would be gone.

Wealth can’t protect you from environmental collapse

Screenshot from Al Jazeera Earthrise documentary: Iran’s Water Crisis by Gelareh Darabi

Tehran is being smothered in smog. Bad air days are increasing. People are suffering. In 2011, the Iranian government reported that nearly 3,000 people died every month because of complications resulting from pollution. That number may be higher, as research begins to show that many deaths from cardiovascular disease are actually the result of pollution, not lifestyle or diet.

Poor water management worsened during the Ahmadinejad administration from 2005 to 2013. During that time, newly constructed damns led to dry rivers, lakes, and aquifers. Once-fertile areas have been destroyed.

Private industry, with connections to the state, warned people against “exaggerating” the magnitude of the environmental crisis in Iran. An investigative report by environmental researchers found that scientific research on the crisis is often stifled.

Meanwhile, analysts predict millions of internal climate refugees. That’s something to prepare for, not ignore.

Protests are growing and waning

Many people in Iran have looked at the conflict in the surrounding region and felt lucky to have been somewhat insulated from it. They feel threatened by Daesh (also known as ISIL or ISIS, the brutal militant group that has taken over areas of Iraq and Syria) and by Saudi Arabia. They are afraid of the possibility of national disintegration and the type of government violence seen in Syria. This fear has put a damper on public protest.

The director of non-governmental organization Arseh Sevom (and also my life partner) Kamran Ashtary stated:

Iranians again show us that they are unpredictable. Those who had claimed that people were so afraid of a Syria-type scenario that they would not come to the streets, were wrong. As we say again and again, Iranians are always full of surprises. Violence and suppression won’t work forever.

This current wave of protests was apparently sparked by hardliners who initiated demonstrations in the eastern city of Mashhad against the moderate administration of Hassan Rouhani. The hardliners soon lost control, though, and people took to the streets in anger and desperation.

Ashtary added:

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the administration of President Rouhani have seen this coming. Over the past few months, there have been many protests from all sides: from teachers, bus drivers, and the working class. People all over Iran have become frustrated with Rouhani’s government. They see that the lifting of sanctions has pumped money into the country, but regular people, people who have been working very hard in Iran, have not seen the benefits.The level of corruption is high. The national budget shows money flowing into religious organizations without any accountability. The moderates and reformists have been quiet and have not taken the side of people suffering in Iran. Iranians have been quite patient with the Islamic Republic. That won’t last. This may be the last chance for non-violent change.

For the first time in decades, many people on the streets of Iran have been openly calling for an end to clerical rule. Some chanted for reinstatement of the Shah, while others have railed against the president and supreme leader.

This is in stark contrast to demonstrations in the aftermath of the 2009 elections, which was the last time masses of people took to the streets in Iran. Those protests called for a recount of the vote, for “small changes”. People sang nursery rhymes, not political slogans. One of the most chanted was:

Don’t fear, don’t fear, we are all together here

Revolution?

The people of Iran have been struggling for just governance since their 1905 constitutional revolution. The country’s democratic hopes have been dashed again and again. This is most notable in the case of the 1953 US- and British-led coup against Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadegh (see this Twitter essay by @_chloi for a good overview). In recent years many inside Iran have spoken of evolution, not revolution. These protesters are different though. Many feel that there is nothing left to lose.

The Iranian government is calling the protesters “counter-revolutionary.” Others are calling them revolutionary. In an unprecedented move, more than 40 students were preemptively arrested because of fears what they might do if they became involved in the protests. The Center for Human Rights in Iran has more information on this: Iranian Security Forces Have Arrested More Than 40 University Students.

Is this a revolution? Probably not. In a post on Facebook, Iran analyst Peyman Jafari noted:

History shows that protests have their own dynamics. They can grow, radicalize, and lead to revolution. But the same history shows that they can end in repression and concessions. What we know of Iranian society and government point to the second outcome.

What can civil society do?

IranWire’s Maziar Bahari suggested some changes to US policy to better support demonstrators:

Three simple suggestions for the US government and others:
1- impose sanctions on Iranian state TV, IRIB 2- lift travel ban for Iranians 3- condemn violence from all sides, both violence by the government and those who promote violence against mosques and banks in Iran.

Journalist Mostafa Khosravi told Global Voices:

This is a very critical time for reformists in Iran. If they don’t find a way to support those demonstrating in the streets, they will lose all of the backing they’ve gained over the past six years. By this I mean, the seats gained by Reformists in Parliament and on city councils. Protesters are asking them for support. So far, their only response has been to tell them to calm down. If that’s the best they can do, there is no hope for them as a party.

With reports of nearly 1,000 arrested, the crackdown seems more effective than the “calm down”.  Journalist Golnaz Esfandiari reported that hardline news outlets are using Twitter to crowdsource the identification of protesters:

Iranian hardline news outlets endanger anti-establishment protesters by calling for their identification https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-revolutionary-guards-crowdsource-protester-crackdown/28955120.html 

Iran’s IRGC, Allies Enlist Public, And Twitter, To Chase Suspected Protesters

Some Iranians are calling out local media and Twitter over apparent vigilantism on behalf of the feared Revolutionary Guards.

rferl.org

In a letter from prison, the vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights, Narges Mohammadi, published recommendations for supporting the demonstrations without violence. She asks that civil society put pressure on government to reevaluate the budget, and feels that this is the best way to support peaceful protests and bring about change:

Instead of talking, the government needs to take concrete steps to support and protect the rights of the people by making fundamental reforms.

In this critical situation, the members of parliament need to listen to the concerns of the people. They need to ensure that the proposed budget is not ratified.

We, the people, with determination and without violence, must stand firm in demanding our rights. The protest will be costly but it must also pay off. For now, the most urgent matter in the struggle against corruption and poverty is the 2018 budget proposal. We need to engage in peaceful protest in order to prevent its passage.

If I were not in prison, I would be in front of Parliament every day that the budget bill was under discussion. The members of parliament need to know that they are accountable to the people, that they represent the people, and that the eyes of the people are upon them.

Mostafa Khosravi contributed research for this article.

South Asia Saw New Threats to Free Expression Online in 2017

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

From Internet Blackouts to Violent Attacks, South Asia Saw New Threats to Free Expression Online in 2017

Social media ban. Images mixed by Rezwan.

In 2017, South Asian countries faced growing challenges in the field of internet freedom, censorship, and freedom of expression. The Global Voices South Asia team highlighted many of these issues throughout the year. Here is a summary of our coverage.

Internet shutdowns

Internet shutdowns and blackouts in conflict areas rose sharply in 2017, threatening citizens’ access to communications, information and free expression online. Unique regions of India and Pakistan saw both total shutdown and partial shutdowns (e.g. of mobile data networks). The shutdowns not only curb the rights of freedom of expression laid out in these countries’ constitutions, they also have economic implications affecting business and public services.

The Global Voices Advox Netizen Report noted that internet blackouts are becoming an increasingly common tactic for local and regional authorities when faced with public consternation around politics and elections, ethnic and religious tensions, and incidents of violence.

Since January 1, 2017, there have been 65 regional-level Internet shutdowns in India. In 2016, there were 31 such shutdowns. The Software Freedom Law Centre of New Delhi has an online interactive map that shows the location and details of each Internet shutdown in India, along with a short description of public events coinciding with the shutdown.

Screenshot from the website Internetshutdowns.in CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

According to data provided by digital rights group accessnow.org, since January 2016, Pakistan had 10 digital blackouts. Mobile internet service was shut down for more than a year in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), starting in June 2016, according to a Freedom House report.

When we look at details of these shutdowns, we find various reasons. Internet and mobile services were shut down for several days in the northern Indian states of Haryana and Punjab following a court ruling in the criminal case against guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the controversial leader of the hugely popular Dera Sacha Sauda sect.

Last April, in the Indian city of Kendrapara, provincial officials blocked Internetconnectivity for 48 hours to prevent the circulation of an “objectionable” video that witnesses said was insulting to the Prophet Mohammad.

 

Censored: News sites, tweets and Bollywood ripoffs

Internet filtering and blocking of specific websites have been a common tool of regulators and governments in several South Asian countries. In most instances, the goal was to block access to politically sensitive content. Authorities often cited national security as the reason for blocking. The blocking and filtering of the global Internet is a violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grants everyone the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

In April, authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir blocked 22 social media applications, including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. According to authorities, the social media services were “being misused by anti-national and anti-social elements” in the Kashmir Valley to disturb “peace and tranquility”.

Even Bollywood gave cause for online censorship in August 2017. The Internet Archive and more than 2,600 file-sharing websites were blocked in India following two court orders issued by the Madras High Court in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu (accessible here and here). The ruling, issued on August 2, 2017, was based on the petitions of two prominent Bollywood production houses, Red Chillies Entertainment and Prakash Jha Productions, to stop file-sharing websites from distributing pirated copies of two recently released Bollywood movies, “Jab Harry Met Sejal”, and “Lipstick Under My Burkha”.

In two separate requests, dated 16 August and 24 August, Indian authorities asked Twitter to suspend more than two dozen Twitter accounts and censor more than 100 tweets.

Kashmiri woman protestor dares a policeman to stop her from moving ahead during restrictions imposed in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Administered Kashmir. Photo by Ieshan Wani, used with permission.

Shortly thereafter, Twitter notified the account holders and asked them to voluntarily remove the questionable content, warning that Twitter might otherwise be obliged to take action regarding the content identified in the complaint.

Early this year Sri Lanka enacted the Right to Information Act. On November 8, 2017 independent news website LankaeNews had been blocked across all internet service providers in Sri Lanka. Three independent news sites in Sri Lanka filed requests as per the RTI Act in order to get more information about the blocking process and the Telecom Regulatory Commission (TRC) revealed that 13 websites had been blocked from 2015 and the paper trail leads to the highest levels of the government. The websites included political news and pornographic material.

Violent threats against bloggers and media workers

Several journalists, bloggers and media workers were killed in a number of South Asian countries.

As many as nine Pakistani bloggers went missing within the first week of 2017. Four of the missing activists are known for their secular and left-leaning views. Some of the activists returned after weeks of captivity. According to media reports, the bloggers were subjected to torture and made to sign agreements stating that they would not seek legal course to file cases against their abductors.

In India, activists, journalists, and human rights defenders have faced increasing strain and legal intimidation under India’s sedition laws and Information Technology Act 2008 in recent years.

Several journalists, writers, and poets were sued for their writings. Freelance cartoonist Bala G was arrested on November 5, 2017 for defaming the Chief Minister of the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu in a cartoon shared on social media. On on June 5, 2017, India’s oldest private news channel New Delhi Television Network (NDTV) known for its hard-hitting, anti-establishment journalism had multiple offices raidedby the country’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Gauri Lankesh (2012), Image from Flickr by Hari Prasad Nadig. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Veteran Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot to death by assailants on September 5, 2017, outside her home in Bangalore. Lankesh, 55, was the editor of a Kannada-language tabloid called Gauri Lankesh Patrike that took a fierce stance against Hindu nationalist organizations and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Hate speech in public discourse in India is growing, and Lankesh’s murder is seen as a clear warning to the voices in India who express dissent that intolerance is growing.

In the Maldives, blogger and activist Yameen Rasheed was stabbed to death in his home in the capital Malé on April 23, 2017. An outspoken critic of the government and radical religion-based politics, Rasheed had previously reported to police that he received death threats via text message and social media for his writings. Police have said that religious extremists killed Yameen Rasheed and have initiated proceedings for a closed trial on his murder. Rasheed’s family is pushing for the trial to be open to the public, out of fear that some evidence against the defendants might be destroyed.

In a statement commenting on the assassinations of Lankesh and Rasheed, the International Federation of Journalists wrote:

These killings horribly encapsulate the latest picture of threat and danger emerging from the violent discourse overtaking parts of South Asia, and more broadly around the world where authoritarian rule is eroding the very essence of democracy. With it, suffers press freedom and the public’s right to know.

In May, four independent Maldivian bloggers and activists living overseas were issued arrest warrants by the police. They were warned that authorities may seek to prosecute them in absentia if they fail to return to the Maldives within two weeks of the warrants being issued. They have not yet been prosecuted.

This year, over a span of four months in Bangladesh, more than twenty journalistswere sued under the country’s controversial ICT law. Nearly 700 cases have been filed under the law since it was amended in 2013. Almost two thirds of the cases have been filed under Section 57 of the 2013 Information and Communication Technology Actwhich prohibits digital messages that can “deteriorate” law and order, “prejudice the image of the state or person,” or “hurt religious beliefs.”

 

Cinema censorship

The film industries in a number of countries also faced censorship for its contents.

The Bhutanese Authorities have banned screening of feature film Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait, cannot be screened in the country for ‘misusing’ religious masks on screen.

Screenshot from YouTube

In India, the authorities banned two movies for ‘Being Too Lady-Oriented’ and ‘Glorifying Homosexuality’. Although the Constitution of India guarantees freedom of expression, it places certain restrictions on content, in order to protect communal and religious harmony and control obscenity.

As we look ahead to 2018, we hope to see justice for the many online voices and media workers who have been threatened because of their work, and we pledge to continue our coverage of the many legal and technical threats to free expression online.

 

Tropical Storm Unleashes Deadly Destruction on Philippines

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Tropical Storm Unleashes Deadly Destruction on Philippines Four Years After Super Typhoon Haiyan

Screenshot from local news coverage of tropical storm Kai-Tak (local name Urduja) by PTV Philippines.

Philippine officials reported that at least 46 people were killed while another 28 are still missing after tropical storm Kai-Tak (local name Urduja) battered Eastern Visayas, the region hardest hit by super typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) four years ago.

Eastern Visayas is composed of the three main islands Biliran, Leyte, and Samar, which are the easternmost islands of the central Philippine island group of Visayas. Facing the Pacific Ocean to its east, the region is the typical entry point of tropical storms to the Philippines.

Most of the people killed or missing — mostly by landslides, authorities say — hail from the province of Biliran, which posted 25 dead and 25 missing people. Over 44,000 families have been evacuated and at least 16,000 passengers were stranded in various areas of the Philippines.

Tropical storm Kai-Tak caused damage to five bridges that effectively cut off Biliran from Leyte and the rest of the region, thus posing challenges on the bringing of heavy equipment and supplies to the island.

Activist Joshua Musico Sagdullas writes for Eastern Visayas-based alternative news site Eastern Vista to ask if the new government has learned any lesson at all from the devastation wrought by super typhoon Haiyan in November 2013:

What we expected was for the rain to pour and winds to howl, we thought work would be suspended for a day or two and some roads impassable due to slight debris pile up. We would never have thought the storm would cause evacuation-efforts spanning three regions or paralyzed the economy of close to three provinces in Eastern Visayas.

Netizens and journalists have used the hashtag #UrdujaPH on social media to give updates on the storm and post photos of its impact. Groups have also taken to social media to call for donations and disaster relief efforts, especially for some of the most affected areas like Biliran.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Photos: Pinsalang iniwan ni Bagyong Urduja sa Leyte

The dead left by typhoon Urduja in Leyte.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Queue of stranded vehicles outside Matnog Port in Sorsogon reaches 4 km. (📸 MDRRMO Matnog) |  @InquirerSLB

Netizens have also asked if Kai-Tak’s impact on Biliran was further magnified by the presence of sulfur mining in the area. The Mines and Geosciences Bureau has warnedabout the threat of landslides in Biliran ahead of Kai-Tak’s appearance.

May sulphur mining man daw ha iyo 💔

Tungod ha ira, damo nagkamatay. Dre la sulphur mining it nagaganap ha Biliran. Sana maging sensitive it Province ngan LGU para ma-address it mga sugad na issue, ginhihinay hinay la nira pagguba ht Biliran. 💔

Many died because of this. Sulphur mining is happening in Biliran. Hopefully the provincial local government unit would be sensitive and address this issue. They are slowly destroying Biliran.

: Melanie Bingco gives updates on the situation in Biliran amid pic.twitter.com/vA6fwVNny6

My Sulfur mining sa bundok ng Biliran province 35 years na ako ngaun lang ngyari sa province namin ito.. Nakakaiyak 😦

There’s sulfur mining in the mountains of Biliran. I’ve been in Biliran province 35 years this happened to our province only now. Heartbreaking.

But even as tropical storm Kai-Tak has already left the Philippines as it moved to the West Philippine Sea, the country is again bracing for the entry of another weather disturbance which is expected to make landfall on Christmas eve.

Are Trinidad & Tobago ‘Vindicating’ The Men Who Murder Women?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

On December 17, 2017, news broke in Trinidad and Tobago about the murder of Samantha Isaacs, who was shot dead by the father of her child. The perpetrator subsequently killed himself.

Gender-based violence has become an increasingly difficult issue for the Caribbean region to deal with, but Trinidad and Tobago in particular has been plagued with a significant number of femicides.

This most recent murder struck a chord with many female netizens, partly because — as was firmly established by the globally viral hashtag #metoo and the regionally recognised #lifeinleggings — women have a sense of being under constant threat, and partly because murders like Isaacs’ could have been prevented.

Kahriym Garcia, Isaacs’ former partner, had a history that should have been a red flag for the authorities — his grandmother had reportedly taken a restraining order out against him because he tried to kill her; on one occasion, he put a knife to Isaacs’ mother’s throat; and he would repeatedly threaten to kill Isaacs and her family. Isaacs attempted to take Garcia to court for child support and sought a restraining order against him, but the magistrate kept delaying the case.

The #lifeinleggings movement mourned Isaacs’ death on Twitter:

We mourn the loss of 27-year-old Samantha Isaacs.

Samantha was shot by her abusive ex-boyfriend in Trinidad & Tobago.

She leaves behind a 4-year-old son.

Our thoughts and condolences go out to her son and family. May justice prevail…   

In an editorial posted the day after Isaacs’ death, the Sunday Express wrote:

Every murder is gut-wrenching but there is something particularly awful about a victim being pursued to a preventable death despite seeking the protection of the police and the courts. […]

No one can plead innocent to the risks faced by women desperately trying to escape an abusive relationship. Yet, such cases continue to be treated with a certain casualness by institutions and by individuals for whom victim protection is never highest priority. […]

With close to 50 women already murdered this year, the issue of violence against women is no theoretical matter. […]

Counselling, policing, protection, detection—policies and programmes for all of these and more have been discussed ad nauseum. What remains to be done is implementation.

Activist Tillah Willah, who shared a link to a counselling service in her Facebook post, said:

For many of us this is another Sunday of re-living our own traumas at the hands of lovers, relatives, friends. For many of us this is another Sunday of opening old wounds, past hurts and wondering if we are next. People are sharing stories and crying out for help and most of us, especially those of us who do this work every day, cannot bear the burden of another story. What happens after the story of is shared and we are submitted to the anonymous violence of online shaming?
If it’s too much, please switch off. Disconnecting from this is an act of radical self care and survival. We are all angry and we are all terrified and we are all hurt. But we are still here. We owe it to those who are no longer with us to seek help and healing.

The “online shaming” she talks about refers to the curious phenomenon among some social media users — women included — of victim shaming and showing sympathy for the father, who Isaacs reportedly kept from seeing their child.

Comedian Simmy Behave, who experienced an abusive relationship herself, was having none of it. Creating a powerful hashtag, #nomoresilence, she began to curate women’s stories of domestic violence and explained why:

From my experience, that’s what it felt like. Silence. You lose your voice in an abusive relationship. You feel like you can’t say anything or you have to choose your words more carefully.

So you stop speaking up. You hide from friends and family or you get isolated from them.

Sometimes you will make all the steps needed to get out and you will be successful but there are some who don’t make it out of physically abusive relationships alive.

It’s not about choosing your partner carefully. [The country’s prime minister recently faced a backlash for suggesting women needed to be more vigilant.]

Calling Trinidad and Tobago “a ‘licks-based’ society” (“licks” is a local term for “beatings” and corporal punishment is all too common as a means of “disciplining” children), she also encouraged men to share their perspectives under the above hashtag.

Netizens immediately answered the call, many anonymously for fear of being harmed. The comedian posted scores of harrowing accounts on her Facebook page that included tales of a skewed sense of ownership, a dangerous dependency syndromebeatings during pregnancy, and sexual assault, some of which occurred when the women were minors.

Some women were desperate to be free of their abusers in the new year, while others wanted to help them. One survivor lamented the state of the court system in the country, and others admitted they no longer went anywhere alone. One woman remained in the abusive marriage for decades, and heartbreakingly, a child of abuse spoke of how she repeated the same patterns in her own life.

The hashtag has raised questions that many social media users have been asking for some time, about hyper-masculinity and the way boys are socialised, about resulting male aggression, and about women’s inability to leave abusive relationships, no doubt tied to the failure of state systems and institutions to protect them.

Criminologist Renee Cummings has been consistently sharing advice and resources on this and other violence-related topics via her Facebook page. In February 2017, she noted:

There seems to be a growing misconception that interpersonal violence, intimate partner violence or domestic violence that ends in homicide (man murders woman) is a crime of passion. It is not. If anything IPV and DV are more akin to acts of terrorism than crimes of passion. An intimate partner/ex-intimate partner leaves where ever he is or lives and comes down to a victim’s job with a knife hidden, calls her on the job and asks her to come outside to talk, and then slashes her throat when she turns around to walk off is not a crime of passion; seems a lot of thought went into that? No passion there!

Cummings also made the point that “stalking is a serious crime, everywhere in the world but T&T!” and took aim at “the lackluster response of law enforcement and the criminal justice system”.

Most netizens agree that while gender-based violence may be a complex issue, immediate solutions include enforcing the law and doing more to protect victims. At present, the inverse seems to be happening, prompting activist Brendon O’Brien to sum up the situation on Instagram in a poem he wrote in honour of Samantha Isaacs:

Instagram post by Brendon J. O’Brien on the murder of Samantha Isaacs.

Victims of domestic and gender-based violence in Trinidad and Tobago can contact the following organisations for advice and support:

  • Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-SAVE
  • Families in Action: 628-2333
  • Organisation for Abused and Battered Individuals: 798-6185
  • Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad and Tobago: 622.7273
  • The Shelter: 628-0861
  • Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence (under the umbrella of United Way): 625-8286
  • Victim and Witness Support Unit (Head Office): 628-4277, Extension 8

‘Recalcitrant’ Activist Charged by Singapore Police for Organizing ‘Illegal Assemblies’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

‘Recalcitrant’ Activist Charged by Singapore Police for Organizing ‘Illegal Assemblies’

Jolovan Wham (person wearing red shirt) is joined by friends during a solidarity event. Photo from Facebook page of Lynn Lee.

On November 29, Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham was charged by the police for “organizing public assemblies without a permit under the Public Order Act, an offense of vandalism under the Vandalism Act, and for refusing to sign his statements under the Penal Code.”

Wham is an activist known for his campaigns promoting the rights of migrant workers, free speech in Singapore, and reform of the country’s laws on detention and death penalty.

Wham’s seven offences listed by the police are in connection several protest events: 1. July 14 candle lighting vigil in solidarity with the family of a person facing the death penalty 2. June 13 ‘silent protest’ inside a train about the arrest of “Marxist conspirators’ in 1987 and 3. November 26, 2016 indoor forum whose speaker included Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong speaking via Skype.

The police accused Wham of organizing these activities without securing the approval of authorities and described Wham as a ‘recalcitrant’:

Wham is recalcitrant and has repeatedly shown blatant disregard for the law, especially with regard to organizing or participating in illegal public assemblies.

Wham was briefly detained on November 29 but released after posting bail.

His case alarmed many activist groups which warned about the shrinking space for freedom of expression in Singapore.

An online petition signed by more than 3,900 people (as of this writing) urged the government to drop the charges against Wham:

The prosecution of Jolovan Wham has a chilling effect on free speech where the law is used as a tool of intimidation against peaceful and non-violent activists. These charges also violate his constitutional and universal rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Another online petition addressed to the country’s prime minister highlighted the importance of Wham’s activism:

He is a constant reminder that we, as a first world country, should strive to attain the standard of human rights enjoyed by other first world countries.

Function 8, a non-government organization (NGO), praised Wham as “the voice of the voiceless.”

We do not understand why the State is pursuing the seven charges against Jolovan Wham for events which were all peaceful and non-violent. He works for the good of our country, which we are told, aims to be inclusive and which respects diverse voices.

Community Action Network, another local NGO, appealed to the government to reconsider its policies restricting free speech:

The Singapore government has long used a range of public order offenses to manage public opinion. As a mature, advanced nation which exhibits the key forms of parliamentary democracy, the stifling of free speech has been widely condemned for its chilling effect on human rights.

The Singapore police should not proceed with charges against Wham. The government must reconsider its position on free speech and freedom of assembly. It is time for Singapore to recognize that peaceful protest is not a crime.

Aware Singapore, a human rights group, thinks it’s time to review regulations that undermine the people’s civil liberties:

Some regulation of public assembly may be necessary to safeguard the public interest in safety and prevent disruption. Yet it may be timely to reconsider how restrictive these regulations should be. Events that do not threaten the safety and well-being of any person, damage any property or cause disruption to ordinary affairs should not be made difficult to organize, and it is doubtful whether society’s interests are best served by making them liable to criminal prosecution.

MARUAH, another human rights group, insisted that Wham’s activism should not be treated by the police as a criminal act.

Mr Wham’s actions are merely public criticisms of the government’s stance on detention without trial, capital punishment and free speech. It is revealing that in the police press release announcing the arrest of Mr Wham, the police make a great deal of Mr Wham’s “recalcitrance” as if he were a child defying parental authority.

Wham’s supporters organized a solidarity event on December 10 in time for International Human Rights Day celebrations. Some of his friends also shared storiesof how Wham inspired many people through his activism.

Wham also got the support of 52 Malaysian NGOs which signed a statement urging the Singapore government to withdraw the charges filed against him.

This ironic tweet featuring reflects the determination of Wham and his colleagues to question the legitimacy of being labeled ‘recalcitrant’:

“Wham is recalcitrant and has repeatedly shown blatant disregard for the law, especially with regard to organising or participating in illegal public assemblies,” the police said.

Full-Page Feature on Nuclear Radiation Survival Stirs Panic in China

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

A Local Newspaper’s Full-Page Feature on Nuclear Radiation Survival Stirs Panic in China

Jilin Daily’s full page feature on nuclear radiation.

On December 6, 2017, Jilin Daily published a full-page feature on nuclear weapons and how to protect oneself in case of a nuclear radiation. This led many, in particular, residents from northern China to ask if the newspaper report is an anticipation of a United States military action against North Korea’s missile test.

Jilin province is located in north China near North Korea. Jilin Daily is affiliated with the local government of the province.

On November 29, North Korea launched a test on an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching all part of U.S. mainland. Earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump warned to bring a “rain” of “fire and fury” on North Korea if the country’s leader Kim Jong Un continued to threaten U.S. security. China, in particular the northern part of China, would be affected by the “rain”.

Meanwhile, another leaked document from Jilin’s China mobile company indicated that the Jilin government has established five refugee sites in Changbai province, which shares 260 kilometers of border with North Korea.

Public discussion regarding potential warfare in North Korea was deleted quickly from social media platforms. Even party-affiliated Global Times had to withdraw its editorial upon publishing online (retrieved via Voices of America):

Currently, tension is mounting in the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has launched six nuclear tests and it is believed that the country is already equipped with a nuclear bomb. Moreover, its missile launching technology has reached a breakthrough this year and has successfully launched a missile that can reach all parts of the U.S. continent. The U.S has vowed that it would destroy North Korea economy and exercise military pressure. The risk of military conflict between the U.S and North Korea has escalated. Jilin shares border with North Korea, the whole page feature on nuclear radiation precaution is believed to be a reaction to the risk of warfare in the Korean peninsula.

Despite censorship, anxious posts about military conflicts keep popping up on popular Chinese social media platform Weibo. One Weibo user believes that the news feature published by Jilin Daily was approved by the central government:

This is not a joke. You all know that news censorship in China is very strict. Such kind of content has to be approved by senior officials before circulation. The leaders want to tell you something but can’t say that explicitly. Fellows in Dongbei (northern China), please observe the U.S consulate in Shenyang, if they retreat, run away.

Even though state-affiliated news outlets had tried to downplay the possibility of a war, many are still worried about radiation if military action was taken by the U.S. against North Korea’s nuclear facilities:

Even if the nuclear missile exploded in the sky, Dongbei area will still be endangered, right?

More critical comments blamed the government for the nuclear crisis:

To prevent a North Korea nuclear missile attack, South Korea and Japan are equipped with Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), MIM-104 Patriot and Aircraft Carriers; Taiwan has Phased Array Warning System, Russia has Voronezh-M radar system as precaution. China is the only country which cannot clearly detect and counter North Korea missiles. Now with the threat of H-bomb, people in Jilin can only rely on newspapers which educate people with radiation common sense. Where have all the patriotic youths who protested against the THAAD by crushing Korean vehicles gone? Shouldn’t you be standing in the front line?

Since government with Chinese character [China government] has been supporting North Korea in secret, the country eventually got its nuclear weapon. Now it is threatening the security of all people in the world. Hence, the government with Chinese character should be responsible for all adverse effects of the North Korea nuclear crisis.

Bahraini Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab Faces Additional Fifteen Years in Prison

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Jailed Bahraini Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab Faces Additional Fifteen Years in Prison

Nabeel Rajab (right) and Abdulhadi Alkhawaja at a pro democracy march in Bahrain in 2011. Photo by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights [CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

This post was written by Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, an independent, non-profit organisation that promotes freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the Gulf region and its neighbouring countries.Prominent Bahraini human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, has been in jail for his human rights work since 13 June 2016. He is currently serving a two-year prison term for speaking to the media about the human rights situation in Bahrain. He also faces additional prison time for expressing himself on Twitter.

Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the founding director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Deputy Secretary-General of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), and a member of the Advisory Board of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In July 2002, he founded the BCHR with his colleague Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence for his human rights activities. The BCHR continues to operate to this day despite a decision to close it by authorities in November 2004, and the jailing of its two founders.

When the popular uprising started in Bahrain on 14 February 2011, Nabeel Rajab was at its heart as a human rights leader. When the authorities arrested most of the uprising leaders, he became the only remaining voice outside of prison, which was heard by hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and the rest of the world, attesting to the grave violations committed by the government that oppressed the entire population solely based on their demand for freedom, equality and social justice.

For his engagement with the Bahraini uprising and human rights activism, Rajab is paying a heavy price. He was arrested and imprisoned several times and subjected to various types of threats, judicial harassment, abusive media smear campaigns, torture, and travel bans.

On 10 July, he was sentenced to prison for two years after being found guilty of spreading “fake news”, over TV interviews in which he spoke about mounting human rights violations in the Gulf kingdom. In those interviews, Rajab talked about journalists and NGOs being prevented from entering Bahrain, and a lack of judicial independence. On 22 November, a Bahraini appeals court upheld the two-year prison sentence.

In another case, Rajab faces up to 15 years in jail for criticizing Bahrain’s participationin the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, and for speaking out about torture in Bahrain’s infamous “Jaw” prison on Twitter. Rajab was scheduled to appear again in court on 31 December 2017 for this case. However, the hearing was unexpectedly held on 5 December, four weeks earlier than the date originally scheduled by the court. On 3 December, Rajab’s lawyers were informed by the court the hearing would take place on 5 December, under the pretext that a key witness in the case would be unable to attend the hearing on 31 December. Although, Rajab’s lawyers protested this decision, the hearing took place on 5 December and was adjourned to 7 December. Rajab was unable to attend the hearing for health reasons.

– Due to health problems,Nabeel Rajab was not able to attend the hearing

– His lawyers were not given enough time for preparation, only 2 days informal notice

– Court rejected the lawyers request for postponement

– Rushing the case, raises fears of imminent sentence

On 7 December, the hearing has once again been adjourned to 15 January.

Today, the 20th Court hearing against @NabeelRajab was adjourned to 15 January for the defence to submit their final argument.

• Charged for comments condemning the Saudi bombardment in , & exposing torture in 

• Facing 15 Years imprisonment

Rajab faces additional prison time for charges related to two letters he published in the New York Times and the French newspaper Le Monde, while in prison.

In the NYT letter, published in September 2016, Rajab described the conditions of his detention and called on the Obama administration to ”use its leverage” to end the conflict in Yemen, and work ”to secure the release of people who call for peace, and are trying to build democracy in the region”. For this piece, Rajab was charged with “undermining the prestige of the kingdom.”

In the letter published in Le Monde in December 2016, Rajab called on France and Germany to re-assess their support for the Arab Gulf monarchies. Following the publication of this piece, he was charged with “spreading false news and statements and malicious rumours that undermine the prestige of Bahrain and the brotherly countries of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], and an attempt to endanger their relations.”

Several organizations and human rights groups have repeatedly called on Bahraini authorities to release Nabeel Rajab. In May, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) expressed particular concern over Rajab’s solitary confinement and called for his release. Numerous others have called for his release, including European Parliament officials. On 27 June 2017, the Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights Pier Antonio Panzeri issued a statement calling for the rights defender’s release:

Rajab’s detention violates his right to freedom of expression. I call on the Bahraini authorities to grant lawyers and family members access to Nabeel Rajab, to drop all charges against him and to free him immediately

Despite these calls, Rajab remains in prison. He is not the only one in Bahrain to be jailed for his human rights and political activism, or for peacefully expressing himself. In the small island kingdom of just 1.4 million people, there are more than 4,000 political prisoners, according to rights groups.

Taiwanese Say Taiwan Representation at China’s National Congress Was Simply Beijing Propaganda

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Many Taiwanese Say Taiwan Representation at China’s National Congress Was Simply Beijing Propaganda

Taiwan-born delegate of 19th CCP Congress, Lu Li’an. Chinese state-owned Xinhua photo.

Mainland China and Taiwan have a rocky relationship. Taiwan is a de facto political entity that has operated independently from mainland China since 1949, when the Kuomintang forces were defeated by the Communists in the civil war and retreated to Taiwan. Beijing has never recognized Taiwan’s independent status and vows to one day “reunite” China and reclaim the territory.

So at first glance, it might seem unusual that Beijing arranges for Taiwan representatives to attend the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) every five years.

However, the presence of Taiwan delegates at the event is intended as a political demonstration of Beijing’s “one China” principle. In the past, these so-called Taiwan representatives were born in mainland China.

In a break with tradition, the chosen Taiwan delegate at the 19th National Congress held in October 2017, Lu Li’an, was actually born and educated in Taiwan — before she went to China to work as a professor.

Nevertheless, many Taiwanese saw her participation as inane, given that Taiwan is not ruled by China, and a political move meant to pressure Taiwan into accepting Beijing’s understanding of the “one China” principle and suppressing the pro-independence movements in Taiwan.

Since Taiwan has been colonized by different countries throughout its history, Taiwanese defectors are not unheard of. Lu is not the first person (and will not be the last one) leveraged like this. Yifu Lin, for example, who served as the chief economist and senior vice president of the World Bank from 2008 to 2012, swam to mainland China in 1979 when he was a military officer in Taiwan.

While Lu’s presence at the CCP’s National Congress was largely considered a joke in Taiwan, it did touch on the the serious issue of nationality for Taiwanese working in China. Taiwanese law prohibits  Taiwanese from establishing a residence or holding a Chinese passport, or taking positions in the CCP, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, or the Chinese civil service. Given that Lu holds a Chinese passport and became a delegate at the CCP’s National Congress, the Taiwan government decided to revoke her citizenship.

At the same time, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau also announced that they will examine the status of another 19 Taiwanese who have taken positions in the CCP or the People’s Liberation Army.

‘If you upset Taiwanese before you join the [CCP], what use are you’?

To further fire up the discussions in Taiwan, two Taiwanese graduate students from Beijing University publicly declared that they wanted to join the CCP not long after the National Congress.

One of them did so in a letter published on Guancha, an online news and comments aggregator. In it, he claimed that he wants to join the CCP because speech freedom is limited, thought is monopolized, and democracy is controlled by a few people in Taiwan.

The student’s letter was widely condemned in Taiwan, given that Taiwan is ranked 45 and China is ranked 176 in 2017 World Press Freedom Index and Taiwanese voted to choose their president and legislators directly.

Given that Beijing’s goal is to eventually regain control over Taiwan, Joyce Yen, the founder of publishing house Ars Longa Press, explained on Facebook that these two students won’t benefit the CCP like Lu does:

Please notice that [Lu Li’an] did not apply to be a delegate. It is Sha Hailin, the director of the United Front Work Department in Shanghai, who introduced her for this position.
To be chosen as an example for this position, her outlook and communication skills are seriously evaluated.
Regarding those two Taiwanese students who claimed to join the Chinese Communist Party, aside from their background, their outlook and communication skills are too far below the standard. Do they think that the Communist Party would like you only because you say good things about it?
Wrong answer! […] If you upset Taiwanese before you join the Chinese Communist Party, what use are you to their United Front?

The United Front Work Department is one of five departments directly under the CCP’s Central Committee which orchestrates soft power policies at home and abroad. It has a bureau that works on the “one country, two systems” political relationship between China and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao, and recruits the pro-China Taiwanese.

Yi-Luo People, a mainland Chinese exchange student in Taiwan, argued on Facebookthat the Taiwan-born Beijing University students were motivated by material interest to denounce Taiwan:

When they say they are selling Taiwan, it is actually Taiwan’s independence movement on sale. When the pro-independence movement in Taiwan becomes stronger, Beijing will pay more and more to build up a united front in Taiwan.

[Quote from the writer’s letter to local media outlet] “As a Henan-born Chinese, it is obvious that I cannot get what they get from the Chinese Communist Party even if I shamelessly sell out my homeland. It is the same for anyone born in Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, or Guangdong. What Taiwanese differ from us is that Taiwan is a de facto independent country and has its own government, military, and diplomatic interactions with those Euro-American countries no matter how Beijing claims it to be part of China.’

‘I love Taiwan, and I love China as my home country, too.’

Putting border politics aside, the controversy surrounding Lu has put many Taiwanese in a difficult situation. While neither Taiwan nor China allows dual citizenship, quite a number of Taiwanese working in mainland China or couples married across the Taiwan Strait have attained citizenship in China. If they are forced to choose between the two, they must either give up their work in mainland China or conform to Chinese patriotic sentiment, which expects a person to love the country more than their homeland.

Even CCP delegate Lu Li’an faced criticism from mainland Chinese patriots when she told a Taiwanese reporter during the CCP Congress that “I love Taiwan, and I love China as my home country, too.” Her answer was viewed by some mainland Chinese as “politically incorrect”. A Weibo user called “Lazy-fish-play-in-Weibo” explained the logic of Lu’s critics:

People who [criticized Lu’s answer], Lu’s response “I love Taiwan, and I love China too” does not sound right. They don’t like the word “too” because they interpreted “too” as the second place. Which means she had not put China in the first place. Secondly, she seems to separate Taiwan from China. […] This author even prepared a model answer for her. S/he suggested Lu say, “I love China, and I love Taiwan as part (or a province) of China, [or] I also love Taiwan because it belongs to China.”

After Tsai Ing-Wen, who is the leader of Taiwan’s pro-independence party, won the presidential election in 2016, Beijing cut off diplomatic dialogue with the Taiwanese government and pressured other countries to end their relations. On the other hand, China’s United Front Work Department has tried very hard to win support from elites in Taiwan. Recently, China’s Fujian Province claimed to open 1,000 positions in universities for Taiwanese academics to apply. To apply or not to apply for the positions — the choice will be both personal and political.