Human Rights: October 2009 Archives
By Andrew Jacobs | The New York Times
October 31, 2009
A self-taught filmmaker who spent five months interviewing Tibetans about their hopes and frustrations living under Chinese rule is facing charges of state subversion after the footage was smuggled abroad and distributed on the Internet and at film festivals around the world.
The filmmaker, Dhondup Wangchen, who has been detained since March 2008, just weeks after deadly rioting broke out in Tibet, managed to sneak a letter out of jail last month saying that his trial had begun.
"There is no good news I can share with you," he wrote in the letter, which was provided by a cousin in Switzerland. "It is unclear what the sentence will be."
As President Obama prepares for his first trip to China next month, rights advocates are clamoring for his attention in hopes that he will raise the plight of individuals like Mr. Wangchen or broach such thorny topics as free speech, democracy and greater religious freedom.
With hundreds of lawyers, dissidents and journalists serving time in Chinese prisons, human rights organizations are busy lobbying the White House, members of Congress and the news media. In some ways, the pressure has only intensified since Mr. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, raising expectations for him to carry the torch of human rights.
Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, said Mr. Obama had an obligation to press Mr. Wangchen's case and the cause of Tibetan autonomy in general, given his decision not to meet the Dalai Lama in Washington this month.
That move, which some viewed as a concession to China, angered critics already displeased with what they say was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's failure to press human rights during a visit to China in February.
"Beijing is emboldened by such moves," Ms. Tethong said. "They see a weakness in the U.S. government, and they're going to exploit it. This idea that you'll gain more through some backroom secret strategy does not work."
>> Full report
By Radio Free Asia
October 28, 2009
A Chinese student runs into trouble when he refuses to renounce Christianity.
HONG KONG--A high-school student who refused to renounce Christianity has been expelled from a Han Chinese military production corps school in the remote northwestern region of Xinjiang, an overseas rights group said.
Second-year high-school student Chen Le said he was expelled by the Huashan Middle School in the 2nd Agricultural Division of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps on Oct. 20, the U.S.-based China Aid group said in a statement.
"Chen Le ... was found by Bazhou Public Security Agency and other related agencies to have engaged in Christian gatherings," read a copy of the expulsion letter posted on the China Aid Web site.
"Efforts from the class advisor and some leaders from the school in educating him have all failed and this student persists in his belief that he should not renounce his Christian belief," it said.
"Given the above situation, this school advises him to transfer to other related schools," the letter said.
The People's Liberation Army production companies, or bingtuan, are units of command that enable Beijing to maintain key areas and exploit rich resources in the largely Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs, who are native to the Xinjiang region, have also complained that young people under 18 have been barred from attending mosques in Xinjiang, and are expected to eat during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
Chen said he was asked by the head of the agricultural division whether it was true that he had attended Christian meetings. "I just told him the truth," Chen said. "He asked me to write a letter guaranteeing that I wouldn't do it again, but I refused."
"So it took from Oct. 14 to last Tuesday, when the school wrote me a letter telling me to leave," he said.
Communist Youth League
Chen said he told the school he would prefer not to attend school than to write a self-criticism or "examine his error."
"Now I am just sitting at home," he said.
School Party secretary Sun Fu said Chen's Christian beliefs were incompatible with his membership in the Communist Party Youth League.
"He is a member of the League and an official in the student assembly," Sun said.
"We just wanted him to write an ideological report recognizing the problem, because he acts on behalf of the Party in the League."
"That is an atheist organization," Sun said.
"Either that, or he could resign from the League. There are documents about this from the Party Organization Department at the national level. You can look it up yourselves."
But Chen said he had been willing to resign from the League.
"They told me that no student would be allowed to take part in religious activities, and that the school would kick me out," he said.
"I offered to resign from the League, but that I would hold on to my beliefs as was provided for in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. Citizens are supposed to have the freedom of religious belief," Chen said.
Barred from exams
China Aid said Chen had subsequently also been barred from taking the university entrance exam, crucial for any Chinese student wishing to pursue higher education.
"He was expelled on Oct. 20, and they won't let him attend class," spokesman Bob Fu said.
"This means that he won't get the chance to sit the university entrance examinations."
"The bingtuan are in breach of China's Constitution," he said.
Chen said he wasn't sure what to do about his studies.
"I believe in God, and Jesus, so all I can do is wait and see what God has in store for me," Chen said.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.
By Michael Bristow | BBC World News
October 21, 2009
Dozens of ethnic Uighurs have disappeared since being detained in the wake of the riots in China's Xinjiang region, a human rights group has said.
Human Rights Watch said the 43 men and teenaged boys were taken in police sweeps of Uighur districts of Urumqi, and had since vanished without a trace.
The riots and protests in the city in early July left nearly 200 people dead.
China's central government declined to answer questions about those detained by the authorities in Xinjiang.
It referred questions about the ethnic unrest to the regional government, which also did not respond to enquiries from the BBC.
'Not global leadership'
"The cases we documented are likely just the tip of the iceberg," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
The rights group is calling for the Chinese government to give details of everyone it is holding in detention.
In a report on the disappeared people, HRW said the police had searched two Uighur areas of Urumqi immediately after the riots. At least 43 people were taken away and had not been heard of since.
"According to witnesses, the security forces sealed off entire neighbourhoods, searching for young Uighur men," the group said.
HRW said most of those taken away were young Uighur men in their 20s. The youngest are reported to have been 12 and 14.
In many cases, families had been unable to find out what had happened to their relatives, said Human Rights Watch, whose report was based on interviews with local people.
"China should only use official places of detention so that everyone being held can contact family members and legal counsel," said Mr Adams.
"Disappearing people is not the behaviour of countries aspiring to global leadership."
Ethnic Uighurs, the original inhabitants of Xinjiang, went on the rampage after reports of Uighur deaths in southern China.
They mainly targeted Urumqi's Han Chinese community - a group that has moved into the western region more recently - killing scores of people.
Uighurs say their culture has been undermined since the arrival of millions of Han people from other parts of China.
Two months after the riots by Uighurs, Hans staged their own protests.
Afterwards, a confused pictured emerged about exactly how many people had been arrested, partly due to a reluctance by the authorities to provide detailed figures.
At one point the authorities said more than 1,500 people were in detention, but so far only a handful have been prosecuted.
The first trials began last week. A total of nine people have been sentenced to death for their involvement in the riots.
Critics say the trials do not meet international standards.
By Adam Nossiter | THE NEW YORK TIMES
October 14, 2009
Guinea's military government, facing international sanctions and heavy strictures over a mass killing of unarmed demonstrators, is highlighting a recent agreement with a Chinese company that could provide it with billions of dollars.
Mamadi Kallo, the military junta's secretary of state in charge of public works, confirmed Tuesday that the deal had been in the works for months, but he said it was signed only over the weekend, well after the civilian killings and rapes on Sept. 28.
China has yet to confirm the deal, leading some analysts to suggest that the Guinean government was trying to bolster its legitimacy in the face of international condemnation. But if the deal has progressed as Guinean officials have described, it could clash with the tough positions laid out by the junta's critics, including France and the United States.
Many nations condemned the massacre and swiftly backed away from any agreements with the military government after its soldiers fired upon protesters in a stadium in the capital, Conakry. On Tuesday, a group comprising the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations, among others, called for the junta's "withdrawal," and some of Guinea's neighbors in West Africa have threatened sanctions.
For the second straight day, shops, businesses and offices stayed shut in Conakry, as residents observed a call by unions to stay home to protest the killings. There was little traffic, and the city was quiet, residents said.
Mr. Kallo said the deal had been signed with a private company, not with the Chinese government. He said the company had agreed to invest "up to $7 billion" in electricity and aviation infrastructure -- an enormous sum for a country whose gross domestic product is only $4.5 billion. Electric service in Guinea's capital is shaky at best, and the country of 10 million people, about the size of Oregon, is virtually without internal air links.
"How the Chinese are to be compensated hasn't been decided," Mr. Kallo said.
China has been determined in its pursuit of minerals in Africa, often without consideration of how countries are governed, and analysts said a number of Chinese had been seen in recent months at Guinea's ministry of mines.
The Chinese approach has made serious headway on a continent where governments are routinely implicated in human rights violations; over the weekend, the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, praised China for "investing in infrastructure and building roads" and criticized the West for merely "handing out development aid."
Mr. Kallo did not name the company involved in the agreement, but news reports have identified it as the China International Fund, which one expert described as a "semi-independent operator." Mr. Kallo said the Angolan state oil company, Sonangol, was also part of the deal.
"This has nothing to do with the current situation," Mr. Kallo said of the deal. "They came here well before the death of the former president," he said, referring to Lansana Conté, the longtime dictator whose death last December gave rise to the military junta that rules the country.
But the government's sudden promotion of the agreement, an effort led by the country's minister of mines in interviews in recent days, has led analysts to say it is an attempt by the military regime to demonstrate that it is not an international pariah. State television has also repeatedly broadcast allusions to the Guinean-Chinese friendship.
Several human rights leaders in Conakry said the quasi public relations offensive would be ineffective because Guineans were still angry, and grieving, over the stadium massacre.
One expert on Africa-China relations, David H. Shinn, a former United States ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, said "the announcement remains something of an embarrassment to China and plays into its policy of emphasizing state sovereignty and avoiding interference in governance and human rights issues in other countries."
Mr. Shinn said the deal "clearly complicates the ability of those in the international community who want to put pressure on Guinea."
"Certainly the timing of this is unfortunate," he said. "Obviously, it puts Guinea in a much stronger position than it would have been."
In Conakry, human rights campaigners had a different view, drawing a sharply unfavorable comparison between the Chinese approach and heavy American criticism of the junta, which they said had broad popular appeal.
The Chinese are "perceived as supporting the dictatorship and the junta and against the will of the people," said Mamadi Kaba, president of the Guinean branch of the African Assembly for Human Rights. "Guineans are convinced there will never be development unless there is a lot more democracy. So the American support is much more important."
Thierno Baldé of the Institut de Recherche sur la Démocratie et l'État de Droit, a Conakry good-government group, said: "What the deal signifies is, 'Since the Western companies don't want to work with us, we'll turn to the Chinese and loosen the grip.'
"But people's preoccupations are definitely elsewhere now," Mr. Baldé said. "People are definitely more preoccupied with the killings."
Gulf Daily News - The Voice of Bahrain
October 07, 2009
Sixty years ago, his army victorious, Mao Zedong stood at the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Tiananmen Square and announced a new era for China after a terrible civil war and the horrors of Japanese occupation.
The new national anthem urged the Chinese: "Stand up, those who refuse to be slaves!" and the Communists confidently proclaimed the People's Republic of China, "the people's government".
As Mao's doctor, Li Zhisui, later wrote in her memoirs, the leader was "China's saviour, the messiah in the flesh".
But revolutions, like Saturn, devour their own children. By a cruel irony of history, there followed 30 years, when the Chinese people were crushed and repressed, with a debauched and brutal Mao presiding over the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, which between them claimed tens of millions of lives.
The whitewashed Mao now being presented to Chinese people is a myth based on lies.
The China of today was made not so much by the advent of Mao in 1949, but by that of Deng Xiaoping 30 years later.
It was Deng who in 1979 had the courage and vision to introduce economic reforms that put China on the road to the free market, giving it wealth at home and influence abroad. It should be a subject of great joy and celebration, not just to the Chinese but to people around the world, that hundreds of millions have been lifted out of misery to new lives of health, wealth and, at least in material terms, choice.
Yet Deng himself, fearful that reform would lead to the collapse of Communism, perpetuated the founding myth of Mao by declaring in 1981 that 70 per cent of what the "Great helmsman" had done was right, even if 30 per cent of it was wrong. This, too, was not just a lie but an absurd oversimplification.
A nation that cannot debate its past and cannot be candid about its present failings and achievements will struggle to make the most of its future and, in the case of China, build a society worthy of a 21st-century superpower.
Many younger Chinese are not taken in by the airbrushed cult of Mao the revolutionary hero. They are more interested in opportunities to get rich offered by the market economy - sometimes to the point of capitalist excess. For them, Mao is simply a face on kitsch mugs and T-shirts.
China's current rulers cling to the belief that they can combine Mao with McDonalds, capitalism with one-party rule, for which the official euphemism is "socialism with Chinese characteristics".
But they do not trust their own people: 60th anniversary regimented parade took place in streets cleared of all but approved spectators, with residents of Beijing told to watch the celebrations on television behind closed doors.
China's leaders were desperate to prevent any repetition of the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests of 20 years ago. They have still not learnt to tolerate dissent or to treat all citizens equally, from Tibet to the ethnic Uighurs of the Xinjiang region. President Hu Jintao's China can take pride in its huge advances. But it is not confident enough to give the Chinese people freedom of choice in a democratic vote. Until the rule of law is introduced, it will lack full legitimacy.
China also has to face up to its world role. Mr Hu made a good start at the UN General Assembly by taking the lead on climate change, and Beijing has another chance to pull its weight by helping the West to confront Iran over its nuclear programme.
Unless Beijing accepts the need for a firm stand on Iran, Zimbabwe or Darfur, it will fail to live up to the world power status it craves.
Too often it sees the world purely in terms of its interests and economic advantage. If this is to be "the Chinese century", it must put aside myth and confront its responsibilities.
The Chinese people have stood up - but for what?
By Andrew Jacobs | The New York Times
October 2, 2009
CHANGCHUN, China -- Unlike in other cities taken by the People's Liberation Army during China's civil war, there were no crowds to greet the victors as they made their triumphant march through the streets of this industrial city in the heart of Manchuria.
Even if relieved to learn that hostilities with Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Army had come to an end, most residents -- the ones who had not died during the five-month siege -- were simply too weak to go outdoors. "We were just lying in bed starving to death," said Zhang Yinghua, now 86, as she recalled the famine that claimed the lives of her brother, her sister and most of her neighbors. "We couldn't even crawl."
In what China's history books hail as one of the war's decisive victories, Mao's troops starved out the formidable Nationalist garrison that occupied Changchun with nary a shot fired. What the official story line does not reveal is that at least 160,000 civilians also died during the siege of the northeastern city, which lasted from June to October of 1948.
The People's Republic of China basked in its 60th anniversary on Thursday with jaw-dropping pageantry, but there were no solemn pauses for the lives lost during the Communist Party's rise to power -- not for the estimated tens of millions who died during the civil war, nor the millions of landlords, Nationalist sympathizers and other perceived enemies who were eradicated during Mao's drive to consolidate power.
"Changchun was like Hiroshima," wrote Zhang Zhenglu, a lieutenant colonel in the People's Liberation Army who documented the siege in "White Snow, Red Blood," a book that was immediately banned after publication in 1989. "The casualties were about the same. Hiroshima took nine seconds; Changchun took five months."
The 40,000 who survived did so by eating insects, leather belts and, in some cases, the bodies that littered the streets. By the time Communist troops took over the city, every leaf and blade of grass had been consumed during the final desperate months.
There are no monuments or markers recalling the events that decimated Changchun's populace. Most young people have no knowledge of the darker aspects of the siege, and the survivors, now in their 70s and 80s, are reluctant to give voice to long-buried trauma. "I've always heard that Changchun was captured without bloodshed," Li Jiaqi, a 17-year-old high school student, said as she sat on the steps in front of the city's Liberation Memorial.
Chinese scholars have largely steered clear of the subject. Several historians, when asked about the episode, declined to be interviewed. Zhou Jiewen, a retired nuclear physicist in Changchun who has become a self-taught expert on the siege, explained that many key details, if widely disseminated, would tarnish the army's reputation as defenders of the common man. Those include shooting civilians who tried to escape the city and ignoring the pleas of mothers holding aloft starving children on the other side of the barbed-wire barricades. "To cause so many civilians to die was a great blunder by the P.L.A. and tragedy unparalleled in the civil war," Mr. Zhou said.
While history is often written by the victors, the Communist Party has never been shy about shaping the past to serve its central narrative. Textbooks portray the revolution as the inevitable outcome of a popular uprising; the patriotic films that have flooded television in recent months are not subtle in their glorification of Mao's troops as munificent liberators. The unpleasant aspects of the revolution, including innocents caught in the cross-fire, are often omitted.