In China, Four More New Citizens Movement Advocates Convicted

Four citizen activists involved in public calls for high-ranking officials to reveal their assets in 2013 have each been found guilty of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Two of them — Ding Jiaxi and Zhao Changqing — were accused of planning street actions in the early months of 2013 in Beijing where participants displayed banners and made public speeches; the other two — Li Wei and Zhang Baocheng — were among the participants of those actions. Asset transparency is a key demand of the New Citizens Movement, which is a loose network of activists urging citizens to exercise their rights and assume their responsibilities as citizens.

The activists were sentenced for their participation in citizen actions calling for disclosure of officials’ assets as a way to fight corruption since 2012. The trial concluded on April 9 without a verdict. Ding Jiaxi received a sentence of three years and six months; Zhao Changqing, two years and six months; Li Wei, two years; and Zhang Baocheng, two years. Lawyers for Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing, and Zhang Baocheng said their clients will appeal.

The rulings, announced this morning by the Beijing Municipal Haidian District Court, where the activists were tried last week, continue a pattern of criminal prosecution of citizen activists who take part in peaceful assemblies to promote asset transparency as a way to fight corruption, a problem that Chinese president Xi Jinping himself exhorted the government to address after taking office in November 2012.

In court and in written statements, the defendants and their lawyers have repeatedly protested the sham nature of their trials—that the prosecutions are retaliations against the lawful exercise of rights protected by Chinese law. In particular, the right to freedom of expression and assembly and the right to criticize and make recommendations to the government are protected under articles 35 and 41 of the Chinese Constitution. They have also rigorously protested what they saw as serious procedural violations.

The following is an excerpt from Ding Jia’s Xi’s Final Statement to the court: ‘’In order to promote asset transparency, we distributed 100,000 flyers, made more than 100 banners, participated in two demonstrations, gathered more than 7,000 signatures, and made appeals to the National People’s Congress and the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council to promulgate law on asset transparency. But we have received no response. There are not even one million people with a concept of official asset transparency, not even one in 1,000 among our 1.3 billion people. My actions are insignificant. But I do not regret them—these are actions following my conscience. I want to be a citizen who has an opinion and a voice. I want to be a butterfly. The incessant fluttering of the wings of butterflies will certainly fan the wind of social transformation. [Our] future society will certainly be one where citizens enjoy freedom of expression, assembly, and association. Justice belongs to us!”

Sui Muqing, one of Ding Jiaxi’s lawyers, received a phone call from the Haidian District Court yesterday informing him of the court’s decision to strip him of his status as Ding’s lawyer in response to Sui’s decision to leave the court on April 8 to protest procedural problems. As a result, the court did not accept his defense statement or allow him to come to the court today to hear the verdict.

While not surprised by the outcome, the activists’ lawyers called these verdicts shameful. Lawyer Wang Fu, one of Zhao Changqing’s lawyers, said on his Weibo account that the verdicts represent “the darkest hours for the rule of law,” but that he “firmly believes that in the not so distant future, Mr. Zhao and others like him will be declared innocent.”

In a defense statement submitted to the court, Zhang Baocheng’s lawyer Ge Yongxi argued that recent trials of citizen activists are nothing but reprisals and that such prosecution will neither intimidate the people nor dampen their aspiration for democracy, freedom, and the rule of law.

In January 2014, Xu Zhiyong, a key advocate in the New Citizens Movement was sentenced to four years in prison, also for disrupting public order; on appeal, the conviction was upheld by the Beijing Higher People’s Court on April 11. On April 16, another asset transparency advocate, Yuan Dong, who was tried and convicted in January, also lost his appeal when the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court upheld his first instance verdict and 18-month prison sentence.

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Release of Netizens in Vietnam Not Enough

Professor Cu Huy Ha Vu taken away after his trial in August 2010. RFA Photo.

Professor Cu Huy Ha Vu taken away after his trial in August 2010. RFA Photo.

Human rights organizations on Monday welcomed the early release of several prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, but say that the act serves to highlight the situation of scores of others who remain jailed for peacefully expressing their opinions. The release of the dissidents followed heavy international pressure on Vietnam’s government by foreign governments and rights groups.

Nguyen Tien Trung, Vi Duc Hoi and Cu Huy Ha Vu have all been released over the past week. “We are delighted that these men are out of prison but they should never have been locked-up in the first place. The releases are a step in the right direction for freedom of expression and we hope that they reflect a shift in Vietnam’s commitment to respecting human rights,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.

“While the release of these netizens from prison is good news, only their full freedom would be satisfactory,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index. “Above all, we call on the authorities to release the 31 netizens who remain in prison in violation of their fundamental rights,’’ he added.

Accroding to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in Paris, Vietnam holds the highest number of political prisoner in Southeast Asia. FIDH President Karim Lahidji said “That is deplorable for a country that is currently a member of the UN Human Rights Council.”

Nguyen Tien Trung
The most recent release came over the weekend, when Nguyen Tien Trung, aged 30, was freed after more than four years in prison. The IT engineer, blogger and pro-democracy activist had been found guilty in 2010 of attempting to “overthrow the people’s administration.”

The charges were brought after Nguyen Tien Trung and some friends set up an activist group while studying abroad in France. The group, called “The Assembly of Vietnamese Youth for Democracy”, was founded to encourage young Vietnamese people in the country and abroad to call for political reform and democracy.

At his trial the judges deliberated for only 15 minutes before returning with the final decision. It then took 45 minutes for the judges to read the judgment, strongly suggesting that it had been prepared in advance of the hearing. He was sentenced to seven years in prison followed by three years under house arrest.

Nguyen Tien Trung was not due for release until January 2017 and his release on Saturday came as a surprise to campaigners and his family. His co-defendant Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who Amnesty International also considers a prisoner of conscience, is still serving a 16-year sentence.

Vi Duc Hoi
Vi Duc Hoi, 56, was released on April 11th, nearly a year-and-a-half earlier than expected. Vi Duc Hoi is a writer and former member of Viet Nam’s ruling Communist Party. He was expelled from the party in 2007 for calling for democratic reform and then arrested in 2010 and jailed for eight years for using the internet to promote democracy. This sentence was reduced to five years on appeal.

Cu Huy Ha Vu
Last week, one of Vietnam’s most famous dissidents, human rights lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu, 56, was released on condition that he agree to go into exile and immediately flew to the United States. He was sentenced in 2011 to seven years in prison on a charge of anti-government propaganda after trying to bring a legal action against Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in connection with a bauxite mining project.

Dinh Dang Dinh
However, jubilation over those released is marred by the tragic death of another prisoner of conscience, Dinh Dang Dinh, earlier this month. The 50-year old activist was unjustly jailed in 2011 for launching a petition against a bauxite mine project. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer while in prison; he did not receive treatment while in jail. He was released on March 21st but died on April 3rd.

Amnesty International has documented the cases of 75 individuals who have been imprisoned after being tried and convicted for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, and raised some of these cases in a recent visit to Vietnam. The cases, including the three men released, were included in the report Silenced Voices: Prisoners of Conscience in Vietnam. The document charts the harsh conditions faced by prisoners of conscience, many of whom suffer unfair trials, degrading treatment and ill-treatment in detention.

FIDH estimates that there are at least 212 political prisoners behind bars in Vietnam and many more are under house arrest. Those incarcerated include lawyers, bloggers, land rights activists, Buddhist monks, journalists, writers, singers, labor activists, pro-democracy campaigners, and members of ethnic and religious minorities, including Buddhist Khmer Krom and Christian Hmong and Montagnards. Many of Vietnam’s political prisoners are women. Many of the dissidents are serving lengthy prison terms in extremely poor detention conditions. As a result, their health is deteriorating and they are in need of urgent medical treatment and ongoing care.

Amnesty is calling on Vietnam’s government to free all those who remain imprisoned for speaking out. “The authorities should build on this positive step by immediately and unconditionally releasing all prisoners of conscience who still languish in prison simply for peacefully expressing their opinion,” said Rupert Abbott.

RSF added that more needs to be done regarding the human rights situation in Vietnam. “The government should take account of all the recommendations made when the UN Human Rights Council examined the situation of human rights in Vietnam in February, and should repeal all of the legislative articles that are systematically used to jail independent news providers,” Ismaïl said.

Vietnam is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. It is also classified as an Enemy of the Internet because of its crackdown on bloggers and cyber-dissidents.

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Health Concerns for Vietnamese Blogger While in Continued Detention

Bùi Thị Minh Hằng in Ho Chi Minh city  on Nov. 27, 2011, before her arrest by the police. Photo source: Danlambaovn.org

Bùi Thị Minh Hằng in Ho Chi Minh city
on Nov. 27, 2011, before her arrest by the police. Photo source: Danlambaovn.org

Vietnamese human rights defender and blogger Ms. Bui Thi Minh Hang is held in continued detention at An Binh prison in Cao Lanh city; her health and on-going detention are of serious concern to human rights organizations. Bui Thi Minh Hang was on hunger strike for six weeks in protest over her imprisonment and was severely beaten at the time of her arrest.

Bui Thi Minh Hang published information on human rights violations in Vietnam and provided support to victims of land grabs. She was previously sent to a “re-education camp’’ for two years by the People’s Committee of Hanoi City, and was eventually released after six months in June 2012. International human rights organization Frontline Defenders believes that her previous detention is a result of her work on land rights.

According to her attorney, Bui Thi Minh Hang was on a hunger strike until March 30th 2014. The attorney visited her on that date and reported that, due to the six week hunger strike, Bui Thi Minh Hang had suffered significant weight loss and needed  assistance to remain standing. It is reported that she had pre-existing health conditions including kidney stones that may have been aggravated by the hunger strike. Bui Thi Minh Hang was also beaten severely during her arrest.

Bui Thi Minh Hang was one of 21 people beaten and detained when they attempted to visit the partner of a human rights lawyer who defends victims of forced evictions. Their visit was to provide support to the woman after the detention of her husband in a police raid on their house on  February 9th 2014. Nineteen of those arrested were released the next day, but Bui Thi Minh Hang and two others remain in detention and were charged under article 245 of Penal Code for “causing public disorder.” They face a possible sentence of three years’ imprisonment. The human rights defender was interrogated on March 23rd 2014 without her lawyer; her attorney was only notified the next day. Bui Thi Minh Hang was questioned again on March 31st 2014, but this time in the presence of her attorney.

Hang’s daughter said that her mother sacrificed her career to fight for justice and basic rights guaranteed to any human being after witnessing so many inequalities and human rights abuses. She  described her mother’s situation in a statement: “My mother has been on a hunger strike in prison to protest against the tribulation, defamation, and forced an admittance of guilt by Dong Thap’s police. My mother had been illegally jailed before for demonstrating against China’s invasion of Vietnamese territory in the Paracel and Spratly Islands. She also condemned the Chinese navy’s killings and beatings of Vietnamese fishermen using unmarked boats.’’

“My mother often defends organizations and groups that have been discriminated by Vietnamese government including Thai Ha Catholic Parish, Hoa Hao Buddhist followers, and land-grab victims in Van Giang, Hung Yen, and many other areas. She also supports political prisoners, who have been wrongfully convicted such as Cu Huy Ha Vu, Le Quoc Quan….. On her journey to defend human rights, my mother has been strictly followed by government’s undercover agents. Her house has been vandalized many times with dirty substances at night. Her numerous requests to local police for investigation on these mishaps turn up empty. Despite ongoing terrors, my mother stays focused on her path in fighting for social justice and all human rights be respected as stated by the laws. It is obvious that detention of prosecution by Dong Thap’s police for my mother is attempts to stop her from human right defending activities. The unusual traffic checks, provocation, filming, arrests, threatened and forced witnesses, and changing charges within a short amount of time would explain that there has been a master plan carefully staged against my mother.”

According to California-based Women For Human Rights in Vietnam, Ms. Bui has not been allowed to see her families since her arrest.

Bui Thi Minh Hang’s family have also experienced harassment in their attempts to obtain her release. They have raised the case with local authorities and when they attempted to lodge a complaint with higher authorities in Hanoi on March 23rd 2014, they were briefly detained. In addition, a number of persons have reportedly been questioned by the police and asked to sign fabricated witness statements incriminating Bui Thi Minh Hang. Those questioned state that they refused to sign the documents, which they claim did not accurately reflect the testimony they provided.

Women For Human Rights in Vietnam says that while in prison in 2011 and 2012, Bui Thi Minh Hang was psychologically and physically terrorized. On April 29th 2012, the Re-education Institution set her free “but not before tying her arms across her back, shackling her legs, and throwing her onto a van floor similar to how an animal about to be sent to a slaughterhouse is bound. She was treated in horrible conditions on her 2000 km journey from Hanoi to Vung Tau where her unsecured body was jolted by terrible road conditions,’’ according to Women For Human Rights in Vietnam.

On arriving home in Vung Tau, her family could hardly recognize her: she had a haggard physical appearance, grey hair, broken or missing teeth, weight reduced by around 15 kg, bruise marks all over her body, and a deep cut on her hand still fresh with clotted blood.

Bui Thi Minh Hang described her journey after her release from the re-education camp in 2012: “I was released on April 29, 2012, but they continuously terrorized my family by throwing fermented shrimp paste and waste into the residence. They went as far as pouring gasoline into the house and threatening to set fire to it at 3 AM. On several occasions, they kidnapped me and robbed me of my belongings. Specifically, on July 1, 2012, they stopped me in the street and kidnapped me near the Saigon train station at 5 am with the excuse I was suspected of carrying drugs. Afterwards, they drove me around for 6 hours, then took me back to my house and set upa camera crew to film me in order to slander me. At the same time, they searched my rented unit in Saigon and stole my belongings, including my personal computer, clothing and personal effects, and my child’s as well as my own ID papers. I have repeatedly filed complaints to denounce these acts and to try to recover my belongings. Instead of returning those belongings, the authorities have continued to spy on me and subject me to various forms of terrorism. On Sept 24, 2012, they kidnapped me once again in Saigon. On April 10, 2013, they had plain clothes police follow me and assault me after I had made the trip to the Hanoi court to pay the administrative fees for my lawsuit against the Chair of the city of Hanoi.’’

Front Line Defenders is concerned at the continued detention of Bui Thi Minh Hang, particularly in light of her poor health following a six week hunger strike. The organization believes that the detention and charges are solely related to her human rights work, particularly concerning land rights. Front Line Defenders and Women For Human Rights in Vietnam urge the authorities in Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release Bui Thi Minh Hang and drop all charges against her, as it is believed they are solely motivated by her peaceful and legitimate work in defense of human rights. Front Line also says that the Vietnamese authorities must provide necessary medical treatment for Bui Thi Minh Hang without delay.

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Prominent Chinese Rights Lawyers Claim They Were Tortured

The Chinese government should investigate four prominent human rights lawyers’ claims that they were tortured by police officers while in detention, Human Rights Watch said Monday. After being released from administrative detention on Sunday, the lawyers made public the torture they had experienced. They had been detained while trying to assist members of the Falun Gong movement who are being held in illegal detention facilities known as “black jails.”

“The torture of human rights lawyers in police custody isn’t just an assault against the individuals concerned, but also against the legal profession,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Without an independent investigation and accountability for the abuse, the government’s rule of law rhetoric rings very hollow.”

The Chinese government has yet to formally acknowledge the existence of black jails. During a United Nations review of human rights performance in 2009, the Chinese government declared that China had “no black jails.” Yet, Human Rights Watch, other rights groups and the domestic press have documented their existence across the country, as well as the use of torture and other forms of cruel treatment in these unlawful facilities. “The Chinese government should admit to the existence of black jails, and then move swiftly to close them,” Richardson said.

On March 20th, lawyers Tang Jitian, Jiang Tianyong, Wang Cheng, and Zhang Junjie went to a “legal education center” in Jiansanjiang, Heilongjiang Province.  Such “centers” are a form of unlawful detention facility or “black jail,” which targets Falun Gong practitioners and petitioners. The lawyers were accompanying family members of Falun Gong practitioners who have been held without access to a trial or judge in the facility. After being denied access to the facility and the practitioners, the lawyers went to a nearby hotel. The next morning, men in plainclothes broke into the lawyers’ hotel rooms, and, refusing to identify themselves, forced the lawyers into unmarked vehicles. The lawyers believe these men were police.

The lawyers were brought to the Daxing Public Security Sub-Bureau. According to the account given by the lawyers after their release, police officers slapped and hit Zhang with water bottles, and pushed him to the ground. The three other lawyers were hung up, with wrists bound with a rope, arms twisted backwards and feet barely touching the ground. The police beat and kicked the lawyers’ chests, heads, backs, and legs. The police threatened to “dig a hole in the ground and bury” one of the lawyers. The police then sentenced the lawyers to between five and fifteen days of administrative detention.  Zhang, who was given five days of detention, was diagnosed at a hospital after his release with three fractured lumbar bones.

Human rights lawyers have in recent years been targeted through physical abuse, harassment of family members or politically motivated professional sanctions for their work. Wang, Tang, and Jiang have been subjected to disbarment, one of the most common ways of harassing human rights lawyers, due to work representing clients in “sensitive” political cases. Tang and Jiang were forcibly disappeared and tortured during the “Jasmine Crackdown” of 2011, when dozens of human rights defenders were detained and abused as authorities cracked down on dissent.

On March 31st, the Jiansanjiang Public Security Bureau issued a statement claiming that the four had been punished for “inciting” Falun Gong practitioners and their families to “gather in crowds  to create disturbances” and “shout slogans of evil cult” in front of the legal education center, and for “making up facts online.”

According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), police have also detained a number of lawyers and rights activists who converged on Heilongjiang’s Jiansanjiang city to protest the lawyers’ detention. CHRD said that “at least 23″ administrative detentions have been linked to the campaign for the lawyers’ release. Some supporters ”were verbally and physically assaulted during the police interrogation before being released,” the organization said.

CHRD called on the Chinese government to investigate the reported cases of violence, arbitrary detention, and threats against  individuals and hold the perpetrators criminally accountable.

China is a party to the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment. The use of physical abuse by police officers is prohibited under Chinese law. In recent years, the Chinese government has instituted a number of new measures to address the problem of torture in the investigation of crimes. The latest of such efforts were revisions to the Criminal Procedural Law, which became effective January 1, 2013, that aimed to prevent coerced confessions. These measures included ensuring detainees are given adequate rest and food, and that confessions and statements obtained through coercion are excluded in judicial proceedings. Despite these measures, the use of torture remains widespread and officials responsible are rarely held legally accountable.

Human Rights Watch called on the Heilongjiang Provincial Police Bureau and the Provincial Procuratorate to investigate the lawyers’ allegations, make public its investigations, and hold perpetrators accountable under the law. Human Rights Watch also called on the All China Lawyers Association, a quasi-official national bar association under the Ministry of Justice, to reinstate the membership of Wang, Tang, and Jiang, and to investigate the lawyers’ claims and “safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of lawyers,” as pledged in the association’s charter.

“Just a few weeks ago Chinese officials went before the United Nations Human Rights Council and insisted that there is no harassment of human rights lawyers. Proving good faith on that matter requires an immediate, independent investigation, and that targeting of lawyers for doing their work ends now,” said Richardson.

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Legislation to Restrict Inter-faith Marriage in Burma is Dangerous

Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia have joined growing calls on fellow legislators in Burma to vote down a proposed law that would restrict inter-faith marriage in the country. The discriminatory draft law is in direct conflict with international treaties on fundamental rights to liberty and religious belief, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and would be a dangerous step towards further marginalization of ethnic and religious minorities in Burma that violate the basic rights of its citizens and threaten to destabilize the country, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) warned.

If enacted, the law would require Buddhist women to get permission from parents and government officials before marrying a man from any other faith. The bill also calls for non-Buddhist men to convert to Buddhism before marrying Buddhist women. The proposed law also sets out a 10-year prison sentence and confiscation of properties of any non-Buddhist who seeks to marry a Buddhist in violation of the law.

“There is no place in the future of this region for such a restrictive and discriminatory law. It is extremely concerning that it has even been accepted for drafting by the House Speaker in the first place, especially given existing inter-faith tensions in the country,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, APHR President and Indonesian Member of Parliament.

The organization warned that on this particular issue, Burma is moving in the opposite direction to that which we should be heading. APHR stands in opposition to the law in its entirety, but is particularly concerned about the draft law’s requirements for women to gain parental and state permission to marry. Such legislation is in direct contradiction of fundamental rights and liberties, including article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to which Burma is a party.

The Emergency Provisions on Marriage Act for Burmese Buddhist Women has been has gained support from some lawmakers, including members of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP).

APHR said that some MPs who oppose the draft law in principle are uncomfortable airing their views in Parliament, due to the tense atmosphere surrounding religious issues in the country at the moment.

Ms. Kusuma Sundari cautioned that the law would only further divide communities: “As ASEAN looks to move forward and progress towards a unified, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic community based on similar principles of freedom, justice and equality, we are looking to remove such prejudiced laws from the books in our countries, not pass new ones,” she added.

APHR also noted that similar restrictive laws exist in other countries in ASEAN, such as Malaysia, where non-Muslims are required to convert to Islam before marrying someone of the Muslim faith.

Parliamentarians have a duty to uphold basic principles for their societies and countries in line with international treaties to which they are signatories, APHR stressed.

“After decades under a military dictatorship, we know that many of our peers in Myanmar have been working hard to pass new laws that guarantee rights and freedoms, as well as to repeal and amend laws that restrict these freedoms. This is the work that should be taking up the time of the Myanmar Parliament, not the drafting of new restrictive laws,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, APHR Vice President.

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“Disturbing Level of Secrecy Around Executions” in Asia

In its annual review of the death penalty worldwide, Amnesty International found that the Asia Pacific region saw a disturbing level of secrecy around executions in 2013. In several countries, including China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam, authorities flaunted international standards on transparency around the death penalty, refusing to release figures or inform family members, lawyers or the general public about executions.

Ten countries in Asia carried out executions in 2013, two more than the year before. Both Indonesia and Vietnam resumed executions last year after long periods without implementing death sentences.

“The shroud of secrecy around executions in Asia is deeply worrying and flies in the face of international standards. It raises the question – what are these governments trying to hide?” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director. “The world is moving towards abolition of the death penalty while many Asian countries try to swim against the tide and hide their state-sanctioned killings,” he added.

At least 37 executions were carried out across the region last year, one less than in 2012. These numbers do not include China, where Amnesty International believes thousands were executed – more than the rest of the world put together. But with executions treated as a state secret the correct figure is impossible to determine. It was not possible to confirm any figures for secretive North Korea, although credible reports that could not be independently verified indicated that at least 70 people may have been put to death in 2013.

China saw limited progress, as the Supreme Court strengthened some legal protections in death penalty cases, and the former Health Minister announced a plan to end the practice of organ harvesting from executed prisoners by mid-2014.

Vietnam, another country that treats the death penalty as a state secret, executed seven people by lethal injection during 2013, the first executions in the country for some 18 months. In 2012, Vietnam struggled to carry out executions due to an EU export ban on the drugs needed for lethal injections, and the government last year indicated that it might revert to using firing squads in the future.

Twenty-two offenses in Vietnam’s Criminal Code are punishable by death, including seven “national security” crimes such as treason, carrying out activities to overthrow the government, espionage, banditry, terrorism, and undermining peace. The definition of national security crimes is extremely vague, and the United Nations has frequently expressed concern that critics in Vietnam may be sentenced to death under these provisions simply for the peaceful exercise of the right to free expression.

For example, the crime of “espionage” (under Article 80 of the Criminal Code) includes non-political acts such as “gathering or supplying information and other materials for use by foreign countries against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” Cyber-dissidents, activists and bloggers could be condemned to death under these provisions simply for circulating opposition views overseas.

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Xi Jinping Continues Information Crackdown As He Visits France

Xi Jinping (C) raises his glass during the 64th National Day reception at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Sept. 30, 2013. AFP photo.

Xi Jinping (C) raises his glass during the 64th National Day reception at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Sept. 30, 2013. AFP photo.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is condemning China’s increasing harassment of journalists and bloggers as Chinese President Xi Jinping begins a three-day official visit to France Tuesday. China’s growing intimidation methods towards journalists and its mistreatment of cyber-dissidents and activists who try to expose the constant human rights violations and persecution of human rights defenders are on the rise.

Xi Jinping is visiting France for the first time since becoming Communist Party general secretary in November 2012 and president in March 2013. In the year since his installation, China has tightened its grip on news and information considerably, stepping up the daily censorship directives to the media as well as arrests of journalists and cyber-dissidents.

According to RSF at least 74 netizens, including Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, and 30 journalists are currently detained in China, making it the world’s biggest prison for news providers.

RSF claims that the aim of arresting many human rights activists and influential bloggers is part of an overall campaign against freedom of information to crush those who keep on demanding more democracy and reporting abuses by the authorities, and to deter their colleagues from continuing on the same path.

“The results of Xi Jinping’s first year as president are very damning,” said Benjamin Ismail, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “We are currently witnessing one of the biggest crackdowns on news providers since the 2008 Olympics. Looser controls are clearly no long on agenda. Instead the government wants to impose a new order on the media.”

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in its annual report released earlier this month that the number of arrests and disappearances of government critics tripled in a “nightmarish” first year of Xi Jinping’s presidency. The report, titled “A Nightmarish Year Under Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese Dream’” said that dozens of Chinese activists had described 2013 as the worst year for human rights since at least 2008, which saw crackdowns on civil liberties around the Beijing Olympics and on the Charter 08 campaign for reform. “2013 saw the harshest suppression of civil society in over a decade … with human rights and rule of law basically going backwards,” the group quoted prominent rights lawyer Teng Biao as saying in the report.

The government has stepped up its news control, which is reflected in the daily dispatch of dozens of directives to all the media by the propaganda department. The authorities accuse the media of “endemic corruption” while revelations about corruption within the Communist Party have also prompted frequent accusations of rumor mongering.

According to a legal “interpretation” issued jointly by the supreme court and public prosecutor’s office in September, any “defamatory” or “rumor-spreading” online content that is viewed more than 5,000 times or re-posted more than 500 times can result in a sentence of up to three years in prison for the person who originally posted it.

Liu Hu, a journalist with the Guangzhou-based daily Xin Kuai Bao (Modern Express) was officially charged with defamation a few weeks later, in October, after 37 days in provisional detention. On his Weibo account, the journalist had urged the authorities to investigate an official suspected of corruption.

Combined with increased Internet censorship and surveillance and a recent wave of arrests of cyber-dissidents such as Guo Feixiong and Xu Zhiyong, who were detained for “disturbing public order,” this methodically organized campaign against the media is likely to result in an unprecedented level of self-censorship in China.

RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire added: “The European Union’s leaders, its member states and France in particular must include human rights and freedom of information on the agenda of talks with their Chinese counterparts. Any abdication in the promotion of fundamental freedoms could lead to much harsher government policies towards news providers in China.”

China is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the press freedom index that RSF published in February and is more deserving than ever of inclusion in the 2014 RSF list of Enemies of the Internet, released earlier this month.

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A View of Life Inside North Korea’s Gulag

Last month, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea documented in great detail the “unspeakable atrocities” committed in that country in a massive report culled from first-hand testimony from victims and witnesses. Now, Free the NK Gulag, a Seoul-based non-profit organization founded by former inmates of North Korean prisoner camps, has released a collection of drawings which illustrate the gruesome life that inmates face inside the camps.

The first-of-its-kind United Nations report concluded that a grim array of human rights abuses, driven by ”policies established at the highest level of State,” have been and continue to be committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK); the Commission also called for urgent action to address the rights situation in the country, including referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Specifically, the Commission wrote characterized the abuse as “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations’’ and “in many instances, the violations of human rights found by the Commission constitute crimes against humanity.’’

Below is a sampling of the drawings depicting life at the gulag. All photos are courtesy of Free NK Gulag.

cdEGIThe report also found that the DPRK displays many attributes of a totalitarian State and spotlights that there is “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association.”

Further, the Commission warns that “the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world…A number of long-standing and ongoing patterns of systematic and widespread violations, which were documented by the Commission, meet the high threshold required for proof of crimes against humanity in international law. The perpetrators enjoy impunity.’’

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Vietnam Must Stop Prosecution of Blogger

Pham Viet Dao in an undated photo courtesy of Vietnam Human Rights Defenders.

Pham Viet Dao in an undated photo courtesy of Vietnam Human Rights Defenders.

All charges against Vietnamese blogger Pham Viet Dao should be dropped, and he must be released immediately and unconditionally, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday. Pham Viet Dao, 62, was arrested on June 13th 2013, in Hanoi, for allegedly violating Vietnam penal code article 258, which provides for up to seven years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms.” He is scheduled to be tried in the People’s Court of Hanoi municipality on March 19, 2014. His trial will be the third of Internet activists arrested in mid-2013.

The Vietnamese authorities have a track record of using bogus allegations of economic crimes as a pretext for harassing and even prosecuting human rights activists and bloggers. Since the arrests of prominent blogger and human rights defender Truong Duy Nhat and others in 2013, a newly established Network of Vietnamese Bloggers and other recently formed groups have campaigned against the use of article 258 to penalize freedom of opinion.

Freedom of opinion is guaranteed in article 26 of the amended Vietnamese constitution that came into force on January 1st 2014. At the Universal Periodic Review of Vietnam’s human rights record by the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 5th 2014, several UN member countries also called for Vietnam to stop using article 258 to prosecute people for expressing peaceful views.

“The Vietnamese authorities are shaming themselves before domestic and international public opinion by staging yet another political trial of a peaceful critic,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Pham Viet Dao’s only crime has been to use the Internet to voice opinions shared by many Vietnamese, outside and inside government.”

Pham Viet Dao is a former culture ministry official and a member of the Vietnam Writers Association. He was a prominent figure in Vietnam’s social media because of his critiques of Vietnam’s one-party system and criticism of senior officials. The government blocked access to his website after his arrest.

Pham Viet Dao’s arrest followed a declaration by Information and Communication Minister Nguyen Bac Son that “Recently, opportunist elements in the country and the overseas hostile forces have abused the Internet to spread information that sabotaged the country, distorted the policy of our Party and state.”

Truong Duy Nhat in an updated photo courtesy of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights.

Truong Duy Nhat in an updated photo courtesy of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights.

All courts in Vietnam are subject to Communist Party control. They have repeatedly applied article 258 to convict Internet commentators, including two others arrested along with Pham Viet Dao in mid-2013. Dinh Nhat Uy was given a 15-month conditionally suspended sentence by a People’s Court in Long An on October 29th 2013, and Truong Duy Nhat was sentenced to two years by a People’s Court in Da Nang on March 4th 2014.

Vietnam has one of the fastest growing Internet populations in Asia. Scores of human rights defenders and cyber-dissidents are currently serving long prison sentences or awaiting trial in Vietnam. With blogs, a culture of protest is gradually emerging in Vietnam. At the same time, bloggers and netizens in Vietnam face long-standing draconian restrictive legislations, policies and practices, while the government has intensified its crackdown on freedom of expression, both online and offline.

“Convicting Pham Viet Dao on political charges will only place the Vietnamese government and leadership in yet worse light,” Adams said. “Instead of orchestrating another human rights violation, the government should respect its international human rights obligations as part of an effort to constructively address the many problems Vietnam faces.”

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Chinese Website Founder Detained in “Concerted Campaign of Intimidation”

Huang Qi in an undated photo courtesy of 64 Tianwang.

Huang Qi in an undated photo courtesy of 64 Tianwang.

The Chinese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release the founder of a human rights website who has been detained following a police raid on his home, Amnesty International said Thursday, calling the arrest an effort by the Chinese authorities to stifle debate on human rights in China. The three volunteer journalists who write for the website must also be released.

Huang Qi, founder of the website 64 Tianwang, was taken away by 11 police officers in Chengdu, in Southwest China, at around 3:00 pm on Thursday local time. Police also seized computers, mobile phones and USB sticks. He is well known for writing about human rights violations, particularly human trafficking. He and his wife Zeng Li founded the Tianwang Center for Missing Persons to help counter human trafficking that had become a massive problem in the late 1990s. The organization was later expanded to include campaign against human rights abuse.

“There now appears to be a concerted campaign of intimidation by the Chinese authorities against those associated with the 64 Tianwang website. Once again the authorities have shown their intent to stifle debate on human rights within China,’’ said William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International. “These are spurious charges against Huang Qi and others detained solely for their work for 64 Tianwang. They must be immediately released,’’ he added.

The detention is the latest in a series of raids in the past week against individuals that write for 64 Tianwang. Volunteer-run 64 Tianwang covers human rights news for a mainland Chinese audience. Three citizen journalists that write for the website remain in detention after they were taken away by police last weekend. Liu Xuehong, Xing Jian and Wang Jing had been reporting on a security crackdown in Beijing during the National People’s Congress, China’s annual parliamentary session which closed on Thursday.

They had published reports on the website about the actions of protestors at Tiananmen Square on 5 March. They described and provided photos of a woman who tried to set herself on fire after distributing some flyers. According to their report, four men quickly extinguished the fire and took the woman away. They also wrote about several other incidents of protesters being taken away.

The three were detained on suspicion of “instigation of conflict and provoking unrest.” If found guilty, they would face up to ten years in prison.

Wang Jing is from Jilin City in the province in northeast China. She was taken after their arrest in the city’s detention center of Jilin. Liu Xuehong is located in the No. 1 Detention Center in Beijing in custody. Her husband said that local police his home in Beijing on 8 March have searched under the pretext that he and Liu Xuehong were followers of the banned spiritual movement Falung Gong. Seventeen year-old Xing Jian comes from Henan Province. He is the youngest of the volunteers that work for the 64 Tianwang website. It is not known where he is currently being held.

All have been accused of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles’’ and are regarded as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

Huang has already served five years in jail from 2000 – 2005 for “inciting subversion” and was arrested in 2008 for exposing “state secrets” in the past after he helped the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. After his release in 2005, he told RFA’s Mandarin Service “I will do my best to resume the Tianwang website,” When it was first created it was for very few people. But I now realize that there are many like-minded people.”

Amnesty International is calling on the immediate and unconditional release of Huang Qi, Wang Jing, Liu Xing and Jian Xuehong and to also make sure that until their release they have regular access to their families and lawyers of their choice.

Reporters Without Borders awarded its Cyber-Freedom Prize to Huang Qi in 2004.

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