Student Leader Convicted for Facebook Post Released in Cambodia

Kong Raya after his release from prison on February 22, 2017. Photo courtesy LICADHO.

Cambodian student political prisoner Kong Raya was released from CC1 prison on Wednesday after serving his full 18 month prison sentence for “incitement to commit a felony” under Articles 494 and 495 of Cambodia’s criminal code.

The 25-year-old former President of the Cambodian Student Network was initially arrested in August 2015 for a Facebook post calling for “color revolution in order to change the cheap regime running Cambodian society.”

His arrest came less than a month after Prime Minister Hun Sen called on police and armed forces to take action over any group or individual attempting a “color revolution”, and his conviction was part of a growing trend for authorities to take action against online expression.

There has been a dramatic increase in detentions for online activity in Cambodia, with several people arrested for posts or comments made online, and many publically threatened with prosecution.

Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization, says the conviction of Kong Raya exemplifies the government’s stance toward negative comments. Observers said he was not politically influential, and Raya apologized, saying he had no intent to lead an uprising but was merely expressing his frustration with the government.

Kong Raya was convicted and sentenced on March 15th 2016 after months of pre-trial detention, a verdict subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. His conviction was the first in a spate of crackdowns on online expression.

In Freedom House’s report Freedom on the Net 2016, Cambodia is ‘’partly free’’.

Last year, Internet freedom declined following a number of arrests for online speech and the passage of a problematic telecommunications law with inadequate protections for user privacy.

Even so, the internet continues to be the nation’s freest medium for sharing information. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sun urged government officials to use Facebook and social media to engage with citizens, and even launched his own application to keep users up to date with his news.

At the same time, he threatened Facebook critics and reminded internet users that the government is monitoring their activity. Several arrests and criminal charges were documented in relation to legitimate online speech, marking a disturbing new trend that threatens to increase self-censorship.

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Vietnam Joins Ranks of World’s Worst Executioners

Vietnam executed a total of 429 prisoners between August 2013 and June 2016 according to a report published by the Ministry of Public Security in Vietnam. With this figure, Vietnam now ranks fifth on a list of the world’s worst executioners following China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and topping the United States, according to figures from Amnesty International.

Peaceful political dissent is punishable by death under vaguely defined “national security laws”, (Article 109 of the 2015 amended Criminal Code), which makes no distinction between acts of terrorism and peaceful expression. Many civil society activists are serving sentences of up to life imprisonment under this clause, simply for calling for the respect of environmental rights and democratic reforms.

“These figures are devastating”, said Vietnam Committee for Human Rights (VCHR) President Vo Van Ai. ‘’The use of the death penalty is especially disturbing because of the lack of due process of law in Vietnam’s one-party state. People can be killed by the state in a country where due process of law is not upheld.”

The report gave an overview of the use of the death penalty in Vietnam over the past five years (2011-2016), since the Law on Execution of Criminal Judgements and the Decree on Execution by Lethal Injection were adopted by the National Assembly (see VCHR Report on the Death Penalty in Vietnam). To cope with the large number of executions, it said, Vietnam was building five new execution compounds to supplement the five currently operational in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Nghe An, Son La and Dak Lak, and Security officials are being rapidly trained to administer lethal injections.

Vietnam adopted the use of lethal injections to replace execution by firing squad in 2010 to make the death penalty “more humane”. After the law was adopted, Vietnam continued to impose death sentences, but could not apply them because of an EU ban on exporting lethal substances. By 2013, over 700 condemned prisoners were on death row in inhumane conditions. Executions resumed in 2013 after Vietnam passed legislation authorising the use of “domestic poisons”. The effects of these substances had never been tested, and it took over two hours for the first prisoner, Nguyen Anh Tuan, to die in August 2013.

The report gives a rare insight into the status of death sentences and executions in Vietnam’s communist state and the situation of prisoners on death row. Such information has been unavailable since 2004, when Vietnam classed statistics on the death penalty as “state secrets”. According to the report, 681 prisoners were awaiting execution in June 2016, 80 were granted stays of execution and retrials because of wrongful convictions, and 36 prisoners died on death row in the five year period.

The high number of deaths reported by the Ministry of Public Security report confirms media concerns about the growing suicide rate on Vietnam’s death row, which is the 12th largest in the world. Prisoners are not informed of their execution in advance, and many prefer to die rather than live with the terror of waiting for an unknown execution date.

The report also noted that many prisons do not have special quarters for prisoners condemned to death, which causes “complications in the management of prisoners”, according to the report.

Despite two reforms in the Criminal Code in 1999 and 2009 which reduced the number of crimes punishable by death from 44 to 22, according to the report the number of death sentences pronounced each year has not diminished, thus indicating the failure of capital punishment as a deterrent to crime, says VCHR.

Despite demands by the international community, Vietnam has not removed the death penalty for vaguely-worded “national security” offenses in the Criminal Code which are frequently invoked to detain political and religious dissidents. On the contrary, one new crime was added, making a current total of six national security crimes punishable by death in Vietnam.

VCHR says that the death penalty is particularly dangerous in a one-Party State such as Vietnam, where the judiciary is totally subservient to the Communist Party and where citizens may be condemned to death on “national security” charges simply for the peaceful advocacy of democracy or human rights.

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North Korea Must End Forced Child Labor

The North Korean government must immediately stop exploiting children by forcing them to work, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday. The human rights organization released its submission to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, detailing forced labor including farming, rock breaking, scrap-metal collecting, and other strenuous labor, as well as discrimination and other abuses faced by North Korean children.

“North Korea’s common use of forced labor is bad enough, but it’s wholly inexcusable when children are exploited,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “In destroying the lives of children, the ruling Kim family shows just how low it’s prepared to go to sustain political and economic power. For many children, forced labor is sadly a normal hazard in everyday life.”

North Koreans who recently escaped to South Korea or keep contacts in the North told Human Rights Watch that the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea and the Ministry of Education obtain payments and benefits of child labor from grade schools, vocational schools, colleges, universities, and national youth and children’s leagues. School administrators force children to work to meet those demands, as well as to maintain and manage schools, and earn profits.

North Korea stated in a May 2016 report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors state compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, that it abolished child labor 70 years ago. But North Koreans who spoke to Human Rights Watch detailed how the government ordered and received forced labor from children through activities or campaigns by the “socialist loyalty” movement, or from authorities requiring “patriotic labor.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 14 North Koreans, including several children, who left North Korea after 2013 or who have ongoing contacts in the country. Although the number of interviewees was not large enough to reach conclusions on overall conditions inside the country, the interviews provide a consistent picture of personal experiences. The interviewees provided disturbing accounts of requests for unpaid forced labor from children, physical punishments, and discrimination against children on political grounds.

Former teachers and students confirmed that the school systems also discriminate on the basis of songbun, a sociopolitical classification that distinguishes citizens on their personal performance and perceived loyalty to the ruling party and government. This classification affects access to food, basic services like health care and education, and jobs.

A former secondary school teacher from North Hamgyong province said that schools only focused on providing a serious education to students from families with good songbun, and such students were not forced to perform any labor. These students were typically those with money to afford private lessons, and were invariably the ones selected to attend regional competitions and national school events. Students said that the rest of the students were not allowed to ask any questions, and were compelled to memorize propagandistic teachings about the lives and accomplishments of the current Kim dynasty.

The 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in North Korea found that the gravity, scale, and nature of violations revealed a state “without parallel in the contemporary world.” The commission’s report documented abuses including murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, and rape and other sexual violence, constituting crimes against humanity. The commission found that school children were indoctrinated to worship the Kim family and to incite discrimination, hostility, hate, racism, and violence, all contrary to educational goals found in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly also endorsed the commission’s report and condemned North Korea’s horrific rights record. In December 2016, the Security Council discussed human rights violations in North Korea for the third year in a row.

“By discriminating on the basis of loyalty to Kim Jong-un, North Korean schools cheat millions of children out of an education,” Robertson said. “North Korean children have nowhere to turn but the UN and foreign governments, who need to speak out now on the destruction of children’s lives, and put human rights at the center of their dealings with North Korea.”

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Cambodia Should Drop Politically Motivated Investigation of Human Rights Defenders

Cambodian authorities should immediately drop the politically motivated criminal investigation of human rights defenders Am Sam-at and Chan Puthisak, human rights groups said Tuesday. The two human rights defenders have been summoned as suspects in relation to violence that occurred when para-police blocked a peaceful World Habitat Day march in October 2016.

Cambodian officials have accused Sam-at, a respected human rights monitor at the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) for nearly 20 years, and Puthisak, a land rights activist from Boeung Kak Lake and former prisoner of conscience, of instigating violence at a October 10th 2016 demonstration.  

Para-police forces, who are regularly used to suppress demonstrations, violently dispersed what had been a peaceful protest in Phnom Penh.

According to LICADHO, during an otherwise peaceful march through Phnom Penh to the city’s Freedom Park on October 10th 2016, para-police – led by Daun Penh district para-police head Kim Vutha – blocked the march and forcibly confiscated musical instruments and banners from the marchers. At that time, para-police launched an unprovoked, violent and targeted attack on Chan Puthisak, who was filming the march. Am Sam Ath then attempted to peacefully de-escalate the situation and end the violence under his mandate as a human rights monitor. Para-police immediately launched a similarly unprovoked and targeted attack, surrounding Am Sam Ath and punching him in the face and neck repeatedly. Both men were left injured and in need of medical attention.

“The Cambodian government should be commending people like Sam-at and Puthisak for their work to promote and protect human rights rather than trying to intimidate them,” said Kingsley Abbott, Senior International Legal Advisor at the International Commission of Jurists. “The case should be immediately and formally closed and a genuine investigation initiated into wrongful use of force by the para-police.”

‘’Am Sam Ath and Chan Puthisak were victims of unprovoked attacks,’’ said Naly Pilorge, Deputy Director for Advocacy at LICADHO. ‘’It is farcical that an investigation against them is even being considered.’’

Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists said that the case investigation of the two falls within a wider pattern of judicial intimidation in Cambodia. There are currently as many as 26 human rights and political activists in prison on charges which have all the hallmarks of being politically motivated. This includes 14 political activists who were jailed following a demonstration in July 2014, when para-police violently clashed with participants. No efforts have been reported of the authorities’ efforts to bring to justice the para-police responsible for the unlawful use of force.

“The investigation of Sam-at and Puthisak by the Cambodian authorities is a typically absurd and undisguised case of judicial harassment,” said Champa Patel, Southeast Asia and Pacific Director at Amnesty International. “As usual, unnecessary and excessive use of force by the para-police goes unpunished, and those who work to promote and protect human rights find themselves subject to criminal proceedings.”

Para-police, often referred to as “district security guards,” are auxiliary security forces that are regularly used to violently suppress demonstrations in Cambodia. No single legal document sets out the rules governing their functions and powers. Rather, their legal basis and the rules governing their activities are set out in a confusing combination of government statements and policies, and by instructions from the Ministry of Interior. They work in tandem with police, under the authority of district governors.

‘’It is obvious that the only violence committed that day was by para-police, who beat a land activist and a human rights monitor,’’ said Song Sreyleap, Boeung Kak Lake community representative. ‘’Authorities should help us achieve justice by investigating those who attacked us on the street.’’

Both Am Sam Ath and Chan Puthisak filed complaints to Chey Chomneas district police later that morning relating to the violence perpetrated against them. LICADHO, along with multiple national media sources, has extensive video footage and witness accounts of the brutal beatings, but neither complaint has so far been properly addressed, the organization said.

On November 4th, two members of the para-police filed a complaint with the Phnom Penh Court of First Instance, alleging that they were injured during the dispersal of the demonstration. The authorities are investigating Sam-at and Puthisak for instigating intentional violence, under Articles 27 and 217 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code, which carry penalties of up to three years in prison. There has been no indication that complaints filed against para-police by Sam-at and Puthisak after the incident on October 10th 2016 are being investigated.

The October 10th demonstration involved approximately 150 participants peacefully calling for respect for housing and land rights in Freedom Park, an area designated for demonstrations. The protestors were marching on a street adjacent to the park when the incident took place. Videos of the incident establish that the demonstration was peaceful and that Sam-at was wearing a blue human rights monitor vest when the para-police attacked him.

‘’Treating Am Sam Ath and Chan Puthisak as suspects after they were beaten themselves by para-police while trying to prevent further violence shows how biased authorities are against public assembly,’’ said Thav Kimsan, LICADHO director. ‘’Especially as para-police routinely commit violence with apparent impunity.’’

In face of the clear evidence that the two men were victims and not perpetrators of violence, LICADHO and Boeung Kak Lake community said that they hope that the prosecutor ends this preliminary investigation against Am Sam Ath and Chan Puthisak, and gives proper consideration to complaints against identifiable perpetrators of the violence.

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Assassination of Human Rights Lawyer a Tragedy for Myanmar

Human rights organizations condemn the killing of a prominent human rights lawyer at Yangon International Airport in Myanmar. U Ko Ni was a lawyer and legal adviser to the National League for Democracy, the ruling party led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

“The killing of prominent lawyer U Ko Ni in Yangon is an appalling act that has all the hallmarks of an assassination. It demands that the authorities immediately launch a thorough, independent and impartial investigation,’’ said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s Deputy Campaign Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Not only the fact of the killing but also the manner in which it took place is a reminder that the struggle for democratization and human rights in Myanmar is far from over, that that struggle is in the current period taking on new forms, and that the fight against impunity must surely continue.

A Muslim, U Ko Ni was returning from a government-organized trip to Indonesia, part of wider efforts to foster interfaith tolerance and reconciliation. Recent years have seen a worrying rise in tensions between Myanmar’s Buddhist and Muslim communities, at times leading to deadly violence.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) also condemned the killing which took place on the evening of January 29th. As has been widely reported, U Ko Ni was shot dead at the front of Yangon airport when returning to Myanmar from a trip to Indonesia along with the information minister, U Pe Myint, and party. He was holding his grandchild and awaiting a vehicle when a man walked up behind and shot him in the back of the head. The killer, who also shot and killed U Nay Win as the driver and other onlookers foiled his escape, is a former ordinary criminal detainee, released from prison in 2014, and reportedly a native of upper Myanmar. There can be little doubt that he was hired for the job, AHRC said.

Benedict said that “His death will send shock waves across the human rights community in the country and beyond, and the authorities must send a clear message that such violence will not be tolerated and will not go unpunished. The killing of prominent lawyer U Ko Ni in Yangon today is an appalling act that has all the hallmarks of an assassination. His death will send shock waves across the human rights community in the country and beyond.’’

Although the motive for the killing is not yet clear, what is clear is that not only is Ko Ni’s death a tragic loss for Myanmar, but it also marks a new and dangerous development in the era of the country’s political change. Political assassination of this sort has been uncommon there, where hitherto power-holders had other means and modes of violence at their disposal than public killing of opponents.

AHRC also said that Ko Ni was one of the few Muslim professionals with close connections to senior government officials, and an outspoken opponent of the so-called “race and religion” laws passed in 2015 in response to nationwide anti-Muslim sentiment raises further concerns. Whether or not the killing has the goal of generating more violence between the dominant Buddhist community and Muslim minorities in the country, it has the potential to do so. But Ko Ni was also an outspoken critic of the military-drafted 2008 constitution, and advocate for the drafting of a new charter, and his killing has the further potential to chill public debate on a host of matters in which powerful and vested interests might feel threatened.

AHRC urged that the assassination be investigated openly and sincerely, and at the highest levels, so that not only the shooter but also the masterminds are identified and brought to justice. The relevant authorities in Myanmar are beholden to act urgently to ensure that the case is addressed to the satisfaction of all, and in a manner that prevents rather than exacerbates further violence.

U Ko Ni, an advocate of the Supreme Court and founding member of the Myanmar Lawyers Network, was much loved and deeply appreciated by everyone who knew and worked with him, both for his professionalism and his commitment to political change, human rights and the rule of law in Myanmar, and his loss will be felt profoundly, and in many different ways. It is beholden on all of us to carry forward his work, and his memory, so as to ensure that the struggle for democracy, human rights, equality, toleration and the demilitarization of Myanmar is ultimately successful, AHRC said.

“U Ko Ni was a tireless human rights campaigner, and his death marks the loss of an important voice in the fight for human rights in Myanmar. Amnesty International joins national and international activists in mourning his loss and expresses its deepest condolences to his family.” Benedict added.

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Rights Groups Condemn Arrests of Three Activist Bloggers in Vietnam

Photo courtesy Reporters Without Borders.

Rights groups are condemning the arrests of three bloggers and citizen journalists in the past few days in the run-up to the Vietnamese New Year, known as the Tet, and call for their immediate release and the withdrawal of all charges against them.

“This wave of arrests ahead of the Vietnamese New Year celebrations betrays the state of tension within the regime whenever civil society has an opportunity to express itself freely about violations of its rights and human rights in general,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk.

“These bloggers and citizen journalists did nothing more than cover protests and express views about violations of the rights of their fellow citizens. In other words, they defended the general interest. However, it is terrible to see that defence of the general interest and human rights is branded as anti-state propaganda in Vietnam. We ask the international community to press for their immediate release,” Ismaïl added.

The latest victim is Tran Thi Nga, a blogger also known as Thuy Nga, who was arrested at her home in the northern province of Ha Nam on January 21st. The mother of two children, Nga uses her blog to defend migrant workers and those whose land has been seized by the authorities.

Accused of posting “anti-state” content online, she has been charged under article 88 of the penal code, which provides for sentences of three to 20 years in prison for “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

Tran Thi Nga is a member of Vietnamese Women For Human Rights, a group that includes overseas Vietnamese wishing to lend support, training, and encouragement to those who stand up to defend human rights in Vietnam. She has also assisted those whose land has been confiscated by local authorities and has demonstrated in support of democratic reform.

She has been targeted a number of times because of her human rights work and in 2015 she was beaten by policemen for celebrating the release of another human rights defender from jail.

According to Frontline Defenders, In the days prior to her arrest, Ms. Tran Thi Nga complained of increasing police intimidation and harassment, including surveillance of her home and being physically stopped from leaving her house. Police also prevented a neighbour from taking the couple’s two young sons to the city to buy them food.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders condemns the arbitrary detention of Ms. Tran Thi Nga, as well as the charges against her, which seem to be aimed at sanctioning her legitimate and peaceful human rights activities. The Observatory calls on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release her and to drop all charges against her.

Nguyen Van Oai, a citizen journalist who has been jailed in the past, was arrested on January 19th in the central province of Nghe An for allegedly resisting police officers and for leaving his home while on probation.

Arrested in 2011 and sentenced to four years in prison plus three years of home surveillance under penal code article 79 (penalizing “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration”), Oai was released in August 2015 on completing the jail term. Articles 79 and 88 are the two that are most often used to gag bloggers and online activists.

Nguyen Van Oai is a Christian activist and citizen journalist who was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in 2013 for ‘attempting to overthrow the government’. He is  a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Former Prisoners of Conscience. Following his release in 2015, he was placed on administrative probation for four years.

At around 10:00 pm on January 19th, Nguyen Van Oai was intercepted and detained by a group of unidentified men, later identified as police officers, as he returned from a day’s fishing near Hoang Mai commune, Nghe An province.  He was charged with resisting on-duty state officials after being accused of breaking the terms of his probation by leaving his locality without first informing the local authorities. It is unclear where he is currently being detained.

Front Line Defenders says it is gravely concerned at the arrests of Tran Thi Nga and Nguyen Van Oai which it believes are solely motivated by their legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights in Vietnam.

Citizen journalist Nguyen Van Hoa was held incommunicado for more than a week after his arrest on January 11th, with the result that his family learned only two days ago that he is in the regime’s custody and has been charged under article 258, which punishes “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state.”

Hoa recently covered protests against Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a Taiwanese-owned steel plant responsible for a toxic spill that caused the deaths of thousands of tons of fish in April 2016.

As well as harassing, threatening and physically attacking outspoken bloggers and their loved-ones, the Vietnamese Communist Party also readily resorts to preventive arrests — arrests often amounting to enforced disappearances – in order to silence its critics in the run-up to national events.

Last October, RSF condemned the Vietnamese government’s policy of isolating journalists and bloggers and its systematic reprisals against those who dare to get in touch with the outside world.

Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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China Must Drop Charges Against Tibetan Education Activist

A Tibetan shopkeeper who has publicly supported education in the Tibetan language faces a 15-year sentence for promoting minority language. Human Rights Watch says the Chinese authorities should drop the politically motivated case against Tashi Wangchuk immediately. A trial is expected to take place soon.

Tashi Wangchuk, 31, was detained on January 27th 2016, after appearing in a New York Times video in which he advocated for the rights of Tibetans to learn and study in their mother tongue. Although he told the paper explicitly that he was not calling for Tibetan independence, he was charged in March 2016 with “inciting separatism,” and faces up to 15 years in prison.

In September, prosecutors sent his case for trial by a criminal court in Yushu prefecture, Qinghai, but in December, they unusually asked the court to send the case back to them for further investigation. The re-investigation concluded by January 4th 2017, and the case has now been returned to the court for trial.

“Tashi Wangchuk has joined the ranks of those prosecuted in China by simply calling for rights to be respected and the law to be upheld,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Cultural rights, which include the right to use one’s own language, are protected under both the Chinese Constitution and international human rights law.”

Tashi Wangchuk ran a small shop in Kyegundo, in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, selling Tibetan products such as caterpillar fungus, which he also marketed online. He began voicing concern publicly about the lack of Tibetan-language education after the authorities in Kyegundo stopped local monasteries and a private school in the area from teaching Tibetan to laypeople, according to the Times. Since 2012, public schools in Tibetan areas of Qinghai and neighboring Gansu Province, although nominally offering bilingual education in Chinese and Tibetan, had stopped using Tibetan as a medium of education and offered it only as a standalone subject, if at all.

China has set up a bilingual education system in minority schools, but in practice, teaching of Mandarin Chinese increasingly predominates or is exclusive. Regulations on the implementation of bilingual education in “ethnic minority areas,” issued by China’s State Council in August 2015, ordered authorities in those areas to “unswervingly implement the national common language and writing education to ensure that minority students master and use the basic national common language,” referring to Mandarin Chinese. But the regulations state only that the right of ethnic minorities to receive education in their own languages be “respected and guaranteed,” and does not explicitly require the government to provide minority language education.

Tashi Wangchuk traveled to Beijing in May 2015 to explore filing a formal complaint against officials in his home area for failing to support Tibetan language education. On that visit, he met with Times journalists and “insisted of doing on-the-record interviews,” according to the paper. In September 2015, the Times’ journalists traveled to Yushu to meet him, and in November 2015, the paper published articles about his efforts in English and Chinese, together with a nine-minute video in both languages.

The video shows Tashi Wangchuk traveling from Yushu to Beijing in September 2015, in an unsuccessful attempt to file a lawsuit against Yushu officials and to get Chinese media to take up the language issue. He is shown discussing his plans with a Times journalist before leaving Yushu, having a photograph of the Dalai Lama in his home, traveling with the journalist to Beijing, being accompanied by the journalist in Beijing during his efforts there, and answering a question as to whether he planned to self-immolate – actions that did not violate any Chinese laws but which would have been especially sensitive given the involvement of foreigners.

Tashi Wangchuk had also posted messages on his Sina Weibo or microblog account that expressed concerns about what he referred to as the “systematic slaughter of our culture.” His last microblog message, posted on January 24th 2016, called on the local people’s congress in Qinghai Province to enhance bilingual education and to hire more bilingual officials.

After being detained in January 2016, Tashi Wangchuk was held in secret in a detention center in Yushu while his case was investigated by the guobao, the section of China’s police force that deals with internal security. Although Chinese law requires that a detainee’s family be informed of a detention within 24 hours, such a requirement can be waived in cases involving “national security” and “terrorism” and when the police believe that such notification could “impede the investigation.”

His family was not provided such notice until March 24th. At that time, police notified his family that they intended to charge him with “inciting separatism.”

The case was referred by police to the Yushu procuratorate, which for unknown reasons requested the police to conduct an additional investigation into the case, which concluded on August 25th. The procuratorate handed the case over to the court for trial in September, but in December asked the court to delay the trial while the second re-investigation was carried out. This concluded in early January 2017, when the case was sent back to the court for trial.

The indictment has not yet been made public, and there is no publicly available evidence of his “inciting separatism.“ The Chinese government has a long record of using article 103(2) of China’s Criminal Law, which details this charge, to prosecute critics from ethnic minority communities.

Tashi Wangchuk had been detained briefly in 2006, for “trying to travel illegally to India,” and again in 2012, for posting online comments that criticized local officials about land seizures in his area.

“Chinese authorities are bound by law to allow Tibetan language education precisely as Tashi Wangchuk advocated,” Richardson said. “By prosecuting him, rather than dropping the charges and releasing him, the authorities are putting their own constitution on trial.”

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UN Rights Expert To Assess Human Rights Situation in Myanmar

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, will undertake her fifth information-gathering visit to the country from January 9 to 20th. Ms. Lee plans to visit Kachin State  and Rakhine State, in addition to Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon in order to assess recent developments.

“The events of the last few months have shown that the international community must remain vigilant in monitoring the human rights situation there. “Apart from what is happening in Rakhine, the escalation in fighting in Kachin and Shan, with its inevitable negative impact on the situation of civilians, is causing some disquiet regarding the direction that the new government is taking in its first year of administration,” Lee said.

During the 12-day visit, at the invitation of the Myanmar government, the Special Rapporteur will address a broad range of human rights issues with the authorities and various stakeholders, including political and community leaders, civil society representatives, as well as victims of human rights violations and members of the international community.

In line with her mandate from the UN Human Rights Council, Ms. Lee has proposed benchmarks to the Myanmar government ahead of her visit to help monitor and assess progress in the situation of human rights in Myanmar. By the end of her visit, she hopes to arrive at mutually agreed benchmarks with the government, which will include priority areas for technical assistance and capacity building.

“My main objective, as Special Rapporteur, has always been to work closely with the authorities and people of Myanmar, for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country,” Lee noted.

“I look forward to the good cooperation which the Government has always extended to my mandate. I especially hope for the constructive and frank exchange of views which always take place during my visits to lead to real and meaningful change for the people of Myanmar,” she said.

Following her country visit, Lee will present a report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017.

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Chinese Lawyer Held Incommunicado At Risk For Torture

Missing prominent rights activist Jiang Tianyong in an undated photo.

Chinese authorities confirm that Beijing human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, last heard from on November 21st 2016, has been placed under “residential surveillance in a designated location” on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. His whereabouts remain unknown and, without access to a lawyer, is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment, according to Amnesty International.

Jiang Tianyong is a well-known human rights lawyer, whose activism resulted in him being disbarred in 2009. He has since continued his work as a human rights defender, despite suffering ongoing harassment, detention and physical beatings

He has been placed under “residential surveillance in a designated location” on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” according to a notification received by his father-in-law on December 23rd 2016 from the Changsha City Public Security Bureau. On December 29th a visitation request, made by Jiang Tianyong’s lawyer two days prior, was rejected by the Public Security Bureau because the case involved “endangering national security”.

To date, no information about Jiang Tianyong’s whereabouts has been provided.

On December 16th, mainland Chinese media reported that Jiang Tianyong had been placed under police custody for allegedly having “illegally possessed multiple secret state documents, colluded with overseas institutions, organizations and individuals, and is suspected of illegally providing state secrets abroad”. The reports cited unspecified public security authorities.

Xie Yang, the detained lawyer whose wife Jiang Tianyong was visiting when he initially disappeared, is one of ten lawyers and activists who remain in detention on subversion charges following an unprecedented mass crackdown that started on July 9th 2015. Amnesty International is aware of at least 248 lawyers and activists who have been questioned or detained by state security agents since the crackdown began.

Jiang Tianyong has been involved in some high profile cases and has supported other human rights defenders, including human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who was imprisoned and consistently harassed due to his human rights work, and blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who exposed forced abortion practices on villagers by local officials in Dongshigu Village in Linyi, Shandong.

The most recent detention of Jiang Tiangyong was in March 2014, after he and three other lawyers went to investigate a “black jail”, or unofficial detention facility, in Jiansanjiang, Heilongjiang which allegedly detained Falun Gong practitioners. He was beaten while detained and had eight ribs fractured as a result.

Previously, in May 2012, Jiang Tianyong was detained by public security officers while on his way to visit Chen Guangcheng in Chaoyang Hospital, Haidian District, Beijing. Detained for nine hours, Jiang Tianyong was beaten so badly that his left eardrum was perforated and the hearing in his right ear was temporarily impaired.

Amnesty is urging the Chinese authorities to immediately disclose Jiang Tianyong’s whereabouts and calls on the authorities to immediately release Jiang Tianyong unless there is credible evidence that he may have committed an internationally recognized offence and is granted a fair trial in line with international human rights standards. The human rights groups also urges authorities to ensure that Jiang Tianyong is protected from torture and other ill-treatment and that he is allowed access to his family, a lawyer of his choice and adequate medical care.

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Myanmar: Protect Civilians in Northern Fighting, Ensure Aid

Military and ethnic armed groups in northern Myanmar should commit to protecting civilians and expediting aid in the face of escalating rights abuses and civilian displacement, Human Rights Watch says.

On December 17th Myanmar army forces captured a key stronghold of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) on Gidon mountain in Kachin State. Government airstrikes and shelling were confirmed to have hit close to several camps for internally displaced people near the KIA headquarters of Laiza, causing damage to shelters and forcing the evacuation of more than 400 people.

“While international attention has rightly focused on the crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, expanded fighting in northern Myanmar has resulted in a spike in rights abuses and civilian displacement,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “There is a critical need for the army and armed groups to end abuses and ensure civilian protection, especially for highly vulnerable villagers and displaced people close to the front lines.”

On November 20th, armed groups comprising the Brotherhood of the Northern Alliance – the Kachin Independence Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Arakan Army (AA) – carried out attacks against the police, firing unguided rockets into civilian areas near the Myanmar-China border town of Muse and other locations on the main highway. The Myanmar government said that 10 civilians died in these attacks. The alliance also seized the town of Mong Ko on the Chinese border for several days before being driven out in early December by airstrikes from helicopter gunships, jets, and heavy artillery.

The military has committed serious violations of the laws of war in Kachin and Northern Shan States, including summary executions, torture and ill-treatment, forced labor, and looting of civilian properties. Ethnic armed groups have also committed laws-of-war violations, including summary executions, abductions and forced recruitment of civilians, and indiscriminate firing into civilian areas. Many of these abuses on both sides are apparent war crimes.

Human Rights Watch research in August and October documented numerous abuses, including the summary executions of seven men in the town of Mong Yaw in Northern Shan State in June. The army admitted killing five of the men, and after a criminal investigation a court martial convicted seven officers and ranking soldiers, sentencing them to five years in prison.

Fighting in Northern Shan State has steadily increased since 2009, particularly in Kyaukme, Hsipaw, and Namtu townships. It has involved various ethnic armed groups that have fought each other, the military, and pro-government militias. The forces have vied over territory and the drug trade and its various revenue-raising enterprises.

As a result of this fighting, villagers have become displaced for weeks or months before returning to their homes; in some cases, families have been displaced several times over the year. Police officials in Muse, Northern Shan State, have estimated that since the attacks on November 20, there have been 170 clashes, with fighting in Muse again reported on December 20.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Rangoon reported that between 2,000 and 4,000 people have been internally displaced by the recent fighting in Northern Shan State and an estimated 15,000 refugees have crossed into China. About 100,000 people remain displaced by the conflicts in Kachin and Northern Shan States since heavy fighting began in 2011. Many small settlements for internally displaced people are in areas of active conflict, increasing their vulnerability. Since early 2016, aid organizations have reported increased restrictions by military authorities on movement and access to displaced populations in Kachin and Northern Shan States.

On December 12th, the United States embassy in Rangoon issued a statement on fighting in Kachin and Northern Shan States calling for “restraint from all sides and urging immediate, unfettered humanitarian access to all those affected by conflict throughout the country.” This followed a December 1 statement from several local nongovernmental organizations and international relief organizations based in northern Myanmar urging the “removal of all impediments and restrictions, formal or informal, to the movement of humanitarian aid including personnel, goods, and services to ensure timely response to humanitarian needs.”

The existing regional peace process has seen little progress, Human Rights Watch said. Three Northern Alliance members – the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Ta-ang National Liberation Army, and the Arakan Army –  have been excluded from the official ceasefire process.

“Nongovernmental groups in conflict areas in Myanmar’s north are routinely documenting serious abuses with very little action by the central government to ensure that abuses stop and civilian protection becomes a priority,” Adams said. “Myanmar’s many friends and donors should demand full and unfettered access for humanitarian groups and that all parties facilitate the delivery of urgently needed aid.”

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