China Must Release Six Activists on Trial in Cases Rife with Abuse

The six activists facing trial l for exercising freedom of speech and right to association. Photo courtesy CHRD.

The six activists facing trial l for exercising freedom of speech and right to association. Photo courtesy CHRD.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders , a coalition of Chinese and international human rights organizations, is calling on Chinese authorities to immediately release six human rights defenders facing imminent trial and drop all trumped-up charges against them. Four activists — Guangdong-based Tang Jingling, Wang Qingying, Yuan Xinting and Ye Xiaozhen — will be tried on Thursday, July 23rd.

Trial proceedings originally set for the same day were abruptly suspended for two Hangzhou-based activists, L Gengsong and Chen Shuqing, but the two will likely be tried soon. Five of the men face “inciting subversion of state power” charges, while Ye is charged with “creating a disturbance.”

“The cases against the six activists must be dropped because the defendants were arrested for legitimate exercise of their rights to free speech, peaceful assembly and association,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s international director. “These cases are rife with allegations of torture, unreasonably prolonged pre-trial detentions, and deprivation of their right to legal counsel, with their lawyers facing extreme harassment.”

Several lawyers who represent these defendants have recently been summoned for police questioning, and one has been put under “compulsory criminal measures,” in the current crackdown targeting more than 300 rights lawyers and activists. Lawyer Sui Muqing, who represents Wang and Ye, is being held under “residential surveillance at a designated location” on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.”

Police seized him from his home on July 10th on suspicion for “creating a disturbance” and took him to South Village Police Station in Panyu District, Guangzhou, but it is reported that he has been transferred to an unknown location. Lawyers Rang Tong and Wu Kuiming will now represent Mr. Wang. For the other cases, lawyers Yan Xin and Ge Yongxi will represent Mr. Tang, and lawyers Wen Donghai and Hu Xinfan will defend Mr. Yuan. Mr. Ye’s lawyer is Liu Hao. Mr. Lü’s lawyer is Ding Xikui, while lawyers Lin Qilei and Liu Shuqing represent Chen.

In a communication sent to the Chinese government last September, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention requested the immediate release of Tang Jingling, Wang Qingying, and Yuan Xinting due to “arbitrary” deprivation of liberty in their cases. The government has disregarded the Working Group’s opinion by both continuing to detain them and now putting them on trial. The trials represent brazen defiance of international human rights standards that China voluntarily pledged to “promote” as it sought membership on the Human Rights Council, where it currently holds a seat.

The trial of Tang, Wang and Yuan, who have been called the “Three Gentlemen of Guangzhou,” will be held at the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court. According to their lawyers, the hearing will last two days, the 23rd and 24th. Ye’s trial will take place at the Huizhou District People’s Court in Guangdong.

Closed court proceedings for Tang, Wang, and Yuan initially opened on June 19th at the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court. However, the court suspended the hearing after denying two requests by the defendants and their lawyers. They had asked the judges to disclose their “political identity” and also applied to have judges affiliated with the Communist Party removed from hearing their case, a request with basis under Chinese law meant to eliminate judges who have conflicts in their roles. This sort of request, which has become more frequent among Chinese human rights lawyers, has been referenced by authorities who have accused recently detained lawyers of “disrupting court order.”

Tang Jingling, 43, was detained in May 2014, apparently because of the “June 4th Meditation” activity that he promoted as part of “Non-violent Citizens’ Disobedience Movement,” which he has spearheaded in recent years. Tang was first held at Baiyun District Detention Center, where a discipline management officer reportedly attacked him. He is now detained at Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center, and has indicated to his lawyer and wife that he has grown thin due to the poor living conditions at the facility. In recent years, police have detained, threatened, and tortured lawyer Tang in retaliation for his defending a wide range of human rights cases, while also stripping him of his law license.

Wang Qingying, 32, was arrested in June 2014, on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power,” after he was taken away from his home and criminally detained the previous month. Wang is now being held at Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center, after being initially detained at Baiyun District Detention Center, where he was severely tortured and mistreated. Lawyer Sui Muqing visited him in May 2014, and learned that Wang had been repeatedly slapped in the face by authorities for refusing to testify against Tang and Yuan.

According to CHRD, he also had been forced to work long hours and held in a 20-square-meter room with 30 other inmates, and given poor-quality and inadequate food. His lawyer reported after a visit that Wang had been interrogated at least 20 times, sometimes for as long as 12 or 13 hours at a time, until Wang confessed. Since his forced confession, Wang’s treatment has reportedly improved and he can use the toilet, has been transferred to a larger room, and is no longer beaten. Wang had been engaged in the “Non-violent Citizens’ Disobedience Movement,” led by Tang Jingling. He lost a university teaching job in 2009 after signing Charter 08, the manifesto promoting political reform and democratization in China.

Yuan Xinting, in his 40s, was criminally detained in May 2014. Originally from Sichuan Province, Yuan was disappeared during the “Jasmine Crackdown” in March 2011, and then released from custody and forcibly sent back to Sichuan. Yuan then returned to Guangdong and resumed his activism, including participating in the “Non-violent Citizens’ Disobedience Movement” with Tang Jingling. Yuan is being held at Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center.

Lü Gengsong, a co-founder of the China Democratic Party (CDP), was criminally detained in July 2014 on suspicion of “subversion of state power,” and formally arrested the next month. Authorities have not allowed lawyer Ding Xikui to meet with Lü at Hangzhou City Detention Center. The 59-year-old Lü lost his job as a teacher in 1993 after he wrote a book criticizing the Chinese Communist Party. He later helped found the CDP, and was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in 2008 on a charge of “inciting subversion of state power.”

Chen Shuqing, a member of the CDP, was detained in September 2014 on suspicion of “subversion of state power.” It is believed that his detention is due to activities related to the opposition political party, which was declared illegal in 1998. Police summoned Chen for questioning after the arrest of Lu Gengsong, and then arrested Chen a month later. The 51-year-old Chen is being held at Hangzhou City Detention Center.

Ye Xiaozheng, also known by his screen name, “Humian Yizhou,”, was arrested in January 2015 on suspicion of “creating a disturbance” after being taken from his home in December 2014. Lawyer Sui Muqing met him in detention and learned that Ye had been harshly interrogated for long periods while shackled to a tiger bench (a torture device). Police questioning led Ye to know that authorities had been monitoring him since October 2014, when pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong and activists, including Ye, voiced support inside China. While being held at Huizhou City Detention Center in Guangdong, Ye has been subjected to forced labor, humiliation by prison guards, and beating by cellmates, while also denied written communication with his wife.

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Senior Tibetan Monk Dies in Chinese Prison, Thousands Protest

Around a hundred Tibetans gathered outside Chuandong Prison in Chengdu, Sichuan, July 14 to hold a peaceful sit-in calling upon the Chinese authorities to release the body of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche to his family and monastery. The images show the sit-in and police gathering outside the main gate. Photo courtesy ICT.

Around a hundred Tibetans gathered outside Chuandong Prison in Chengdu, Sichuan, July 14 to hold a peaceful sit-in calling upon the Chinese authorities to release the body of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche to his family and monastery. The image shows the police gathering outside the main gate. Photo courtesy ICT.

Tibetan monk and political prisoner Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died Sunday July 12th in a Chinese prison. The circumstances around his death are unknown, Chinese authorities have refused to release his body to family members and thousands have gathered to protest. Tenzin suffered from a serious heart condition and he had recently been denied parole on medical grounds.

On Sunday, Tenzin Delek’s family was informed by Chinese police that he had passed away in a prison near Chengdu, Sichuan Province.The senior monk was imprisoned for alleged involvement in bombings that took place in Chengdu in China’s Sichuan province.

Chinese authorities’ failure to return the body of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche to his family and the monastic community is inhumane and violates China’s own new rule on the handling of deaths in prison, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

Earlier this month, Rinpoche’s family members were informed that they would be allowed visit him in the prison. No visitors had been allowed since November 2013. According to London-based Free Tibet, when they arrived at the prison, his sisters were repeatedly denied access to him. A promised meeting on July 12th did not take place and at around 11:00 pm (local time) on July 12th,  prison authorities informed Rinpoche’s sisters, who were waiting outside the prison that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had died.

Tenzin Delek. Photo courtesy Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

Tenzin Delek. Photo courtesy Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 65, had been serving a life sentence on charges of “terrorism and inciting separatism,” in proceedings that violated his right to a fair trial. He was arrested April 7th 2002, and then sentenced to death on trumped-up charges of “crimes of terror and incitement of separatism” in December 2002. He had no access to the lawyer his family appointed for him and no court documents about his case have since been released. He was was tried and sentenced to death with a two-year suspension in December 2002 for his alleged role in a bombing earlier that year in Chengdu’s Tianfu Square, though he consistently maintained his innocence. He was denied a lawyer of his choice, not allowed access to the evidence against him, and tried in secret. His alleged co-conspirator, Lobsang Dondrup, was tried at the same time, found guilty, and summarily executed in January 2003.

Following an international campaign, his death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment in January 2005. In a 2004 report, “Trials of a Monk,” Human Rights Watch found no credible evidence to support the charges laid against him. “The case of Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was a culmination of a decade-long effort by Chinese authorities to curb his efforts to foster Tibetan Buddhism, his support for the Dalai Lama as a religious leader, and his work to develop Tibetan social and cultural institutions. His efforts had become a focal point for Tibetans struggling to retain their cultural identity in the face of China’s restrictive policies and its continuing persecution of individuals attempting to push the accepted boundaries of cultural and social expression,” Human Rights Watch has stated in a substantive report in 2010.

Foreign governments, United Nations officials, and numerous nongovernmental organizations had repeatedly called for his release since 2002.

“To have detained Tenzin Delek Rinpoche for peaceful activism, to have denied him adequate medical treatment, and to let him die in detention – this is the epitome of cruel and inhumane behavior,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Central government authorities should move swiftly to ensure his remains are returned to his family or community, and immediately allow an independent investigation into his death.”

His family requested the return of his body in order to perform funeral rites, but have not received his body or been given a reason by the authorities for withholding it. China’s new Rules on the Handling of Deaths in Prison require authorities to handle the bodies of ethnic minority prisoners “with respect to ethnic traditions.”

According to the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) on Thursday July 16th, new information from Tibetan relatives of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in exile indicates that his two sisters have been under increasing pressure since news of his death was broken to the family on July 12th. The sisters were detained Thursday for around ten hours, according to the same sources, at the same prison as their brother had been held, when they refused to sign a document that was described to them as being the health record of their brother. The sisters were apparently told that they would not be able to keep a copy, and the information on the document was not clear. One of the sisters apparently fainted while in the prison, before the two women were allowed to leave.

In further news from the area, several groups of Tibetans were denied permission to see revered Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body when they arrived at the prison management office Wednesday. They were also refused answers to questions about how he died.

Torture, Deteriorating Health
Throughout his 13 years in detention, credible reports repeatedly emerged that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was being tortured and that he was in deteriorating health. Despite Sichuan provincial prison regulations that families be allowed to visit prisoners once a month, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s family members were only allowed one visit in November 2013.

In 2014 his family filed an application for medical parole but no reply was ever received. Governments and campaign groups have repeatedly called for his release because of his deteriorating health. China refused to grant him medical parole.

Thousands Protest, Are Met With Force from Chinese Authorities
As the news of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death spread on July 13, thousands of supporters converged outside local government offices in western Sichuan to demand the release of his body to his family or former monastery. Police reportedly beat a number of protestors and fired into the air to disperse the crowd. Tibetans in Tibet are protesting and demanding his family be able to carry out final Buddhist rites for Tenzin Delek. Protests have taken place in Nyagchu County where the Rinpoche used to live and outside the prison in Chengdu where he died.

Peaceful protests by Tibetans in this area in recent years have also been violently dispersed. China should uphold article 35 of its Constitution, which guarantees the right to peaceful freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said.

Repeated appeals to the Chinese authorities for the release of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body have been rejected and his family have been told he will be cremated in prison and the ashes returned to them. Rinpoche’s sisters and several of the monks his monastery were ordered to go back to their hometown (Nyagchu County in southeast Tibet) without “causing any disturbance”.

On Tuesday July 14th, China violently suppressed a protest, and more than 20 Tibetan demonstrators taken to the hospital. According to ICT ”Chinese authorities responded to peaceful protests yesterday following the death of Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche by deploying armed police to fire tear-gas and use physical violence against Tibetans.” China’s security forces broke up a Tibetan demonstration by beating protesters, shooting in the air and deploying tear gas in Nyagchu County, according to Free Tibet.

A Tibetan protester admitted to hospital with severe injuries sustained during demonstrations against the Chinese government. Photo/Geshe Jamyang Nyima

A Tibetan protester admitted to hospital with severe injuries sustained during demonstrations against the Chinese government. Photo/Geshe Jamyang Nyima

On Wednesday, the Central Tibetan Administration based in Dharamsala, India released photographs from Tibet of injuries sustained by protesters calling for the return of the body of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. Security forces broke up a demonstration in his local community. The Central Tibetan Administration says that Tenzin ”died under mysterious circumstances.”

Initial information from Tibet indicated that the police had fired into the air to disperse more than 1,000 protesters in Nyagchu. Photographs from Chengdu – a city near Tibet in China’s Sichuan Province – show a sit-down protest outside the prison.

Despite reported heavy restrictions of movement over 100 Tibetans have travelled to Chuandong prison, Chinese city of Chengdu and on Wednesday held peaceful sit-in protest following two days of unsuccessful negotiations between the police and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s immediate family to release the body.

Tibetans holding a sit-in protest demanding the return of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body. Photo/ Geshe Jamyang Nyima

Tibetans holding a sit-in protest demanding the return of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body. Photo/ Geshe Jamyang Nyima

The situation outside the prison where Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body is ‘’really tense’’ according to Students for a Free Tibet. ‘’I fear for the safety of my family and friends who have travelled from our hometown to the prison in order to demand the authorities to release Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body. It is our right that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, our teacher and leader, receives the final Tibetan Buddhist rites. But authorities are threatening to cremate his body inside the prison,” said Geshe Nyima, cousin of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche based in Dharamsala, India.

Tenzin Dolkar, Executive Director of Students for A Free Tibet, says: “We fear for the lives of over 100 Tibetans who have gathered outside the prison and are protesting Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death amid armed police. There is a high risk of a violent crackdown on the peaceful protesters by authorities as the situation could escalate at any time. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death is endemic for the treatment of Tibetans by the Chinese government. An urgent intervention by world leaders is needed to protect the lives of Tibetans.”

According to relatives of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in exile, local monks and laypeople selected a group of representatives to speak to the township government. Not only did the local authorities refuse to speak to them, but the Tibetans who sought to engage in dialogue were beaten ‘with brutality’, according to one of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s relatives, who is in exile in India.

Demands for Action
According to Students for a Free Tibet, Chinese authorities are refusing to reveal the circumstances around his death or return his body to the family.

The US State Department issued a statement Tuesday calling for his body to be released to his family: ‘’We are saddened to learn that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a Tibetan lama who has been a political prisoner since 2002, has died in prison. We express our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and supporters. The United States had consistently urged China to release Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, most recently out of concern for his health. We hope Chinese authorities will investigate and make public the circumstances surrounding his death. We urge Chinese authorities to return his body to his family or to his monastery so that customary religious rituals can be properly performed.’’

Rights groups are calling for the international community to demand that China honor the wishes of the local community instead of responding with brutality to legitimate Tibetan protest.

At a hearing Wednesday in the U.S. Congress, lawmakers held a moment of silence and audience members held up pictures of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche as strong statements remembering the Tibetan lama at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on Tibet at the U.S. Congress were made. Sarah Sewall, the U.S. State Department’s special coordinator for Tibetan issues, said she shared the “anger and sadness” of the Tibetan people and the US lawmakers over Tenzin Delek’s death. She said the “horrific self-immolations” of Tibetans in recent years were an expression of their desperation over the deteriorating situation in Tibet. She also elaborated on the four major priorities of her office namely resuming dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; promoting Human Rights in Tibet; promoting religious freedom; and ensuring diplomatic and public access to Tibet and preservation of distinct culture, rich tradition and linguistic heritage of the Tibetan people.

Hollywood actor Richard Gere at the hearing on Tibet’s human rights situation at Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Photo courtesy ICT.

Hollywood actor Richard Gere at the hearing on Tibet’s human rights situation at Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Photo courtesy ICT.

Hollywood actor Richard Gere, an ardent advocate of the Tibetan cause and Chairman of International Campaign for Tibet, also gave a testimonial before the Commission, referring to Tulku Tenzin Delek’s death in prison as a “stark reminder of who we are dealing with here.”

Students for a Free Tibet has been protesting Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death worldwide and is mobilizing their more than 70.000 members for advocacy work targeting world leaders to work together and put pressure on the Chinese government to undertake an independent investigation into the suspicious circumstances of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death.

“Thousands of Tibetans inside Tibet continue to protest Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death, which has led to a violent crackdown by Chinese armed troops in the past two days. Tibetans and supporters are holding rallies outside Chinese Consulates and embassies worldwide. And we will not stop until justice is served for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and his family. We call on world governments to strongly condemn the Chinese government for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s custodial death and demand an independent investigation into the suspicious circumstances of his death,” said Dorjee Tseten, Asia Director of Students for A Free Tibet.

The Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile based in Dharamshala on Thursday expressed its condolences: “We are deeply saddened by the untimely death of Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. The Chinese government has repeatedly violated all universal human rights in Tibet,” the Tibetan Parliament said in a statement. The Parliament also urged the Chinese government to return the body of Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche to his family members and disciples, to allow them to arrange for his last rites according to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Deaths in Chinese Custody
China’s refusal to hand over the bodies of political prisoners who have died in custody or following self-immolation protests is a consistent and recurring source of grief and anger for Tibetans, who are denied the opportunity to conduct funeral services. In this case, the prison is also preventing independent determination of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s cause of death as he was denied medical parole despite serious illnesses.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death in detention is disturbingly similar to that of rights activist Cao Shunli, who died in a Beijing military hospital in March 2014. Cao was in detention when she developed serious illnesses which were not adequately treated. Officials only sent her to a hospital when she fell into a coma, and she died shortly after. Her family and lawyers had raised concerns about her deteriorating health and repeatedly requested her release on medical parole that was never granted.

Human Rights Watch urged Chinese authorities to accept an independent, international investigation – with the participation of forensic and human rights experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – into Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s and Cao Shunli’s deaths in detention. China should also immediately allow a visit and investigation by the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, in light of the allegations of torture of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, and in light of China’s forthcoming review under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).

Other prominent detained or imprisoned activists reported to be lacking adequate medical care include elderly journalist Gao Yu, who suffers from escalating heart pains; human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who has diabetes and high blood pressure; Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who has heart disease among other illnesses; and anti-corruption activist Liu Ping, who has had daily, undiagnosed diarrhea for two years while in prison.

“Many other peaceful activists in detention are reportedly unwell and are at risk,” said Richardson. “Chinese authorities can mitigate some of their self-inflicted damage by allowing an independent investigation into Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and Cao Shunli’s deaths – and pledging to follow its recommendations.”

Jails in Tibet are full of political prisoners. Many are serving long-term sentences for voicing their opinions on the desperate situation.

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Hundreds Protest in Cambodia as National Assembly Debates Restrictive Law

June 30

By late morning on June 30, despite heavy police presence and forceful intimidation by security guards, approximately 350 civil society activists arrive in front of the National Assembly. Photo courtesy LICADHO.

More than 500 monks, farmers, land rights activists, unionists, workers, youth, students and NGO staff gathered in Phnom Penh to protest the proposed draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) and the draft Trade Union Law Monday morning. The group marched towards the National Assembly to join 200 NGO representatives who planned to hold a press conference there, but were blocked several hundred meters away by police and security guards. The LANGO is a widely condemned draft law that will give the government sweeping powers to restrict civil society. It is scheduled to be voted on at the Cambodian National Assembly Monday.

The proposed law contains restrictions on the freedom of association, burdensome registration requirements for some organizations, excessive powers granted to un-elected officials of the executive branch and unreasonable restrictions on foreign NGOs.

Amid mounting national and international criticism of the proposed Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has expedited the schedule to pass LANGO into law by calling an extraordinary session of the National Assembly on Monday July 13th. Today’s march is part of an ongoing campaign by grassroots groups and local and international NGOs to stop the passage of LANGO.

Various sectors of Cambodian civil society conducted a spirited 3-day campaign between June 28 and 30th to protest against two draft laws, the Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO) and the Trade Union Law (TUL). On the third day, authorities used force to prevent hundreds of members of civil society from peacefully marching toward the National Assembly from four locations.

On June 28, former Borei Keila resident and land activist Khiev Lay (left) attends a civil society protest against repressive draft laws in front of the National Assembly with her baby daughter. Khiev Lay and her family live in Phnom Bat, a relocation site approximately 40 kilometers north of Phnom Penh. Photo courtesy LICADHO.

On June 28, former Borei Keila resident and land activist Khiev Lay (left) attends a civil society protest against repressive draft laws in front of the National Assembly with her baby daughter. Khiev Lay and her family live in Phnom Bat, a relocation site approximately 40 kilometers north of Phnom Penh. Photo courtesy LICADHO.

According to the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), LANGO is not a simply an “NGO law” impacting a few hundred NGOs. The law’s mandatory registration provisions apply to any group of people who join together to pursue any common cause, no matter their purpose or level of organization. ‘’Given the political context in Cambodia, we view this as a concerted effort to stop grassroots and community based organizations in their tracks. No registration, no community based organizations, no voices,’’ the organization says.

On April 2nd, in its Concluding Observations after the review of Cambodia’s periodic report, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) expressed concern over the lack of transparency in the legislative process in the country. The HRC urged Cambodia to “consider making public all draft legislation to facilitate public debate and dialogue by citizens with their representatives.” The HRC monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodia is a state party. Article 25 of the ICCPR guarantees the right of every citizen “to take part in the conduct of public affairs.”

“Prime Minister Hun Sen should practice what he preaches. He said the aim of LANGO is to ensure transparency but his administration has been anything but transparent, judging from the slew of oppressive laws that the government has unilaterally and secretly drafted in recent years,” said LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge.

NGOs have called for the Cambodian government to withdraw the proposed law and make the legislative drafting process in the country transparent. A group of 130 civil society organizations have been campaigning against LANGO, saying that ‘’we see the future of Cambodian democracy at a crossroads.’’

“Laws that adversely affect the ability of associations and NGOs to operate in Cambodia must be drafted through a process that is genuine, inclusive, and allows consultation with all relevant stakeholders,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “The voices of the non-profit sector, which is essential for the promotion and protection of democracy and human rights in Cambodia, must be heard and taken into account.”

Despite the heat, protesters continue to dance and sing in front of the National Assembly. In the photo above Tim Malay President of the Cambodian Youth Network leads activists from Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities in singing the song "We Don't Need These Laws". July 7 2015. Photo courtesy LICADHO.

Despite the heat, protesters continue to dance and sing in front of the National Assembly. In the photo above Tim Malay President of the Cambodian Youth Network leads activists from Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities in singing the song “We Don’t Need These Laws”. July 7 2015. Photo courtesy LICADHO.

The campaign against LANGO has been a creative and energetic one, often involving singing and dancing. As part of the campaign, youth activists and protesters from Boeung Kak community rewrote the lyrics to a classic Cambodian pop song. Originally titled “I Don’t Accept it”, the song is now called “We Don’t Need These Laws”. The lyrics assert the right of civil society groups to gather and express themselves. The song has been sung at the many protests and campaigners have choreographed a special dance to accompany the song.

Over the past two decades, a vibrant civil society sector has developed in Cambodia. The future of that sector is dependent on guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and association as articulated in Cambodia’s Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Health of Chinese Journalist Gao Yu Further Deteriorates in Prison

Demonstrators hold placards with portraits of Chinese journalist Gao Yu during a protest in support of her outside the central government liaison office in Hong Kong, April 17, 2015. AFP photo.

Demonstrators hold placards with portraits of Chinese journalist Gao Yu during a protest in support of her outside the central government liaison office in Hong Kong, April 17, 2015. AFP photo.

The health of human rights defender and journalist Gao Yu continues to deteriorate in prison and rights groups say the Chinese government should ensure that Gao Yu  receives necessary medical care. The 71-year-old outspoken journalist and prominent advocate of press freedom, was sentenced to seven years in prison in April 2015 for “leaking state secrets abroad’’ for allegedly leaking an internal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) document calling for greater censorship of liberal and reformist ideas.

Gao suffers from chronic heart pain, high blood pressure, a form of inner ear disorder called Ménière’s disease, and an undiagnosed chronic skin allergy, according to her family and lawyer. Gao reported to them that her heart pain has become more frequent and severe recently. According to Gao, the Beijing No.1 Detention Center has only administered traditional Chinese medicine for her heart pain, but has not allowed her to take medicines that she took when living at home.

“It’s bad enough to imprison a journalist on spurious political grounds, but it’s cruel, degrading, and dangerous to then deny necessary medical care,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Chinese government should send Gao to a hospital for a thorough assessment of her worsening condition immediately.”

Gao’s family and lawyer also say that she has had no access to specialists to assess and treat her conditions. Following a visit to the human rights defender on July 3rd, Gao Yu’s lawyer Shang Baojun reported that Gao Yu was suffering from serious and frequent heart pains. According to her brother Gao Wei, Gao Yu has a history of heart disease and high blood pressure, and he is concerned that her health is now at a critical stage. Shang Baojun also confirmed that the outcome of Gao Yu’s appeal, due to be announced this week, has been delayed, probably for two months. He further said that numbness, swelling and loss of muscle control in Gao Yu’s left hand had gone untreated, other than with painkillers.

On April 24, 2014, Gao was detained for leaking “Document Number 9,” an internal notice by the CCP warning its members against “seven perils” including “universal values” such as human rights. According to international human rights organization Front Line Defenders, the person to whom Gao Yu was accused of leaking the document, which had already become widely available online, has denied that it was Gao Yu who leaked it to him.

Gao was sentenced to seven years in prison on April 17, 2015 on charges of ‘’leaking state secrets abroad. Gao has since appealed, but it is unclear when the appeals verdict will be handed down or if the court will open to hear the case, according to her lawyer. Once Gao exhausts the appeal process, she will be transferred from Beijing No.1 Detention Center to a prison.

This is the third time Gao Yu is serving a prison sentence as a result of her activities. In 1989, as  deputy editor of a liberal weekly magazine, Gao Yu ran a series of reports on the student protests and urged the government to reach a compromise with the protesters. On June 3rd 1989 she was detained and jailed for 15 months. She was released early due to heart problems.

Gao is a prominent journalist who started her career at the government wire service in the 1980s. She later was vice editor of the state-owned Economics Weekly. For reporting on and supporting the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, Gao was imprisoned from June 1989 to August 1990. She was imprisoned again from 1993 to 1999 on charges of “illegally providing state secrets abroad” after being accused of leaking policy decisions taken by senior officials of the CCP that had already been reported in the Hong Kong press.

In 1993 Gao Yu was arrested again and the following year sentenced to six years in jail, this time on a ‘leaking state secrets’ charge in relation to articles she wrote for Hong Kong publications focusing on policy decisions of the Chinese Communist Party. Gao Yu denied that her writings involved state secrets and the decisions had already been published by other Hong Kong based media. She was released eight months early from this sentence as a result of poor health.

Front Line Defenders expressed its grave concern at the deteriorating health of Gao Yu and believes that her jailing is solely as a  result of her peaceful and legitimate activities in the defence of human rights. The organization urges the authorities in China to immediately and unconditionally release Gao Yu as Front Line Defenders believes that she is being held solely as a result of her legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights.

Front Line also says the Chinese authorities must provide the necessary medical treatment for Gao Yu and ensure that her treatment adheres to the conditions set out in the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/173 on December 9th 1988.

Conditions in China’s detention facilities are poor and usually marked by overcrowding, minimal nutrition, and rudimentary health care. According to relevant regulations governing detention centers, if detainees are seriously ill they “can be” sent to outside hospitals designated by the detention center.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch documented repeated instances where seriously ill detainees were not sent to hospitals until their conditions had deteriorated significantly. Some died as a result of lack of adequate care. In March 2014, Beijing-based activist Cao Shunli died after detention authorities failed to give her access to proper medical care, even though her family and lawyers had fought to have her released on medical parole. Officials transferred her to a hospital only after she fell into a coma. She died days later.

Other prominent detained or imprisoned activists reported to be lacking adequate medical care include human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who has diabetes and high blood pressure; Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who has heart disease among other illnesses; and anti-corruption activist Liu Ping, who has had daily, undiagnosed diarrhea for two years while in prison.

Failure to provide prisoners access to adequate medical care violates the right to health and the Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners. “The Chinese authorities are responsible for the well-being of all prisoners, including political prisoners in its custody,” said Adams. “This includes ensuring that all get immediate access to the specialist care that they need. If this care is not available in prison, prisoners should be transferred to a hospital before their conditions worsen.”

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Prominent Dissident Released After Serving 30 Months in Vietnam

Catholic dissident lawyer Le Quoc Quan (L) poses with his wife Nguyen Thi Hien after he was freed from a prison in the central province of Quang Nam on June 27, 2015 (AFP Photo)

Catholic dissident lawyer Le Quoc Quan (L) poses with his wife Nguyen Thi Hien after he was freed from a prison in the central province of Quang Nam on June 27, 2015 (AFP Photo)

Prominent Vietnamese lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan completed his thirty month prison sentence on June 27th. He was reunited with his family in the province of Quang Nam, and stated that he will now resume his work in defense of human rights: ‘’I will go ahead, because I believe it is good for the people of Vietnam.’’

Le Quoc Quan is a prominent lawyer, blogger and human rights defender who was convicted on the trumped up charge of tax evasion in 2013. Prior to his imprisonment, Le Quoc Quan ran a blog where he wrote about various issues including civil rights, political pluralism and religious freedom. As a lawyer, he represented many victims of human rights violations, before being disbarred in 2007 on the fabricated suspicion of engaging in “activities to overthrow the regime.”

Quan,  43, was arrested in December 2012, on allegations of tax evasion. He was held incommunicado for the next two months and spent fifteen days on hunger strike. On October 2nd 2013, over nine months after his arrest, he was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment, and his company ordered to pay a fine of $59,000 USD. In February 2014, the Hanoi Court of Appeal upheld Quan’s conviction despite international calls for his release. He was on hunger strike five times during prison, his most recent strike ending June 24th.

International organizations have long asserted that the charges against Quan were politically motivated in response to his daring exercise of the right to freedom of expression and religion on his blog, despite Vietnam’s history of crackdowns on journalists and writers. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention labeled Quan’s jailing as “a deprivation of liberty result[ing] from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by… the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”—and thus arbitrary—in June 2013.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said prior to Quan’s release that ‘’we are pleased to anticipate Quan’s imminent release from prison on June 27, though we are sad to note that Quan owes his release not to a change of heart on the part of the Vietnamese government, but the fact that he has served the full term of his 30-month prison sentence related to politically-motivated charges of tax evasion.’’

Supporters hold posters with portrait of Le Quoc Quan, Vietnam's leading critic of the Communist regime, outside the court house in Hanoi, Feb.18, 2014. (AFP photo)

Supporters hold posters with portrait of Le Quoc Quan, Vietnam’s leading critic of the Communist regime, outside the court house in Hanoi, Feb.18, 2014. (AFP photo)

The Vietnamese government has a long history of persecuting Quan for his human rights work. In 2007, after representing numerous victims of human rights violations, he was disbarred from practicing as a lawyer on suspicion of engaging in “activities to overthrow the regime.” He has been arrested several times for continuing his human rights work. Following an attack by unknown assailants in August 2012, he was hospitalized and the attack was never investigated by the police. On December 27th 2012, Quan was arbitrarily arrested and detained while taking his daughter to school. In 2011, he was arrested while protesting outside the trial of fellow human rights defender Mr Cu Huy Ha Vu and detained for a week. In 2007, Le Quoc Quan was detained for three months and charged with taking part in “activities to overthrow the people’s government”. He was later released following international protests.

PEN American Center welcomed his release. “The jailing of Le Quoc Quan was a brazen attempt to suppress his works that were critical of Hanoi,” said Karin Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN. “PEN has followed Quan’s case through the years and noticed a pattern of legal harassment by the government against him and other writers and journalists in Vietnam. With at least 16 journalists remaining in jail there, PEN American Center calls on the government of Vietnam to cease their harsh crackdown on individuals who simply exercise their human right to free expression.”

Quan told Article 19 the day after his release that the eighteen months of his imprisonment were very difficult: ‘’The conditions were harsh. I was in a prison cell of 60 square meters with about 50 other persons. Among them were killers, robbers, people with severe diseases.’’

He also said that the process against him is ‘’a miscarriage of justice’’, stating that his sentence is ‘’based on false accusations of tax evasion.’’ He continued: ‘’The fine of USD 59,000 is still outstanding. I do not want to pay, as I am innocent. The big question for me is what will happen if I do not pay. We don’t have enough money to pay anyway. I was afraid to be arrested again as soon as I was released. But they let me go. I am at home now. There were many supporters waiting for me at the airport, even people I never met before. Many people come to visit me at my home now.’’

When asked whether he would continue blogging about human rights issues, he answered: ‘’Of course! I will continue with doing what I believe is good for the Nation. I will be working for a better Vietnam. Progress for our Nation is my goal. Yes, I am afraid that I will be arrested again. I try to overcome the fear. I will go ahead, because I believe it is good for the people of Vietnam. I will not go abroad, I prefer to stay in Vietnam. It is worth it, even if I devote my life.’’

A coalition of NGOs including EFF, Amnesty International, PEN and Frontline Defenders urges the Vietnamese government to respect and protect Quan’s rights in the wake of his release as he resumes his legitimate human rights activities. Specifically, they call on the government to refrain from any further persecution or harassment and/or unlawful arrest, reinstate his license to work as a lawyer and undo his disbarment, and grant him reparations for the arbitrary detention he has suffered.

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As Conflict in Myanmar Continues, Refugees Face Increased Uncertainty

Refugees gather to mark World Refugee Day. Photo courtesy Burma Partnership.

Refugees gather to mark World Refugee Day. Photo courtesy Burma Partnership.

Many refugees who have fled Burma due to ongoing conflict, persecution, and human rights abuses, mark World Refugee Day on June 20th with a sense of uncertainty and anxiety towards their future. This year, as the rainy season begins, refugees along the Thailand-Burma border and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Kachin, Chin, Arakan and northern Shan States, as well as other conflict-ridden areas, face severe shortages in aid, according to Burma Partnership. Over 220,000 IDPs are in camps in northern Burma, while a further 110,000 refugees live in a protracted refugee situation along the Thailand-Burma border.

If Myanmar hopes to make a genuine transition towards democracy it must recognize, respect, and protect the rights of refugees and IDPs, says Burma Partnership.

Since 2012, funding along the Thailand-Myanmar border has been steadily decreasing, fueling fears that the 110,000 refugees who live there will be repatriated before the Myanmar Government’s rhetoric of democracy, peace, and transition comes to fruition. The recent enforcement of regulations on movement in and out of the camps by authorities has restricted refugees from ataining other sources of income to support their daily needs, increasing the plea for adequate aid at a time when funding is becoming scarce.

Burma Partnership says that rather than alleviating their concerns, governments and international donors have neglected their fears of repatriation. Further exasperating their worries, reports of possible pilot projects for refugees, IDPs and/or families of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in Karen, Karenni, and Mon States, along with Tenasserim and Bago Regions have emerged. While the Myanmar Government and EAOs are currently the main initiators of these resettlement projects, international actors have also been actively involved in monitoring and constructing shelters for these sites – without consultations with the refugees themselves.

Over 110,000 refugees who fled Myanmar to seek protection in the nine camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border, embodying the years of conflict and the struggle for democracy. According to a statement issued on World Refugee Day by the Karen Women Organization (KWO), a community-based organization working closely with refugees along the Thailand-Myanmar border that has been endorsed by 77 solidarity organizations, the “conditions that led refugees to flee in the first place have yet to be resolved, as initial ceasefires have proven to be fragile and regularly breached.”

As ethnic communities continue to “seek refuge from the Myanmar Army’s relentless offensives, there is no guarantee that fighting will not occur in or spread to locations where refugees may return.” KWO calls on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Myanmar Government, the international donors, and all parties to respect the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and uphold the rights of all refugees.

Despite ceasefire talks, according to Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a humanitarian organization delivering aid to civilians, fighting between the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Myanmar Army in the Kokang area, northern Shan State, has been escalating over the past two months. “The Burma Army has increased its troop levels in the region and has engaged in major military operations, including the use of tanks and heavy artillery barrages” said FBR in a statement. Over 100,000 people have been displaced from the Kokang area since fighting broke out in February 2015.

These numbers are in addition to the 120,000 displaced people in Kachin State who have fled their homes since the Myanmar Army breached a ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) four years ago. Both local and international organizations have struggled to provide aid to those displaced by the conflict as the Myanmar Government restricts movement of aid in conflict ridden and/or EAO controlled areas.

According to a statement endorsed by over 55 solidarity organizations, starting this month, “IDPs are expected to receive as little as 200 Kyat per day (USD $0.18) in aid, which is impossible to survive on.”

The organizations also say that ‘’While the Government continues to use its rhetoric of peace and reform to invite donors and investors to continue to fund the peace talks and development projects, some of the heaviest fighting in ethnic areas took place this year as the Burma Army attacked the KIA and civilian population in Laiza with airstrikes for the first time in March 2015.’’

In addition, food supplies for 350 Khumi Chin IDPs who fled the outbreak of conflict in March 2015 between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar Army will also run out at the end of the month. “The long-standing pattern of abuses hasn’t stopped; in fact we see it escalating in the Paletwa area, [Chin State]” said Rachel Fleming, Chin Human Rights Organization’s Advocacy Director in a statement. To add insult to injury, the Chin IDPs are being pressured by the Myanmar authorities to return to areas where they believe both sides have already laid landmines.

Burma Partnership reiterates the calls of KWO that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, international donors, the Myanmar Government and all parties involved must hold genuine consultations with refugees and IDPs as primary stakeholders in the timing, conditions and locations of their safe and dignified voluntary return. If the Myanmar Government hopes to bring home the refugees and convince IDPs to return, it must “participate in the peace process in good faith by immediately ceasing all offensives and withdrawing all troops stationed in ethnic areas, honor original ceasefire agreements, and begin political dialogue prior to the discussion of repatriation.”

Until a safe and dignified return of refugees and IDPs can be ensured, the international donors must continue the provision of aid and assistance; and the Myanmar Government must allow international aid agencies access to those affected by conflict, in cooperation with local organizations. Otherwise, the ethnic communities of Myanmar will continue to be caught in a cycle of conflict and displacement, and peace in Myanmar will remain elusive, the organization says.

Worldwide displacement hits all-time high
António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, warned on June 17th that the world is facing a staggering crisis as the number of forcibly displaced people rises to record numbers – 59.5 million at the end of 2014. The UNHCR said in a statement that the deaths of hundreds of migrants at sea is one of the most visible consequences of the crisis, with people experiencing ”terrible suffering”.

Guterres issued the stark warning a few hours after UNHCR had issued its annual Global Trends Report: World at War, showing worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded.

The report said the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 as a result of war, conflict and persecution had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.

Long one of the world’s major displacement producing regions, the number of refugees and internally displaced people in Asia grew by 31 per cent in 2014 to 9 million people. Continuing displacement was also seen in and from Myanmar in 2014, including of Rohingya from Rakhine state and in the Kachin and Northern Shan regions.

“When you see the news in any global network we clearly get the impression that the world is at war. And indeed many areas of the world are today in a completely chaotic situation and the result is this staggering escalation of displacement, the staggering escalation of suffering, because each displaced person is a tragic story,” Guterres added.

“To those that think that it doesn’t matter because humanitarian organizations will be there and able to clean up the mess, I think it’s important to say that we are no longer able to clean up the mess,” he told reporters in Istanbul.

“UN agencies, NGOs, the Red Cross — we no longer have the capacities and the resources to respond to such a dramatic increase in humanitarian needs.”

In this video, the UNHCR warns of dangerous new era in worldwide displacement as report shows almost 60 million people forced to flee their homes:

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Two Chinese Activists Detained in Escalating Crackdown

Yang Zhanqing (left) and Guo Bin (right). Photo: Chinese Human Rights Defenders

Yang Zhanqing (left) and Guo Bin (right). Photo: Chinese Human Rights Defenders

Chinese human rights defenders Guo Bin and Yang Zhanqing were detained on the evening of June 12th in Guangdong province by Guangdong police acting in coordination with state security officers from Beijing and Henan Province. They seized the two activists and detained them on suspicion of “illegal business activity” according to human rights network Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).

Both men have worked with NGOs pushing for policy reform and the promotion of the rights of persons with disability or those facing discrimination due to certain health conditions such as Hepatitis B. They also advocate for consumer rights and food safety, equal education and employment opportunities and the rights of sex workers.

“The government has recently targeted those who work on what had generally been considered “politically nonsensitive” issues, such as health rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and anti-discrimination,” CHRD said in a statement on its website on Monday.

Both Guo Bin and Yang Zhanqing worked at the Beijing Yirenping Centre (“Yirenping”) and were formerly the directors of the non-governmental organisation’s Zhengzhou offices. Yirenping was founded in 1996 to combat discrimination and offer support to people suffering from hepatitis B and HIV. The NGO also champions gender equality. Guo Bin is now head of the NGO ACTogether, which advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities. He recently filed a report concerning nearly 2,000 cases of employment discrimination. Yang Zhanqing currently works to promote health rights, particularly concerning food and medicine, and advocates for improved regulation in these areas.

Guo Bin was detained at the Children’s Hospital of Shenzen, where he had been looking after his son, who had recently undergone surgery, and was reportedly taken to the Futian District Detention Centre in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Yang Zhanqing was detained at around 10:00 pm at his home in the city of Huizhou, Guangdong and reportedly taken to the Huiyang District Detention Centre before being transferred to Zhengzhou.

The detentions of Guo Bin and Yang Zhanqing follow Yirenping’s publication and outspoken criticism of the detention of gender equality activists in March 2015. All of those detained had ties to Yirenping. Following the release of the five detainees, the NGO was identified by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as having been involved in illegal activities, and signalled that it would be penalized. This threat followed a police raid at the Beijing office of Yirenping on March 24th 2015.

The detentions of Guo Bin and Yang Zhanqing suggest the coming of further harassment against Yirenping according to human rights organization Front Line Defenders. The charge they are being held on is identical to that brought against human rights lawyer Chang Boyang in May 2014. Chang Boyang, who was representing detained participants in a memorial for the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 at the time of his detention, was a former legal representative of the Zhegzhou office of the Yirenping. The office was subsequently raided as part of the investigation against the lawyer.

Front Line Defenders expresses its grave concern at the detention and charging of Guo Bin and Yang Zhanqing. It believes the actions to have been taken against them solely as a result of their legitimate work in the defense of human rights. It sees the illegitimate action against them as part of the systematic closing down of civil society space, instigated by the Chinese authorities and including human rights defenders as specific targets for harassment, intimidation and groundless sanctions.

According to CHRD, the detention of Guo and Yang indicates an intensifying crackdown on NGOs under President Xi Jinping and says it is in step with the month long detention earlier this year of the Five FeministsLi Tingting, Wang Man, Wei Tingting, Wu Rongrong, and Zheng Churan. The five women remain under police surveillance as criminal suspects after they were released on “bail pending further investigation.” The government has recently targeted those who work on what had generally been considered “politically non-sensitive” issues, such as health rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights and anti-discrimination.

These two newest detentions follow a trend in China’s criminalization of NGO activists by accusing them of the crime of “illegal business activity.” In May 2014, police detained lawyer Chang Boyang for “illegal business activity” for six months. Police subsequently raided the office of the NGO Zhengzhou Yirenping, which Chang co-founded and served as legal counsel, and interrogated other staff members.

Earlier this year, the office of the NGO Beijing Yirenping was also searched, and the organization singled out by the foreign ministry as having “violated the law.” Additionally, Guo Yushan, the co-founder and former director of independent think tank the Transition Institute, and He Zhengjun, the group’s administrative director, have spent six months in detention and face trial imminently also on charges of “illegal business activity.”

“The government … has recently taken a further step to legitimize its repression of civil society with the introduction of three draft laws,” CHRD said, citing the draft Overseas NGO Management Law, draft National Security Law, and the draft Anti-Terror Act.  Once enacted, these laws would provide the state with legal backing to continue to shut down space for civil society and the systemic deprivation of the rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression.

According to CHRD, these draft laws ‘’go far beyond legitimate steps used to combat terrorism, protect national security, or regulate overseas groups operating in China.” The government is legitimizing mass police surveillance, harassment, criminalization, and imprisonment of those who challenge the Chinese Communist Party’s power by exposing corruption and rights abuses, and advocate for positive change, such as human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and other civil society actors.

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Engaging in Commerce Brings Abuse and Arrests in North Korea

In North Korea, authorities arbitrarily arrest, unfairly prosecute and severely mistreat people for conducting private business activity with punishments varying with bribes and connections, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday. The North Korean government should amend its criminal code to abolish “economic crimes” of engaging in commerce and order the authorities to stop arresting people for such activity.

“While many North Koreans engage in petty business to survive, government officials prey on them with arbitrary arrests, extortion, and detention,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Those who can’t bribe their way out of prison camp can face months or years of forced labor, deprivation, and abuse.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 12 North Koreans extensively involved in private commerce who had fled to South Korea since 2013. They said that when authorities confronted them about engaging in business activities, their fate often depended on their capacity to pay bribes or mobilize personal connections, or the government’s need for forced labor. Those accused without money or connections could face lengthy sentences at prison camps, especially when the need for forced labor was high.

Economic Crimes
After the collapse of North Korea’s public distribution system for food between 1993 and 1995, a severe famine provoked massive starvation and compelled North Koreans to engage in private commercial activities, known as jangsa, or dealings with the marketplace, for the first time. The growth of these activities has created an unofficial, parallel gray economy with a highly uncertain and risky political and regulatory environment. Authorities treat the same economic crime differently depending on the person or groups facing charges.

Among the economic crimes for which people face punishment are attempts to engage in market economic activities without government permission and the trading of forbidden goods, such as mushrooms, spices, medicinal herbs, or seafood. Enforcement of laws prohibiting these activities takes place alongside the enforcement of other criminal laws against violating the terms of government-issued travel permits, not having a state-sanctioned job, having contacts in China, and crossing over or smuggling goods to or from China.

Failing to report to a government-assigned workplace is also punishable by law. All men and unmarried women who have finished their studies are required to report to their assigned state-approved company, but may be able to pay the company a fee if they do not go to work.

A former manager at a state-owned company who left North Korea in January 2014 told Human Rights Watch that his wife bought clothes in bulk from cities with more active market activity such as Rason, a port city in the northeastern tip of the country. She sold these clothes at the market in Chongjin, in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong. Because of his connections, they were doing well and may have avoided being arrested for their economic activities. He regularly visited his bosses at the company where he was formally listed as being employed as well as members of the State Security Department (bowibu) and the Ministry of Public Security (the police), providing them with gifts including money, meat, squid, and liquor.

“To be protected, you have to remember special holidays and react to the moment, to the new directives, or to crackdowns where they confiscate your products,” he said. “Otherwise you can lose everything you have, or end up in prison or forced to do hard labor.”

Fear of being caught makes traders prepare for extortion attempts by carrying extra money and packs of cigarettes to pay off authorities if necessary. “We are always scared and never know what may happen to us,” a trader told Human Rights Watch. She explained that she engaged in bulk trading from one province to another and left North Korea during the winter of 2014. “Once a friend of mine did not hear a member of a patrol team calling her,” she said. “So then he beat her up and, because she had no money to pay him, he sent her to a labor training center.”

North Korea’s restrictions on economic activities that infringe on basic economic and social rights violate the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which North Korea ratified in 1981. Under the ICESCR, individuals have the right to work, “which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts.” Governments are obligated to “take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.” The government must also “achiev[e] progressively” the right to “an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”

The actions taken by North Korean authorities against perceived perpetrators of economic crimes violate international legal protections under the ICESCR. These include the rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedom of movement, freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, and a fair trial.

United Nations’ Commission Findings
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea found in its February 2014 report that the vast majority of inmates at detention camps using forced labor “are victims of arbitrary detention, since they are imprisoned without trial or on the basis of a trial that grossly fails to respect the due process and fair trial guarantees set out in international law.”

The commission also found that ‘’The ordinary prison camps also operate mines, factories, farms and logging camps by extracting forced labor from their inmates. The profits of these ventures do not seem to be reinvested in the prisons. Prisoners produce more food in quantity and variety than is provided to them. While international law does not outlaw all forms of involuntary prison labor for purposes of reforming duly convicted criminals, the type of labor that ordinary prison camp inmates are forced to do amounts in almost all cases to a form of illegal forced labor as defined by international standards’’ and recommended that North Korea reform its criminal code and code of criminal procedure “to fully enshrine the right to a fair trial and due process guarantees articulated in the ICCPR [and] [r]eform the ordinary prison system so as to ensure humane conditions of detention for all inmates deprived of liberty.”

Forced Labor
Labor training centers (rodong danryeongdae), where detainees are forced to work for short periods, are operated by government bodies at regional, local, or sub-district levels. The authorities often send people to them if they are suspected of engaging in simple trading schemes involving non-controversial goods, or are unemployed. Detainees are forced to do hard labor, receive little food, and are beaten regularly to ensure good performance. Working hours are extended when production goals are not met.

A smuggler from a town near the China border who left North Korea in September 2014 told Human Rights Watch that he was caught in early 2014 for being unemployed and was sent to a labor training center for three months. The center guards forced him to do hard labor and regularly beat and hit him with sticks if he did not perform properly. “My mother had leave to China and I did not have anybody who could go and pay for my release,” he said.

In 2014, Choe Myong-nam, a North Korean foreign ministry official in charge of United Nations affairs and human rights, said that North Korea’s reform-through-labor detention centers used labor to improve people “through their mentality and look on their wrongdoings.” But people interviewed said punishments were also dictated by detention facilities’ need for forced labor or orders from those above them.

A former prisoner told Human Rights Watch that “the number of prisoners was allocated in all prisons in the country according to the number of days of labor per person needed for production.” He explained that he had been a prisoner in the Chongori prison camp (kyohwaso) and was in charge of the camp’s production planning between 2001 and 2007. The kyohwaso (place to improve through reeducation) are detention facilities for political and criminal offenders operated by the police for detainees who face lengthy sentences of reform through labor. They perform forced labor in farming, construction, mining, and logging activities.

These camps are characterized by critical shortages of food and medicine and by regular mistreatment from the guards. “Because conducting almost any type of economic activity can be prosecuted, officials and patrol teams can always find people to send to the different holding facilities for forced labor,” he said.

The earnings from forced labor in the prison camps go to the controlling government body; those from re-education camps go to the police; and benefits from labor training camps are directed to cities or local people’s committees, the former prisoner said.

A smuggler who operated across the Chinese border said that in May 2012 she was sent for one year to a labor detention facility run by the police. She said the authorities in charge preferred to allocate significant numbers of prisoners to projects that could earn hard currency. “When the camp would get a contract with a company to produce goods for export to China, every healthy person had to work,” she told Human Rights Watch. She said she had been forced to manufacture hooks for necklaces and fake eyelashes. “Theoretically we were supposed to work for eight hours but really we could not leave until we finished our daily quota, and it did not matter how late that was.”

Labor shortages also lead to the use of forced labor. For example, a couple of months before April 15, the birthday of North Korea’s first president, Kim Il-sung, or ahead of the deadline for finishing a large construction project, a person who committed a crime that is not usually punished by being sent to a labor detention center could be sent to a re-education camp.

“North Korea is operating a predatory system to extract bribes from people conducting small-time business activities to survive,” Sifton said. “Those who can’t pay or don’t have connections end up doing free forced labor for the benefit of local officials and the government. The lives of many North Korean people are already marked by serious deprivation, yet officials are using abusive laws to make life even worse.”

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Rights Groups Demand Accountability for Tiananmen Square Victims

Visitors at the June 4th Memorial Museum in Hong Kong. Photo courtesy VOA.

Visitors at the June 4th Memorial Museum in Hong Kong. Photo courtesy VOA.

Ahead of the 26th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, rights groups say the Chinese government should finally acknowledge and take responsibility for the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in June 1989. Human Rights Watch says authorities should release activists jailed for commemorating the occasion along with all others imprisoned in China for the peaceful exercising of their political views.

The Tiananmen Mothers, which has campaigned for 26 years for official redress for the loss of their loved ones, on Monday said Beijing should bear as much historical responsibility for the 1989 massacre as Japan’s leaders should bear for the country’s war of aggression in China during the 1930s.

Beijing’s recent arbitrary detentions and prosecutions of 1989 protest veterans epitomize a severe new crackdown on dissent over the past two years, Human Rights Watch said.

“Twenty-six years ago, the Chinese government decided that violent repression was the appropriate response to peaceful protest,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Until the government acknowledges its actions and provides redress to the many victims and their families, there is no safeguard that future protests won’t provoke a similar reaction.”

The massacre, now referred to by Chinese authorities as the “June 4 incident,” remains a politically sensitive topic for China’s government. Beijing bans public memorial events and open political discussion around the events of June 3-4, 1989, when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed troops with machine guns and tanks to put an end to weeks of mass student-led protests on Tiananmen Square. Officials have ignored growing calls for a reappraisal of the “counterrevolutionary rebellion,” and to bring the perpetrators of the massacre to justice.

Severe crackdown on dissent
Veteran journalist Gao Yu, 71, was convicted for the third time in April 2015, this time for allegedly leaking state secrets by sharing an internal Communist Party document warning against liberal values with the US-based Mirror Media Group. Authorities refused her lawyers’ request to review whether the document constituted a “state secret,” or to examine the publisher’s claim that the version they published did not come from Gao.

Prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, 50, was detained on May 4, 2014, after attending a small private seminar in Beijing about the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. Pu has since been indicted for “creating a disturbance” and “inciting ethnic hatred”; it remains unclear when he will actually be tried.

Maverick Sichuan activist Chen Yunfei, 46, has been detained since Tomb Sweeping Day on March 25, 2015, when he commemorated the killing of two student protesters. Chen was later formally arrested for “creating a disturbance” and “inciting subversion.” The government of President Xi Jinping has detained and imprisoned over 100 activists.

People across China continue to demand the right to participate in formulating and implementing policies that affect their lives. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reported that there are an estimated 100,000 “mass incidents” – or protests with at least 100 people – per year.

Most of these demonstrations revolve around labor disputes, forced land seizures, evictions, and the environment. In April, for example, thousands of people in Heyuan, Guangdong Province protested against the proposed construction of a power plant that they say would further pollute the environment. There has been greater interest in civic activism, as evidenced by the rapid growth of domestic nongovernmental organizations and volunteerism, especially around the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In 2003, China had approximately 250,000 registered nongovernmental organizations; within a decade the number had doubled.

Social media platforms are often filled with discussions of injustices and calls for accountability, such as the recent outrage over the police shooting of an unarmed man traveling with his family in Qingan, Heilongjiang Province, or the detention in a reeducation through labor camp of a mother who had been seeking punishments for those who raped and prostituted her daughter.

The government has responded to greater demands for civic engagement with increased controls over the Internet, universities, media, and nongovernmental organizations. It has established a new National Security Commission that aims to maintain “social stability,” a well-known euphemism for stifling dissent. It has enacted or is drafting a number of state security laws that would impose significantly harsher controls over the very limited civil liberties in China. As laid out in Document Number 9, the internal Party document that journalist Gao allegedly leaked, the Party leadership has identified the freedom of the press, democracy, and other “universal values” as perils that will undermine the Party’s grip on power.

“Despite the Chinese government’s acute fears about freedom and democracy 26 years after Tiananmen, people in China are more willing than ever to embrace these ideas,” Richardson said.

Bloodshed in 1989
The Tiananmen massacre was precipitated by the peaceful gatherings of students, workers, and others in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and other cities in April 1989 calling for freedom of expression, accountability, and an end to corruption. The government responded to the intensifying protests in late May 1989 by declaring martial law.

People Liberation Army soldiers leap over a barrier on Tiananmen Square on June 4th 1989. Chinese troops forcibly marched on the Beijing square. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the crackdown as tanks rolled into the square. File photo.

People Liberation Army soldiers leap over a barrier on Tiananmen Square on June 4th 1989. Chinese troops forcibly marched on the Beijing square. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the crackdown as tanks rolled into the square. File photo.

On June 3 and 4, 1989, the military opened fire and killed untold numbers of peaceful protesters and bystanders. In Beijing, some citizens attacked army convoys and burned vehicles in response to the military’s violence. Following the killings, the government implemented a national crackdown and arrested thousands of people for “counter-revolution” and other criminal charges, including disrupting social order and arson.

The government has never accepted responsibility for the massacre or held any perpetrators legally accountable for the killings. It has refused to conduct an investigation into the events or to release data on those who were killed, injured, disappeared, or imprisoned. Jiang Zemin, then the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, dismissed international concern about June 4 as “much ado about nothing” in 1990, though the government now refers to the incident as one of “political turmoil” (zhengzhi fengbo) rather than “counter-revolutionary” activity.

Seeking accountability
“The continued failure of the government to advance basic freedoms has wide-ranging implications for China today, fueling social problems from corruption to pollution,” Richardson said. “The Chinese government should at long last admit honestly its role in the killings so it can start dealing with the crackdown’s legacy.”

Human Rights Watch calls on the Chinese government to mark the 26th anniversary of June 4, 1989, by:

  • Respecting the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly and ceasing the harassment and arbitrary detention of individuals who challenge the official account of June 4;
  • Permitting an independent public inquiry into June 4, and promptly releasing its findings and conclusions to the public;
  • Allowing the unimpeded return of Chinese citizens exiled due to their connections to the events of 1989; and
  • Investigating all government and military officials who planned or ordered the unlawful use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators, and publishing the names of all those who died.
Tiananmen Mothers founding member Ding Zilin in an undated photo. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Tiananmen Mothers founding member Ding Zilin in an undated photo. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Tiananmen Mothers established the details of 202 people who were killed during the suppression of the movement in Beijing and other cities. Despite the government’s efforts to suppress all public discussion of the massacre, a group of 12 Chinese students studying abroad recently issued a public letter calling for accountability for the massacre.

The group seeks ”truth, compensation, and accountability’’, asks for a public and just resolution to the June Fourth issue and seeks discussion and dialogue with the government concerning the remaining June Fourth issues. Their three demands are: re-investigate June Fourth and make public the names and number of the deceased; provide an explanation and compensation to the family of each of the victims in accordance with the law; and prosecute those criminally responsible for the June Fourth tragedy.

In an online essay commemorating the anniversary, the group says ‘’A quarter century has passed since the June Fourth Massacre that took place in Beijing, China’s capital, near the end of the last century. But the truth of this tragedy has to this day not been laid bare to the world, and the massacre victims, who have still not received justice, cannot rest in peace. This is a disgrace for the whole Chinese people, and a disgrace for all of civilized humanity!’’

They continued: ‘’The Chinese government’s concealment and deception about June Fourth since 1989 has rendered the whole society an empty shell, where every corner of society is shrouded in pervasive gloom, apathy, despair, and depravity, without fairness, justice, integrity, shame, reverence, remorse, tolerance, responsibility, compassion or love. Post-June Fourth youth, in particular, cannot find anything about June Fourth in books, magazines, or online media. They cannot find anything about June Fourth victims, their families, or the Tiananmen Mothers. Even the entire history of June Fourth has become a blank for them. Whose fault is this?’’

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Myanmar’s New Population Control Law a Blow to Women’s Rights and Religious Freedom

As Myanmar’s President recently signed a population control bill, rights groups caution that the new law entrenches already widespread discrimination and risks fueling further violence against religious minorities.

On Saturday President Thein Sein signed off on the law which requires a three year spacing for some women between child births. It was passed by parliamentarians last month despite objections from rights groups who say that the bill will undermine reproductive rights, women’s rights and religious freedom.

Amnesty International warned that the bill could become a blueprint for state population control. The rights organization says that the law plays into fears that minority groups are having more children than the Buddhist majority. An almost complete lack of human rights safeguards means that the bill could even pave the way for state-enforced contraception, abortions or sterilizations.

Calling it ‘’extremely disappointing’’ that President Thein signed this bill into law, Amnesty spokesperson Olof Blomqvist told me that  Amnesty was also concerned that the last version that Amnesty International reviewed contained no safeguards or protection against potential discrimination on grounds of gender, ethnicity or religion. Blomqvist also cautioned that this law could show a trend toward population control similar to that in China: ‘’At worst, this law could become a blueprint for state population control – but one targeting minority groups in particular. It appears to play into stereotypes that certain minority groups are having more children than the Buddhist majority. Family planning is to be encouraged, but should never be imposed by the state.’’

A legal review by Amnesty of the The Population Control Healthcare Bill – ostensibly aimed at improving living standards among poor communities – found that it lacks human rights safeguards. The bill establishes a 36-month “birth spacing” interval for women between child births, though it is unclear whether or how women who violate the law would be punished. The lack of essential safeguards to protect women who have children more frequently potentially creates an environment that could lead to forced reproductive control methods.

Amnesty said that the new law is another blow to women who already face already multiple types of discrimination and human rights abuses in Myanmar, which is a patriarchal society. ‘’Just one example is how women continue to bear the brunt of violations by the Myanmar Army in the armed conflicts in ethnic minority areas. Amnesty International continues to receive reports of rape and other forms of sexual violence that are almost never investigated. Thankfully, women human rights advocates are very outspoken in Myanmar. Despite the numerous insults – and even death threats – they have received for taking position against hard-line Buddhist groups, they continue to courageously work against gender based discrimination,’’ Blomqvist commented.

United to End Genocide called the President’s actions ‘’troubling’’ and said this law is the latest in a long history of policies of persecution aimed at the minority Rohingya and other Muslims in Burma. ‘’The extremist nationalist Buddhist monks behind the bill, the so-called Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, are the same that have been stoking violence against Muslims and have been clear that this bill is meant to target Muslims as well,’’ Daniel Sullivan, Director of Policy and Government Relations at End Genocide commented.

He added that what is even more disturbing is that Burma’s President signed the bill just as the number two diplomat at the U.S. State Department (US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken) visited Burma, a major slap in the face of the Obama administration that appears to have gone without reaction.

‘’The persecution of the Rohingya is a root cause of the recent crisis at sea and the continued discovery of over 100 mass graves in trafficking camps in Malaysia and Thailand. Addressing those atrocities requires addressing the conditions in Burma that are causing so many to risk their lives at sea and at the hands of human traffickers. Signing a bill that adds further discrimination against the Rohingya does just the opposite,’’ Sullivan said.

In March, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director Richard Bennett advised against passing the law: “If these drafts become law, they would not only give the state free rein to further discriminate against women and minorities, but could also ignite further ethnic violence.”

These laws play into harmful stereotypes about women and minorities, in particular Muslims, which are often propagated by extremist nationalist groups. The laws come during a disturbing rise in ethnic and religious tensions, as well as ongoing systematic discrimination against women, in Myanmar. In this context, where minority groups – and in particular the Rohingya – face severe discrimination in law, policy and practice, the draft laws could be interpreted to target women and specific communities identified on a discriminatory basis.

In the wake of the on-going Rohingya refugee crisis, this development is seen by human rights activists as a smokescreen and say that the Myanmar government is avoiding the root cause of discrimination entrenched in law: ‘’There is a reason why so many thousands of Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar are desperate enough to risk their lives on dangerous boat journeys to escape the conditions they face at home. The Rohingya have suffered decades of institutionalised discrimination where they are denied citizenship. Waves of violence between Muslims and Buddhist dating back to 2012 has left tens of thousands of mainly Rohingya displaced in Rakhine state, where they live in camps in squalid conditions. Myanmar’s authorities must do everything they can to address the root causes of this crisis and improve the situation facing the Rohingya in Myanmar – not potentially further entrench discrimination by passing laws such as the Population Control Health Care Bill,’’ Blomqvist said.

Amnesty also said that the bill does not comply with international human rights law and standards, including Myanmar’s legal obligations as a state party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

‘’Myanmar is entering a crucial year with elections in November. The country is facing a range of serious political and economic issues – ranging from widespread poverty to questions over the progress of political reforms that were introduced in 2011. The proposed “protecting race and religion” laws are a distraction from these serious issues – they should never have been tabled in the first place and must be scrapped. Myanmar’s authorities should work for reconciliation between religious and ethnic groups and address the range of pressing issues facing the country – not play into hatred and fear, and seek to cement already widespread discrimination,’’ Bennett said.

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