Groups Warn of Minority Exclusion and Disenfranchisement in Upcoming Myanmar Elections

Eleven Rohingya organizations in Europe have strongly denounced the undemocratic actions of the Myanmar Election Commission against Rohingya parliamentary candidates under the government’s ‘’policy of exclusion’’ of the Rohingya, debarring them from contesting in the upcoming election scheduled for November 8th 2015. The groups say that candidates have been excluded under the false and fabricated charge that their parents were not citizens. These are the latest in a string of concerns about minority exclusion and disenfranchisement in the upcoming election.

According to the Burma Partnership, despite a promise from President Thein Sein that the elections will be “free and fair,” there is concern among political opposition, ethnic minorities, civil society and the international community that they will follow the undemocratic – and even backsliding – nature of politics in Myanmar. ‘’Unfortunately, the Burma Army’s preservation of power in Parliament undermines any prospect for democracy, regardless of whether or not the General Elections are a success,’’ Burma Partnership said in a statement.

Without the right to vote, the sheer number of disenfranchised voters could result in an unrepresentative Parliament. According to Charles Santiago, Chairperson of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, “All counted, we could see up to 10 million people—around 20 percent of Myanmar’s total population—unable to take part in these elections, and that could cast serious doubts over the legitimacy of the vote.”

Despite Arakan state being their historical homeland, Thein Sein government has disenfranchised hundreds and thousands of previously eligible Muslim Rohingya voters and excluded them from voting in the upcoming election, the Rohingya organizations said. They added that the Rohingya people exercised the right to vote and to be elected in all public elections held in Burma, from the 1947 election for Constituent Assembly to the last military-held 2010 election, including the 2008 referendum for the adoption of the country’s constitution.

In a joint letter issued August 28th, the eleven Rohingya organizations says that the parents of all Rohingya parliamentary candidates are natural born citizens of Burma. U  Shwe Maung, whose father was a police officer in Burma, was elected in 2010 as a member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to represent the Rohingya majority township of Buthidaung in North Arakan for Lower House. He has been one of the few voices for the voiceless Rohingya in the Burma’s Parliament since last five years.

Other candidates who were excluded include U Kyaw Min, who served the Burmese government as a teacher and education officer for many years, was elected in 1990 general election and was one of the members of the Committee for Restoration of People’s Parliament (CRPP). Abu Taher was graduated from Yangon Institute of Technology. According to Myanmar law only full citizens can study at professional institutions including Yangon Institute of Technology. He was qualified candidate of 1990 and 2010 and elections in Burma. He is one of the well-known defenders of Rohingya rights.

The planned disfranchisement of the Muslim Rohingya, the denial of their right to hold public offices and to represent their people in the parliament are parts of the government’s intention to wipe out the Rohingya minority community from their ancestral homeland of Arakan, the groups warn: ‘’These actions are based on prejudice and Islamophobia and are outright criminal and unlawful.’’

They urge the Myanmar Election Commission to review its decision in line with international law and practices in the interest of democracy and human rights. They also call on the international community to pressure the Thein Sein government to deal with the ethnic Rohingya people and allow them to continue exercising their right to participate in the approaching election.

The administration of the election is already rampant with controversy and questionable ethics. The process of voter registration has received criticism for containing a significant amount of incomplete or inaccurate information. Election officials have not taken a proactive approach to correcting the data and have refused to provide the necessary time required to correct any mistakes.

Due to unwaveringly strict voting rules, a vast number of prospective voters in Burma will be deemed ineligible to participate in the General Elections, Burma Partnership says: ‘’Considering the discriminatory practices of the Myanmar Government against the Rohingya minority, it is no surprise that the recent stripping of the White Card identification system means that the majority of the 700,000 individuals holding that ID will be unable to vote.’’ Migrant workers and refugees outside Burma, who also typically lack necessary official documentation, will likely lose the chance to take part in the elections.

Burma’s multitude of ongoing, armed conflicts with ethnic minorities is also likely to cause disruptions and prevent ethnic communities from fully exercising their right to vote. For the nearly 600,000 conflict-displaced citizens in Burma, voter registration is often inaccessible and in some cases, impossible.

In a report on the electoral landscape in Burma, the International Crisis Group has predicted the difficulty of administering elections in the Kokang region, other parts of northern Shan and Kachin States, and along border areas, where conflict with the Burma Army is widespread. With recent outbreaks of violence in Karen State between the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and the Myanmar Army, it is likely that additional areas will be placed off limits for election officials.

In regards to the fragile peace agreements in place in Karen State, the Karen Peace Support Network has stated, “Ceasefire agreements fail to bring meaningful peace, instead facilitating land grabs for destructive projects under centralized control and increased militarization [by the Myanmar Army]. This in turn reignites conflict.” Thus the potential for conflict to emerge in other ethnic regions of the country, as it has seen already this year, could further jeopardize prospects for an inclusive election.

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China Punishes Reporter For Share Price Fall

Reporters Without Borders condemns Chinese business reporter Wang Xiaolu’s arrest over an article that is alleged to have precipitated a fall in share prices at the end of July. Wang Xiaolu, who works for the independent business magazine Caijing, was arrested at his Beijing home on August 25th for “fabricating and spreading false information about securities and futures trading.”

“We call for Wang Xiaolu’s immediate release without any charges being brought against this Caijing reporter,” Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said Friday.

Published in Caijing on July 20th, the offending article said that the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), which polices the Chinese stock markets, was considering ending interventions aimed at stabilizing share prices. The day after its publication, the CSRC described the article as “irresponsible” and subsequently blamed it for the July 27th fall in prices on the Shanghai exchange, the forerunner of this month’s crash.

The authorities have not yet said whether Wang has been formally charged. Eight employees of the stockbroking company CITIC Securities and two CSRC employees have also been arrested. Officially, they are “assisting the investigation” into illegal share trading.

“As well as ridiculous, the accusations against Wang are symptomatic of the Chinese government’s desire to control media coverage of share price movements. Suggesting that a business journalist was responsible for the spectacular fall in share prices is a denial of reality. Blaming the stock market crisis on a lone reporter is beyond absurd,” Deloire said.

The Chinese authorities have gone to great lengths to censor media and online coverage of the recent dramatic movements in share prices. The leading Communist Party-controlled media outlets such as People’s Daily, Xinhua and CCTV have not covered or have barely covered the market movements.

At the same time, many directives have been issued to website operators demanding the suppression of analyses of the Shanghai crash or articles regarded as alarmist.

China is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.

 

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Burmese Authorities Target Land Rights Activists

A policeman stands guard near the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing region, March 14, 2013. AFP photo.

A policeman stands guard near the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing region, March 14, 2013. AFP photo.

Recent arrests by Burmese authorities are targeting those who are assisting farmers fighting land grabs. The recent arbitrary arrest of a prominent land rights advocate in Karen State exemplifies the government’s persecution of vocal opponents of land grabs by officials and their business associates. Burmese authorities should immediately stop using abusive laws on association and expression to halt the activities of land rights activists, Human Rights Watch said Monday.

At about midnight on August 7th, police arrested U Saw Maung Gyi, a leader of the 88 Karen Generation Student Organization. The authorities charged him under section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act for allegedly providing assistance to a man that police claim is a Karen insurgent. U Saw Maung Gyi faces a two-to-three-year prison sentence if convicted. To further harass the 88 Karen Generation Student Organization, on that same night the police arrested nine farmers and activists who were sleeping at the organization’s office and fined them for staying overnight outside their home district without government permission.

“The Burmese authorities’ repeated use of oppressive laws against land rights activists is a heavy-handed attempt to silence them,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These activists are forced to run a gauntlet of government intimidation, arrests – and now, trumped-up charges – just to try and help villagers stay on their land.”

The 88 Karen Generation Student Organization is one of the main groups in Burma’s eastern Karen State assisting small farmers to peacefully resist land confiscations, which often involve powerful government officials and members of parliament, crony businessmen, and armed groups. Very few organizations are currently providing such assistance to villagers in Karen State, in part because of government oppression.

The arrests of these activists follows the arrests of 27 people in June in Karen State for allegedly violating section 43(a) of the Forest Law after they erected huts on land they claimed to own. They face up to seven years in prison.

In addition, another 13 people from Karen State are facing charges under section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law after a protest in Hpa-an in March. Several of those charged for their involvement in that protest told Human Rights Watch that the protest sought the return of their confiscated land and was peaceful. Both groups face trial this week.

“Land rights activists in Karen State persist under especially repressive conditions as few groups feel they can safely speak out against government abuses without facing retaliation,” Robertson said.

Land rights disputes have dramatically increased since 2011, becoming a major nationwide issue. Increased protests have resulted in a marked increase in the arrest and prosecution of protesters and activists. Most recently, on July 23, police in Pegu Region arrested and charged the prominent former political prisoner and current head of the Myanmar Farmers Association, Su Su Nway, with trespass for her investigations into farmland seized by the Burmese military several years ago. Her trial began on July 29th and she could face three months in prison.

The number of political prisoners in Burma has surged in the past year, with approximately 170 people in prison and over 400 facing various charges. These include large numbers of farmers and land rights activists charged with either trespass or unlawful assembly.

“The arrests in Karen State mirror broader patterns elsewhere in Burma in which land activists are identified, targeted, and silenced,” Robertson said. “Land activists are increasingly becoming Burma’s new political prisoners.”

Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) released a report on June 30th about land confiscation, which provides updated information surrounding the state of land confiscation, while also documenting the emergence of new trends in the fragile post-ceasefire environment of southeastern Burma. KHRG’s research team has offered detailed insights into the experiences of local villagers in their ongoing struggle against the Burma Government, the Burma Army, and both foreign and local investors who have threatened their ability to live peacefully on their land.

According to the report, sources of land confiscation include: infrastructure projects, such as the construction of roads, dams, and bridges; natural resource extraction, including the mining of gold and stone along with logging; commercial agriculture, such as rubber plantations; and increased militarization in Karen State, involving the Burma Army’s construction of bases and the appropriation of land for other military uses.

Overwhelmingly, the consequences of these land-grabbing projects are that they disrupt the livelihoods of the local populace. As land is pilfered for development, resource extraction or military use, local populations are often left forced to give up their primary means of subsistence. This point is further worsened by the environmental destruction of land, which is commonly associated with development projects and natural resource extraction, leaving the villagers unable to cultivate their land for livelihood.

The reality on the ground is that villagers’ lands are not adequately protected by existing land laws and policies,” said Saw Way Lay, KHRG Advocacy Coordinator. He added, “All development actors must recognize the central role land plays in the lives of local communities, and villagers’ rights and voices must be heard and respected in all project planning and implementation.

The report places an emphasis on displacement as one of the major consequences of land confiscation. One case study highlights the effect of the Burma Army’s land grabbing: “The one case of displacement occurred in Nabu Township, Hpa-an District where 30 households consisting of 150 people had over 1,000 acres of land confiscated by the Tatmadaw. These villagers were forced to stay in the garden of a monastery after being evicted. Many of them were forced to abandon the village altogether due to the loss of land.”

Several of the recommendations listed in the report, including the need to increase consultation with local actors and adherence to customary land rights, should be obvious yet unfortunately remain ignored by the Burma Government and investors, KHRG says. Others, such including strengthening community solutions, the demand for land rights to be a part of ceasefire agreements and demilitarization, require a genuine commitment from EAOs, the Burma Government, the Burma Army, and international and local investors, if land rights are to be improved.

Land confiscation is not unique to southeastern Burma, and is a nationwide problem. One salient example that has been the center of national and international attention since 2012 is the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Region which, according to a report by Amnesty International, contributed to the displacement of thousands of local villagers over the course of two decades and wide scale environmental damage.

Earlier this year, protests against the mine led by farmers who had lost their land to the state-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and the Chinese-owned corporation, Wanbao, resulted in a severe police crackdown in which one villager, Daw Khin Win, was killed. This incident comes after a gruesome 2012 protest, in which authorities used the incendiary white phosphorus to subdue protesters, which resulted in 50 people being injured.

Considering that 65% of Burma’s total population is involved in agriculture, and are thus dependent on their land as a source of their livelihood, it is no surprise that the majority of human rights complaints to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission involve disputes over land grabbing and forced displacement.

According to KHRG, the problem of land confiscation is exacerbated as a result of two primary concerns; “Myanmar’s legislation regarding land tenure rights remains far less protective than mandated by international law and best practice. Second, endemic corruption in the government administration continues to hamper the system of land tenure recognition and distorts legitimate land rights claims throughout the country.”

The scale of land confiscation issues, noted by UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, in her inaugural visit to Burma, will continue to constitute a threat to human rights, and ultimately, undermine the transition to democracy.

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Human Rights Safeguards Needed in Trade Agreement With Vietnam

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) warn the EU-Vietnam Free Trade and Investment Agreement (FTA) would be concluded in flagrant violation of EU law if it is finalized without conducting a human rights impact assessment (HRIA) and without introducing necessary human rights safeguards. FIDH and VCHR reiterated their call on Wednesday for the EU Commission (EC) to conduct a human rights impact assessment before finalizing the deal and to introduce the needed clauses and safeguards.

“The EU’s actions are inexcusable and send Vietnam the wrong message. How can Brussels expect Vietnam to comply with its human rights obligations if the EU ignores its own laws?” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai. “Without strong human rights safeguards, the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement is likely to cause an increase in human rights abuses in Vietnam.”

FIDH and VCHR also call on other EU institutions to stand firm and require the EU to comply fully with its obligations. The two organizations made the call after the EC announced on August 4th that the EU and Vietnam had reached an agreement “in principle” for an FTA, while some textual technicalities remain to be finalized.

Introducing human rights safeguards would address significant shortcomings in trade agreements, weighing in the human rights of European citizens and those of the Vietnamese people over business interests. Such safeguards could include indicators measuring the impact of the agreement, introduce redress and accountability mechanisms for affected communities, and organize a human and people centered development over business interests, notably in re-mediating the deficient and unbalanced investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms.

“Brussels’ refusal to include a human rights impact assessment of the FTA is the latest example of EU policies that prioritize business over the respect for human rights, instead of trying to reconcile them,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

The EC’s move is all the more troubling that it blatantly contradicts EU law and ignores several calls of EU institutions and UN experts, the organizations said.

On April 17th 2014, the European Parliament adopted a resolution urging the EC to carry out a human rights impact assessment of the envisaged FTA with Vietnam. On May 19th 2014, the Council of the European Union also stressed the “importance of continuing to carry out human rights impact assessments for trade and investment agreements.”

On March 26th 2015, in its draft recommendation, the EU Ombudsperson, in response to a complaint jointly submitted by FIDHand VCHR on August 7th 2014, found that the EC’s failure to carry out a specific human rights impact assessment, as part of the negotiations for an FTA with Vietnam, constituted maladministration. The EU Ombudsperson recommended that the EC carry out such an assessment “without further delay.”

On June 2nd 2015, UN experts, voicing concern over adverse impact of free trade and investment agreements on human rights, called also for ex-ante and ex-post human rights impact assessments and insisted on the necessity to improve the human rights safeguards in the FTA and investment agreements.

“By ignoring such calls and by precipitating an agreement before the end of the EU ombudsperson procedure, the European Commission suggests it is above the Law, with no institution, public debate or mechanism to prevent this from happening. This questions the Rule of Law in the EU,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

In an open letter published Wednesday, FIDH and VCHR call upon the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union to revisit the conclusion of the negotiations by the EC, so as to ensure the inclusion of their previous demands to make a human right impact assessment, and to put in place the necessary human rights safeguards into the agreement. In particular, the groups said that specific human rights issues including workers’ rights, freedom of expression and legal reforms, forced evictions and land grabbing, and women’s rights must be addressed.

The groups stressed that ‘’The lack of transparency and legal and political accountability of the one-party system remain serious obstacles to progress. There is no independent press or media, no independent trade unions, and no truly independent civil society. The judiciary is not independent either and trials are routinely unfair. In the absence of mechanisms and safeguards, the adoption of an FTA could adversely affect citizens enjoyment of their economic, social and political rights.’’

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US Diplomat Visits Prominent Vietnamese Dissident Thich Quang Do

UBCV Patriarch Thich Quang Do, US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski and Consul General Rena Bitter on August 5. Photo courtesy IBIB.

UBCV Patriarch Thich Quang Do, US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski and Consul General Rena Bitter on August 5. Photo courtesy IBIB.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor visited prominent dissident and Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam Thich Quang Do at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday August 5th. Thich Quang Do, 87, expressed his concerns to Mr. Malinowski on a wide range of issues including religious freedom, development, human rights and democratization in Vietnam.

Thich Quang Do, the leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam  (UBCV) and 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee has spent the past three decades in internal exile, prison and house arrest for his advocacy of religious freedom, democracy and human rights. According to International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) Director Vo Van Ai, Thich Quang Do informed Mr. Malinowski of the government’s systematic repression against the UBCV over the past 40 years, with the harassment, intimidation, assaults and surveillance of monks, nuns and lay-followers.

He also described his own situation, confined under house arrest without charge since 2004 at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery since 2003 under the permanent surveillance of “not-so-secret Police”, and deprived of the right to travel and communicate freely.

In his remarks to Mr. Malinowski, Thich Quang Do said Vietnam repressed the UBCV because it was afraid of anything it could not control. But this policy was bound to fail, he said, for “Buddhism has been in Vietnam for the past 2,000 years. It is part of the people’s psyche, their culture, their very identity. Buddhism was there before this regime came to power and it will still be there when it has gone.”

Thich Quang Do appears via video at the 2010 Oslo Freedom Forum to speak about the lack of religious freedom and human rights in Vietnam. Photo courtesy OFF.

Thich Quang Do appears via video at the 2010 Oslo Freedom Forum to speak about the lack of religious freedom and human rights in Vietnam. Photo courtesy OFF.

Hanoi should not be afraid, said Thich Quang Do, but rather “embrace pluralism without fear. Diversity is a treasure, not a threat”. The UBCV is not Vietnam’s enemy, he said: “We love our country. If we speak out for freedom of expression, religion, assembly and association, it is not because we are “hostile forces” trying to undermine the regime, but because we believe that human rights are the tools with which we can build a prosperous and caring society, based on mutual respect and the rule of law. We believe that everyone should have the right to participate in shaping their own destiny and determining their country’s future.”

Whilst welcoming strengthened relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, he urged Mr. Malinowski to ensure that the United States maintained human rights as the cornerstone of this relationship.  “This gives you real leverage to help Vietnam embark on the road to reform. Many countries merely pay lip-service to human rights in order to do “business as usual” with the communist regime. I trust and believe that the United States will not follow this path.”

Le Cong Cau, head of the Buddhist Youth Movement and Secretary General of the UBCV’s Executive Institute Vien Hoa Dạo, was invited by Thich Quang Do to join the meeting. However, as Le Cong Cau prepared to leave his home in Hue on August 4th, he was intercepted by Security Police and placed under house arrest.

According to IBIB, police prohibited him from travelling to Ho Chi Minh City, stating specifically that he must not participate in the meeting with the US delegation. The Security Police said he would be released when Mr. Malinowski had left Vietnam. Le Cong Cau wrote a letter to US Ambassador Ted Osius in Hanoi, calling on the U.S. to protest this mistreatment and monitor the situation of the outlawed UBCV.

Mr. Malinowski was accompanied by US Consul General Rena Bitter, Special Assistant to Mr. Malinowski Rodney Hunter and Charles Sellers, Political Section Chief at the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.

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In China, 26 Lawyers and Activists Still Missing or Held by Police in Recent Crackdown

Protest on July 12, 2015 after at least 50 Chinese human rights lawyers and activists detained or questioned by police. Photo courtesy Amnesty Canada.

Protest on July 12, 2015 after at least 50 Chinese human rights lawyers and activists detained or questioned by police. Photo courtesy Amnesty Canada.

More than 200 Chinese human rights lawyers and activists have been targeted by police in a nationwide crackdown which began on July 9th. On Wednesday, Amnesty International released a comprehensive list of the lawyers and activists detained or questioned by police since July 9th, which includes prominent human rights lawyers Li Heping and Sui Muqing. The raids, involving abductions, detentions, disappearances, summons, and searches have affected 231 lawyers and activists, with 26 lawyers and activists still missing or in police custody.

All the individuals missing since the crackdown began are well-known for their work on human rights cases. The authorities have targeted lawyers across the country including in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.

“The authorities must end this assault against human rights lawyers. Such an unprecedented nationwide crackdown can only have been sanctioned from within the central government,” said William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International. “This coordinated attack on lawyers makes a mockery of President Xi Jinping’s claims to promote the rule of law. The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for their work defending human rights.”

In the early hours of 9 July, human rights lawyer Wang Yu (pictured above) went missing after sending a text message to friends saying that her internet and electricity had been cut off and people were trying to break into her home. Photo courtesy Amnesty Canada.

In the early hours of 9 July, human rights lawyer Wang Yu (pictured above) went missing after sending a text message to friends saying that her internet and electricity had been cut off and people were trying to break into her home. Photo courtesy Amnesty Canada.

The alarm was first raised on July 9th when Wang Yu, a lawyer in Beijing, disappeared in the early hours, after sending friends a text message that her internet connection and power at her home had been cut off, according to Amnesty International. She then sent a text saying that people were trying to break into her home.

Later that morning, friends were unable to reach her and she was not at home when a group of activists went to check on her. Wang Yu’s husband Bao Longjun is also missing. Their 16-year-old son Bao Zhuoxuan was handed over to his aunt by police on 10 July.

Wang Yu’s husband Bao Longjun is also missing. Photo courtesy Amnesty Canada.

Wang Yu’s husband Bao Longjun is also missing. Photo courtesy Amnesty Canada.

Wang Yu has taken on many important human rights cases that the government has deemed “sensitive” in recent years, including the defence of Cao Shunli, the Jiansanjiang case, the defence of prominent Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, the Fan Mugen forced eviction case.

At around 7:00 am on July 10th, lawyer Zhou Shifeng, director of the Fengrui Law Firm, was witnessed being taken away from his hotel room in Beijing with a black hood over his head by three unidentified people. The law firm’s financial director Wang Fang has not been heard from since he left his home to go to the office the same morning.

Also on July 10th, police officers visited the home of lawyer Sui Muqing in Guangdong province, southern China, according to his wife.  Police then detained Sui Muqing on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”, although they did not provide details on a specific incident or evidence. Sui is now under residential surveillance.

Amnesty International calls on the authorities to disclose the whereabouts and legal status of all those detained and guarantee unrestricted access to their families and lawyers, as well as ensure those detained are not at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) says that the massive police operations are a serious affront to civil liberties: ‘’The deteriorating human rights conditions in China under President Xi Jinping have now reached a point of crisis. CHRD condemns the Chinese government’s assault on human rights lawyers as ‘national security’ threats, as claimed in state media, and demands the immediate and unconditional release of all individuals who are detained so far. CHRD is concerned that those who have disappeared into police custody are likely to be subjected to torture.’’

The large-scale operation began soon after China’s draconian National Security Law took effect – on July 1st, and one day after China angrily denounced the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as “unprofessional” following his criticism of the law. The High Commissioner described the law as “extraordinarily broad,” and said that “coupled with the vagueness of its terminology and definitions,” it “leaves the door wide open” for further restrictions on human rights and civil society in China. The concerted raids demonstrate how the new law can be put to use to legitimize and embolden massive countrywide security operations against any perceived threats to the government.

The new law has been criticized widely. “The definition of ‘national security’ under the law is virtually limitless. The law gives a blank cheque to the government to punish and monitor anyone it does not like – human rights activists, government critics and other opposition voices,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Asia.

“The law clearly has more to do with protecting the Communist Party’s control of the country than with national security. The leadership of the Party and its monopoly on political power is explicitly listed as being part of ‘national security’ in the law,” Bequelin added.  “The government has long been using national security charges, such as ‘inciting subversion’, ‘separatism’ and ‘leaking state secrets’ to suppress and imprison actiivists and government critics. The expansive definition given by the law is likely to further this trend.”

According to CHRD, the coordinated police operations also demonstrate how authorities can put to use China’s draft Internet Security Law, which would legalize invasive and strict cyber-policing and authorize shutting off the Internet to entire regions for “security” purposes. Social media sites favored by rights activists and lawyers have been disrupted following the raids, with users inside China generally experiencing difficulties in logging into their accounts, according to reports gathered online. Many of the released lawyers and activists have indicated that that they were warned against posting messages online about the raids. The day the raid began, a massive DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack began on Telegram’s Asia-Pacific server, coordinated from East Asia. While it is unclear who is behind the attack, the timing of the DDOS attack and the police raids may prove not a mere coincidence.

CHRD says that from information disclosed by released lawyers and activists so far, it has become clear that the aim of the mass raid was to intimidate the lawyers into silence and force them to withdraw their support to lawyer Wang Yu and her law firm, Beijing Fengrui. Many of the detained or questioned lawyers signed an open letter to protest Wang Yu’s disappearance. Police seemed to have use the list of signatures as their “guide” to hunt down the lawyers and tried to intimidate them into submission.

Legal rights and procedural rights of the detained or disappeared lawyers have been trampled on by unrestrained police power, according to CHRD. The operations have so far been conducted in a manner more commonly used against violent criminal gangs, including using early morning break-ins, abductions, hoods to cover heads of those taken into custody, massive police presence, and state media smear campaigns to heighten the level of the seriousness of the “crimes” that the lawyers are accused of, with no presumption of innocence.

The rights group says that, the recent raid is likely intended as a stern warning to China’s embattled but increasingly unified human rights lawyers and activists. At the same time, the mass rounding up is a part of the overall suppression of civil society that has taken place under President Xi Jinping since he came to power over two years ago.

In 2014, Xi’s government detained or jailed the highest number of human rights lawyers in any single year since rights lawyers emerged in China a few decades ago. Human rights lawyers Ding Jiaxi, Pu Zhiqiang, Tang Jingling, Wang Yonghang and Xia Lin all remain behind bars. This year, authorities’ growing intolerance of outspoken lawyers protesting breaches of due process rights has led to constant clashes, many of which have turned violent. In the last three months, at least four lawyers were seriously injured in four separate violent incidents.

The dramatic crackdown on lawyers is also a measure of the government’s nervousness about their growing strength, an increasingly organized mutual support network within legal communities, and the lawyers’ rising prominence and influence in society, especially among disenfranchised groups that have been mistreated, including politically persecuted human rights defenders.

CHRD urges the Chinese government to unconditionally release all detained lawyers and others swept up in the raids; to end its reprisals against human rights lawyers for exercising their independence or protecting the judicial process from government interference; and to bring its National Security Law, the draft Internet Security Law, and the draft Overseas NGO Management Law into complete compliance with international human rights standards.

A concerted international campaign to release of the detained individuals will make a difference, says CHRD, noting that strong protests by government, international agencies and NGOs in March and April were followed by the release of five Chinese feminists and women’s rights activists. CHRD also urges that the US government puts the September visit by President Xi Jinping to Washington on hold until his government completely halts the massive police operations, releases all detainees and prisoners of conscience, and lift its extraordinary measures against freedom of expression, association and assembly.

It also calls on the US, EU and its member countries, and other like-minded governments speak up publicly to condemn China’s retaliation against human rights defenders, including lawyers, during high-level visits and their human rights dialogues with China. Finally, CHRD advocates that the UN General Assembly must hold China accountable for its breaches of its voluntary pledges and obligations as a member of the Human Rights Council (HRC), and its failure to implement Universal Periodical Review recommendations it “accepted,” in the coming months leading up to China’s likely bid in 2016 for membership in the HRC for the next three-year term (2017-19).

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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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