Six months ago today, we launched Free For All to focus on human rights issues in Radio Free Asia’s broadcast region. The day that we launched this blog was the 62nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. December 10th was also the day Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Prize inabsentia for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” Much has happened since that winter day in Oslo.
Since then, another Nobel Prize winner, President Barack Obama, hosted Chinese President Hu Jintao for a state visit in Washington. Vietnam held its 11th National Congress amidst international criticism over recent rights violations. Cambodia closed a United Nations refugee camp, forcing Vietnamese refugees to seek refuge in Canada and elsewhere for fear of religious persecution if they returned home. Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg went to China. Renowned artist Ai Weiwei was arrested and the international community has rallied for his release. Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for human rights in North Korea, traveled there in May to assess the country’s food situation and took steps towards establishing dialogue on human rights violations in the reclusive communist state. Chinese tennis star Li Na became the first person from Asia to win a Grand Slam singles title last weekend in Paris. And just this Monday three jailed leading Chinese writers sued American firm Cisco over human rights, accusing it of helping Chinese authorities build computer systems that track the Internet activity of dissidents.
When I posted my first blog here, I certainly didn’t think we’d soon be uttering the word “revolution” in reference to Tunisia or Egypt. Yet, just eights days later, what we now know as the Arab Spring began. The first protests in Tunisia on December 18th were in response to Mohamed Bouazizi setting himself on fire the day before. Mr. Bouazizi took his own life to protest police corruption and mistreatment and his actions served as an impetus for uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa including in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria and Libya.
These events have also led to protests in support of regime change in such dark places as Iran and triggered online calls for such demonstrations in China. China’s response? Further suppression. The Chinese government blocked the term “Egypt” and “Jasmine Revolution” from search engines and censored internet coverage related to the protests in Egypt which led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
China also cracked down on dissent and arrested dozens of bloggers, activists and writers. Just this week, Chinese authorities blocked people from peacefully gathering to commemorate the June 4th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square military crackdown on student-led protests in June 1989. A group of around 200 petitioners in Shanghai were dispersed by police on June 2nd after they tried to hold a memorial event for the victims in one of the city’s parks, participants said.
In the first months of Free For All, I’ve aimed to look at a range of topics including freedom of speech, expression, religion, assembly and the consequences of living without them. We’ve monitored the unfortunate arrests, disappearances and trials of dissidents and activists and kept an eye on media freedom. We’ve talked about the struggles of migrant workers and the plague of domestic violence that many women in Asia — and around the world – live in fear of.
We’ve also tried to share some good news and focus on events organized by those working to end human rights abuses, such as The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival which shines a light on rights issues across the globe. The Oslo Freedom Forum was held for the third time this spring featuring some of the world’s leading human rights defenders who presented their views to an audience interested in affecting change.
Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, after being released last November, began hosting an exclusive listener forum with RFA’s Burmese Service. She continues to inspire listeners and democracy activists not only in her homeland but everywhere.
I’m excited to see the results of the international contest to create a universally recognized symbol for human rights. And more good news I was thrilled to report recently: the United Nations proclaimed that internet access is a human right. And we can’t forget that the writer of the American Civil Rights Movement soundtrack, the one and only Bob Dylan, played in China and Vietnam for the first time in April.
Yet, seven months on and Liu Xiaobo still languishes in prison. There’s a lot of work to be done.
It’s my honor to continue this blog in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human rights and its premise that these fundamental rights are the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” As we continue to call attention to human rights abuses and highlight efforts that are being made to stop them, we welcome your feedback.
We are eager to continue the rights dialogue and value your interest. Our aim remains the same: to bring greater transparency to rights abuses in Asia and in doing so, help to end them. Please send me your thoughts to email@example.com. Thank you for your continued commitment to protecting human rights.
Perhaps it’s too much to wish for to think I could write about the start of an “Asian Spring” in seven more months. But a girl has to dream. And so do the millions of people around the world who live under government control, without fundamental human rights and in fear every day.
One never knows. Maybe in six months time we’ll be watching Wael Ghonim — the Google Executive and Internet activist who energized pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt with his facebook page “We are all Khaled Saeed” and sparking the revolution — receive the 2011 Nobel Prize.