New Report Highlights Stories of Women Survivors in Myanmar

Opening-the-Box-English-1-758x1024On Wednesday, the Asia Justice And Rights (AJAR) launched its report containing the stories of 29 women survivors from Myanmar – former political prisoners from Yangon, and internally displaced ethnic women from Karen and Kachin State. Violence against women continues to impact the lives of women in Myanmar in many different forms.

One of the main findings of this research is that violence against women is empowered and maintained 
by a culture of impunity. Galuh Wandita, the Director of AJAR, said: “Women victims struggle with the socio-economic impact of violence and are not able to access basic services. This affects their ability to access justice.”

The report presents the key research findings and provides a list of recommendations for addressing truth, justice, and reparations for the women survivors of Myanmar. Each of the 29 women from Myanmar who took part in this participatory research has a compelling story, but woven together they provide a stark picture about how the government, the army, non-state armed groups, the UN and NGOs fail to pave the way for their survival. ‘’From their stories, we see how they largely had to help themselves, using their strength and tenacity and fighting for survival in grim situations,’’ AJAR says.

In the rush to create peace, authorities want victims of war to become invisible, and magically transform themselves into ordinary citizens without any specialized support. At the same time, governments and international actors fail to see the link between violence during war and violence in times of peace, providing resources to eliminate domestic violence while ignoring those victimized during conflict, the group says.

Based on AJAR’s research with a total of 140 women victims in Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Myanmar using participatory tools to deepen understanding of women’s experiences of impunity, Opening the Box: Women’s Experiences of War, Peace, and Impunity in Myanmar is a collaboration with AJAR, a non-profit organization based in Jakarta, Indonesia, working to strengthen accountability and respect for human rights in the Asia Pacific region together with Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), Karen Women Empowerment Group (KWEG), and Women’s Organizations Network of Myanmar (WON).

Tin Tin Cho, detained as a political prisoner, told AJAR: ‘’Before sending me to prison, they interrogated me day and night without giving me a chance to sleep. I was not allowed to sleep, to take a bath, or to eat regularly. Even when they did not commit physical torture, they tortured us a lot spiritually. They used a lot of words which hurt a woman’s dignity.’’

Roi Bu of Kachin state was displaced from her home in 2011 and has been forced to move many times since. The Burmese army still occupies her village. ‘’At that time, one of my children came back to me and told me that the Burmese army invaded our village. As she came back running, there was already the sound of the gun. I told my children to flee quickly. As we heard the sound of the gun, the entire village ran across the village. Some could not carry anything with them and they just ran with bare hands,’’ she said.

According to the report, women in Myanmar have little space to think about the concept of justice. Human rights organizations are documenting cases and collecting information, but it is next to impossible to take legal action. However, the desire for justice is strong. Many women political prisoners continue to be involved in political movements as part of the fight for democracy and peace after they are released. Although they have suffered greatly in the past, their desire for political change is undiminished, and in most cases, imprisonment has served to radicalize them further whilst strengthening their determination.

Thandar, detained as a political prisoner, said that ‘’Because of my experiences being oppressed, I must say that there is no justice. To have justice, we need to have a law that will fulfill the needs of the citizens, protect them, and apply equally to everyone. The system must be free of bribery and corruption.’’

Nyar Bwe of Karen state reflected ‘’We have been displaced for about 40 years. The Burmese government does not let us go back to our village. We are living on someone’s land. It is very difficult for us, as we cannot earn our living. I want to go back to my village and my land and be free to earn a livelihood.’’

Yaw Myaw’s daughter was abducted by the Burmese army and kept in their camp for a few months before she was disappeared. The family believes that she may have been raped and killed, but they do not know the truth about what happened to her. They brought the case before the Supreme Court, which rejected it without hearing the evidence. While they still hope to obtain justice one day, they struggle every day for their livelihood in the IDP camp.

The conflict forced Tar Thue’s family to relocate before she was born. Hence, she has lived in an IDP village her whole life, and had to drop out of school because her parents could not afford it. Her father endured severe torture by the military. Tar Thue said: ‘’I want durable peace. I do not want war.’’

Based on AJAR’s in-depth discussions with these 29 women survivors of violence related
 to the Kachin and Karen conflicts and women former political prisoners, AJAR urges the Myanmar government, policy makers, ethnic leaders, and civil society to fulfill the following recommendations:

  • Immediately put an end to violence against women during conflict and political repression, in 
particular sexual violence against women;
  • Change the 2008 Constitution in order to place the military under civilian control;
  • Ensure that Myanmar ratifies relevant international treaties and incorporates them into its 
domestic legislation, meets its obligations to protect women under CEDAW, UNSCR 1325 and 1820, and the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and adopts the Anti-Violence Against Women Law;
  • Ensure women’s meaningful participation in the peace process and political dialogue and include accountability for past human rights violations in discussions;
  • Establish effective judicial and non-judicial transitional justice mechanisms to investigate human rights abuses, particularly those related to sexual violence against women and establish programs to enable women victims’ safe access to justice;
  • Create the conditions for the safe and dignified voluntary return of all conflict-affected displaced women and refugees to their communities, in consultation with them;
  • Establish rehabilitation programs for women survivors, in particular multi-sectoral services that include healthcare, trauma support, reproductive health care and assistance for aging populations, as well as access to capital through appropriate schemes for job creation, skills training and microfinance;
  • Support women survivors’ networks and linkages between them. Include them in consultations and meetings on peace, development, human rights, access to justice and other relevant forums.
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Restrictions on Freedom of Movement in Vietnam Violate Domestic and International Law

Vietnamese blogger Me Nam, who has faced travel restrictions. Photo courtesy Me Nam.

Vietnamese blogger Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh has faced travel restrictions and had her passport confiscated. Photo courtesy Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh.

Authorities in Vietnam have blocked at least 33 human rights defenders and activists from freely travelling in the last six months, despite legal protection of the right to freedom of movement. In recent years, scores of human rights defenders and activists have been prevented from traveling abroad or moving freely within Vietnam for peaceful human rights activities, such as trainings, peaceful protests and seminars. Many have had their passports confiscated or applications for passports rejected, while others have faced police interrogation at airports.

International human rights organization Civil Rights Defenders says these restrictions are arbitrary and in violation of Vietnam’s obligations under its own Constitution as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). “As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Vietnam is expected to uphold the highest standards in human rights protection and promotion, but it is doing the opposite by denying human rights defenders and activists the opportunity to travel, associate with others, and express themselves freely,” said Brittis Edman, Southeast Asia Program Director at Civil Rights Defenders. The 30th session of the Human Rights Council began Monday in Geneva.

Independent human rights monitors estimate that between 70 to 100 human rights defenders and activists in Vietnam face government-imposed domestic and international travel restrictions, with no legitimate justification. These restrictions appear to be aimed at punishing them for, or preventing them from, exercising their basic rights, including participation in human rights activities and association with regional and international human rights partners.

Article 12 of the ICCPR, to which Vietnam is a state party, guarantees that everyone has “the right to liberty of movement,” freedom to leave any country, and the right not to be “arbitrarily deprived” of the right to enter his or her own country. Article 23 of Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution guarantees citizens’ enjoyment of freedom of movement. However, the Vietnam Ministry of Public Security issued Decree No. 136 in 2007, granting itself total discretion to prohibit Vietnamese citizens from leaving or entering the country on the grounds of “safeguarding national security and social order and safety.” The Decree provides neither clear nor a precise definition of such grounds or objective criteria for making such determination.

International law only permits certain restrictions on the right to freedom of movement if they are clearly prescribed by law and strictly necessary and proportional to protect a legitimate objective under the ICCPR. The vaguely worded provisions under Vietnam’s Decree No. 136 fall well short of these international standards, according to Civil Rights Defenders.

Vietnam is now preparing for its third national report to the UN on the implementation of the ICCPR, overdue since 2004.

“The Vietnamese authorities should immediately lift impermissible restrictions on the right to freedom of movement, and the international community should hold Vietnam accountable to its professed commitment and obligations to align its domestic laws and practices with international human rights law and to foster a safe and enabling environment for civil society,’’ urges Edman.

Civil Rights Defenders says that travel restrictions clearly undermine the right of everyone to participate fully and freely in human rights activities at the international level. In his 2014 annual report on reprisals against human rights defenders who cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated his position that violations, including travel bans, “are unacceptable and undermine the functioning of the United Nations as a whole, including that of its human rights mechanisms.” The Secretary-General’s report highlighted reprisals against religious activist Le Cong Cau and independent journalist Pham Chi Dung, both of whom faced travel restrictions.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires that any restrictions on the right be clearly prescribed by law in compliance with international law, and necessary and proportionate to achieve one of the legitimate objectives listed under Article 12, namely “national security, public order,  public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.” The burden to prove the legality, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality of such restrictions lies with the state. Permissible restrictions must also not impair other human rights and must be non-discriminatory, including on the basis of political or other opinion.

When its record was examined under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council in 2014, Vietnam accepted to implement recommendations made by other Member States to “strengthen international cooperation in the field of human rights” and participate “actively in international programs of technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights.” It has also accepted an important recommendation to develop “a safe and enabling environment for all civil society actors to freely associate and express their views by ensuring that national legislative provisions are not invoked to stifle legitimate and peaceful dissent.”

Vietnam currently participates in several bilateral human rights dialogues, including with Australia, the European Union  and the United States. The UN and international development agencies based in Vietnam also provide technical assistance to government agencies in the protection and promotion of human rights.

Vietnam’s acceptance of these UPR recommendations and its participation in bilateral and multilateral human rights platforms suggest that it recognizes the importance of international cooperation on human rights. A safe and enabling environment for Vietnam’s human rights defenders require that they should be able to travel freely abroad in order to seek and receive information and to cooperate with others at the regional and international levels to further their work. Vietnam’s restrictions of human rights defenders’ freedom of movement appear to be discriminatory and directly undermine the spirit of international cooperation, its implementation of accepted UPR recommendations and compliance with its human rights treaty obligations.

Civil Rights Defenders says that embassies and diplomats of key countries, particularly those with bilateral human rights dialogues or cooperation with Vietnam, should:

  • Monitor and document cases of violations on the right to freedom of movement, in close consultation with human rights defenders and activists in Vietnam;
  • Meet with and provide support to human rights defenders who face restrictions and who seek legal redress for and an end to such restrictions;
  • Actively engage and call on the authorities in Vietnam, particularly the Ministry of Public Security, to lift and refrain from imposing impermissible restrictions on the right to freedom of movement. UN agencies should continue to monitor, document and advocate against reprisals towards Vietnamese human rights defenders for cooperating or attempting to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms. The UN Country Team in Vietnam should integrate the issue of freedom of movement into its technical assistance and dialogues with government agencies. This should be done with a view to encourage the government to align domestic laws and practices with international human rights law and standards concerning freedom of movement.

Recent Cases of Restrictions on Freedom of Movement in Vietnam in 2015

March 31st: Police intercepted woman human rights defender Tran Thi Nga and her two young children, who were Hanoi-bound for her meeting with visiting foreign lawmakers attending the 132nd Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), and drove them back to their home in Ha Nam province.

2015 Civil Rights Defender of the Year recipient Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh was unable to travel to Stockholm to receive her award. Photo courtesy Civil Rights Defenders.

2015 Civil Rights Defender of the Year recipient Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh was unable to travel to Stockholm to receive her award. Photo courtesy Civil Rights Defenders.

April: Human rights blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka Mother Mushroom) could not travel to Stockholm to receive the Civil Rights Defenders 2015 Defender of the Year Award due to an imposed travel ban. The award statue was placed on an empty chair in her absence.

May 6th-7th: On May 6th, public security officers across the country detained, intimidated and/or prevented at least a dozen activists from leaving their home, ahead of the 19th US-Vietnam human rights dialogue which was held on May 7th. Activists were invited to attend meetings in Hanoi together with visiting US officials.

On May 7th, police blocked four human rights activists—Le Ba Huy Hao, Nguyen Thi Nhung, Le Anh Hung and Nguyen Thi Thuy—from boarding their international flights at airports in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Police confiscated the passports of Hung and Thuy.

May 18th: Public security authorities at Ho Chi Minh City airport confiscated the passport of prominent intellectual Nguyen Hue Chi who was planning to visit family in the US. Chi is the co-founder of a website that criticizes government policies. The authorities later returned his passport and allowed him to travel abroad after more than 100 intellectuals issued a joint petition against Chi’s mistreatment.

June: In early June, Ho Chi Minh City-based human rights defender Pham Bai Hai was prevented from meeting with Christophe Strässer, Germany’s Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, who was on an official visit to Vietnam. Police in the central city of Hue intercepted Le Cong Cau, leader of the Buddhist Youth Movement and Secretary-general of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), as he was travelling to Ho Chi Minh City to meet Strässer and other German diplomats. The Venerable Thich Quang Do, UBCV’s Supreme Patriarch, is under de facto house arrest at the Thanh Minh Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City.

Woman human rights defender Tran Thi Nga went to the Ha Nam provincial immigration office to renew her passport on June 23rd. On June 30th, a public security officer phoned Nga and informed her that her application was rejected on the grounds that the Ministry of Public Security prohibits her from leaving the country. On July 2nd, Nga went to the Ha Nam immigration office to request a written explanation regarding the decision. The office refused to provide this stating that Nga was banned from leaving the country from December 31st 2012 and this would be in place up until December 31st 2015.

July 2nd: Activist Ta Minh Tu, sister of imprisoned human rights blogger Ta Phong Tan, went to the Bac Lieu provincial immigration office to follow up on her prior application for a passport.  Authorities subsequently advised that her application was rejected because of her affiliation with the independent group Vietnamese Women for Human Rights, which the government deemed an “illegal organization.”

July 12th: Public security officers at the Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport blocked human rights blogger Vu Quoc Ngu and activist Tran Thi To from leaving the country for a human rights training in Thailand for unexplained ‘national security’ reasons. Two women human rights defenders attending the same training, Huynh Thuc Vy and Nguyen Thi Hoang, were also barred from boarding their flights at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City on the same day and had their passports confiscated.

August 5th: Police and plainclothes agents blocked numerous democracy and human rights activists from leaving their homes to meet with the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski. These activists included Duong Thi Tan, Nguyen Dan Que, Professor Pham Minh Hoang, independent journalist Pham Chi Dung, former political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen and Buddhist youth activist Le Cong Cau.

August 23rd: For the third time this year, police blocked Buddhist youth leader Le Cong Cau from leaving the city of Hue. Cau was invited by the German Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City to meet with Volker Kauder, parliamentary group leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) of the German Parliament.

August 29th: Police forcibly took Duong Van Tuyen, son of arrested land petitioner Vu Thi Hai, from Hanoi back to his home in Ninh Binh province ahead of the National Day grand parade on September 1st. Tuyen was in the capital city seeking justice for his mother, who was arrested in June on the charge of causing public disorder for her participation in a peaceful protest in Hanoi against violation of land rights.

September 1st: Police at Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport detained prominent economist and government critic Nguyen Quang A for more than 14 hours before releasing him. He was returning from trips to Europe and the US, where he had attended events relating to human rights and socio-economic issues in Vietnam.

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Additional Sentence for Injured Cambodian Land Rights Activist

A close up of the October 20, 2014 protest in Phnom Penh. Photo courtesy LICADHO.

A close up of the October 20, 2014 protest in Phnom Penh. Photo courtesy LICADHO.

Cambodian land rights activist Ouk Pich Samnang was convicted Thursday on new charges of intentional violence and obstructing authorities. Ouk Pich Samnang, 52, was sentenced for “causing violence” and “opposing public servants’’.

According to the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), Ouk Pich Samnang was sentenced to a further two years in prison relating to an October 2014 protest, in defiance of testimony and lack of evidence. He was arrested following a protest outside the Prime Minister’s house by a Preah Vihear community in Northern Cambodia calling for a solution to their land conflict.

On October 20, 2014, security guards in Phnom Penh were once again captured senselessly beating peaceful land protesters, according to LICADHO. About 80 villagers from Preah Vihear province had come to Phnom Penh to ask for assistance from national institutions, to help resolve their land dispute which has affected over 200 families. However, shortly after noon, the villagers were violently dispersed by the guards while military police and police officers stood by near the Prime Minister’s home. The violence left a total of 18 people injured. The protest was violently broken up by security guards, who also beat Samnang over his head. Several other protesters, including an 18 year-old boy, also suffered head wounds.

Police arrested him as he tried to recover from injuries caused by beatings from security guards during the protest, in which several other protesters were injured, including one who was hospitalized. No one has faced legal action for the excessive force used to disperse the protesters.

Amnesty International considers his arrests to be arbitrary, politically motivated and designed to silence dissent, in violation of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as well as to freedom from arbitrary detention.

During his trial, which adjourned August 25th, not one civil party or witness who testified identified Ouk Pich Samnang as using violence, including the chief of the Daun Penh district security guards, and three civil parties actively said he was not responsible for their injuries. He was convicted nevertheless under Articles 218 and 503 of the penal code as well as being fined four million riel ($1,000 US) and ordered to pay 10 million riel ($2,500) in compensation to the civil parties.

Ouk Pich Samnang was among the 11 CNRP activists and supporters convicted under insurrection charges following another protest in July 2014, and has been incarcerated in CC1 prison since their convictions in July 2015 after a show trial. With Thursday’s judgement, he is set to serve a total of nine years’ imprisonment.

According to Amnesty International, Cambodia’s judicial system is not independent, and politically motivated arrests and legal action are common. Fair trial rights are frequently ignored.

LICADHO renewed its calls for the courts to not be used as political tools, and further calls for the verdict and sentencing to be overturned.

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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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