China Must Ensure Safety of North Korean Refugees

China must ensure that North Korean refugees are not returned to North Korea, where they could face imprisonment, torture and even death, Human Rights Watch says. The nine refugees, including an 11-month-old baby, who were transferred to China from Vietnam, should be allowed to go to a safe third country, such as South Korea.

China should reveal their whereabouts immediately. “North Korea subjects its citizens who are forcibly returned to incredibly harsh abuses, including incarceration in prison camps, torture and execution,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Beijing should abide by its international obligations and allow the nine refugees to resettle in a safe third country.”

Because North Koreans who leave the country without permission face certain harsh punishment upon repatriation, they are refugees sur place –people who become refugees as a result of fleeing their country or due to circumstances arising after their flight. In 2010, North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security adopted a decree making defection a crime of “treachery against the nation,” punishable by death. North Koreans who have fled the country since 2013 and contacts inside the country have told Human Rights Watch that people who are caught and repatriated from China face incarceration and mistreatment in political prison camps (kwanliso), which are operated by the State Security Ministry.

The group crossed into China on October 16th 2015, and then traveled to Vietnam, family members told Human Rights Watch. Vietnamese police apprehended them on October 22nd during a random check on a bus in Mong Cai, in northeastern Vietnam near the China border. There is no indication the nine were given the opportunity in Vietnam to lodge asylum claims.

Family members learned that on October 24th the Vietnamese authorities handed over the group to Chinese police in Dongxing, in China’s southern Guangxi province. They said that on November 16th Chinese authorities sent the group to Shenyang, in the northeastern province of Liaoning, and from there, to a military garrison in the town of Tumen, in Jilin province, near the North Korean border.

The kwanliso political prison camps are characterized by systematic abuses and often deadly conditions, including meager rations that lead to near-starvation, virtually no medical care, lack of proper housing and clothes, regular mistreatment including sexual assault and torture by guards and executions, Human Rights Watch said. Death rates in these camps are reportedly extremely high.

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) report issued in 2014 found that “persons who flee the DPRK are targeted as part of the DPRK’s systematic and widespread attack against populations considered to pose a threat to the political system and leadership of the DPRK, because the system of isolation, information control, and indoctrination imposed by the DPRK stands and falls with its ability to isolate the population from contact with the outside world.”

On November 17th 2015, the United Nations Committee Against Torture raised concerns with China about returning North Koreans to North Korea. China should apply its 2012 Entry-Exit Law, which provides legal status for those in China who have a registered claim for refugee status, Human Rights Watch said.

The U.N. Commission also found that “almost all of the repatriated people are subjected to inhumane acts. The torture, sexual violence and inhumane conditions of detention that victims endure during the search and initial interrogation phase appear to be based on standard procedures.”

“There is little doubt that if these nine refugees are forced back to North Korea, they will disappear into a camp system characterized by torture, violence, and severe deprivation from which few emerge. If China sends them back to North Korea, they could well be sending them to their deaths,” Robertson said.

China labels all North Koreans in China as illegal “economic migrants” and routinely repatriates them. However, as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, China is prohibited from returning refugees – people who have left their countries and have a well-founded fear of persecution – to a place where their life or freedom would be threatened.

The Convention against Torture states that no government “shall expel, return (refouler) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

The Vietnamese government, by sending the North Korean refugees to China – where they faced foreseeable repatriation – would also be responsible for any harm suffered by the group. While Vietnam has not ratified the Refugee Convention, the government is bound by the Convention against Torture and customary international law, which prohibits the forced return of refugees to persecution.

China and Vietnam should stop all forced repatriation of North Koreans and allow them to safely go to third countries where they would not be at risk, Human Rights Watch said. China should allow the group access to the UN refugee agency, which can assist in facilitating their resettlement.

“After being rebuked by the UN Committee Against Torture, China has its first opportunity to show that it is willing to combat torture by letting these nine North Koreans resettle somewhere safe,” Robertson said.

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Civil Society Urges Obama to Push for Release of Vietnamese Prisoner of Conscience

Vietnamese prisoner, Buddhist monk and dissident Thich Quang Do. Photo courtesy IBIB.

Vietnamese prisoner, Buddhist monk and dissident Thich Quang Do. Photo courtesy IBIB.

As U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Southeast Asia this week, ninety international personalities and civil society organizations worldwide have signed a letter urging Mr. Obama to press for the release of Vietnam’s most longstanding prisoner of conscience, Thich Quang Do,  leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and prominent human rights defender. This is a symbolic year for the U.S. and Vietnam, as it marks 20 years of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations and the 40th Anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.

Human rights are the signatories’ major concern. The letter was sent to President Obama as he makes a landmark visit to the Philippines and Malaysia to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit and the U.S.-ASEAN and East Asia Summits, where he will meet with Vietnamese leaders.

Initiated by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (Paris) and the Rafto Foundation (Norway), together with Amnesty International, FIDH, Civil Rights Defenders, World Movement for Democracy, Lantos Foundation, PEN International, People in Need Foundation and Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme, the letter’s 90 signatories include Nobel Peace Prize laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Mairead Maguire and Tawakkol Karman, religious figures such as Vaclav Maly, Bishop of Prague, José Raúl Vera López, Bishop of Saltillo Mexico, Bulambo Lembelembe Josué of the DR of Congo, academics, writers, journalists, legislators, 23 members of the European Parliament, Lord Avebury, Baroness Berridge and Lord Alton of the UK House of Lords, numerous Rafto Prize laureates, human rights defenders and democracy activists from all over the globe.

In Vietnam today, religious leaders, civil society activists and bloggers face daily harassments and intimidation from the authorities simply for peacefully expressing their views, and have no legal framework to protect them, at the same time as the country seeks to strengthen economic and security ties with the U.S, the authors wrote.

The signatories stress that U.S.-Vietnam relations are only sustainable if they are founded on the mutual respect of democratic freedoms and fundamental human rights including the freedoms of expression, association, religion or belief and movement. The release of Thich Quang Do, they said, would be a “truly historic gesture” that would “give Vietnam the opportunity to demonstrate its willingness for progress, and reaffirm the United States’ determination to make human rights the cornerstone of this strengthened relationship”.

Thich Quang Do is Fifth Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), a renowned spiritual leader, scholar, dissident and 16-times Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Thich Quang Do, age 87 has spent more than three decades in detention for his peaceful advocacy of religious freedom, democracy and human rights. For protesting the creation of a State-sponsored Buddhist Church, in 1982, he was sent into internal exile in northern Vietnam for ten years along with his mother, who died of cold and hunger in the harsh environment. In 1995, he was sentenced to five years in prison for organizing a rescue mission for flood victims in the Mekong Delta.

Released in 1998 due to international pressure, notably thanks to an appeal by the then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Thich Quang Do was placed under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City. “I went from a small prison into a larger prison,” he said. Since then, he has remained under house arrest without any formal indictment or charge. His communications are monitored and he is denied freedom of movement and citizenship rights.

Thich Quang Do is a recipient of the prestigious Rafto Prize for human rights defenders, and, along with others in the country’s democracy movement, the World Movement for Democracy’s “Democracy Courage Tribute”.

From house arrest, Thich Quang Do continues to press Vietnam to respect all human rights for all. In August 2015, he told visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski 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.” Thich Quang Do even evoked Mr. Obama’s possible visit to Vietnam, expressing hopes that the U.S. President would “win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people by speaking out for human rights.”

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Rights Group Concerned Chinese Human Rights Defenders are at Risk for Extradition to China

Human rights organization Frontline Defenders is concerned that two Chinese human rights defenders who were recently detained by Thai immigration police in Bangkok risk extradition back to China. Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei were detailed on October 28th 2015. Dong Guangping along with his wife and child travelled to Thailand in late September to apply for asylum with the UNHRC offices in Bangkok. The family has reportedly received UNHCR ‘letters of protection’ while their cases are being considered. Jiang Yefei has been living in Thailand since 2008 and was granted refugee status by the UNHCR in April 2015.

Dong Guangping is a human rights defender and former political prisoner who served three years in prison from 2001 to 2004 on a charge of ‘’inciting subversion of state power’’ for promoting democracy. In July 2014 he was again detained and held incommunicado for over eight months following his participation in an event commemorating the victims of the government crackdown on Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

Jiang Yefei is the Chairperson of the Thai branch of the Federation for a Democratic China. He fled to Thailand seven years ago following persistent persecution by the authorities in China. In the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008, Jiang Yefei gave critical interviews to the foreign media, after which he was detained and subjected to torture.

Dublin-based Front Line Defenders expressed its concern at the ongoing detention of Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei and at their risk of extradition back to China. The organization believes that their arrests solely result from their peaceful and legitimate activities in the defence of human rights in China, and that their detentions may have been orchestrated by the authorities in China.

At around 1:00 pm on October 28th, Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei were detained by police in Bangkok at the home of Jiang Yefei. Jiang Yefei had recently drawn a number of satirical cartoons critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping.  Two weeks previously, his brother in China reportedly received a police visit warning him that Jiang Yefei’s cartoons were inciting subversion of state power, and that preparations were being made for his extradition. Jiang Yefei’s Chinese passport had expired and it is unclear whether Dong Guangping was in possession of a valid passport.

Since his release on bail on February 11th 2015, Dong Guangping and his family have been subjected to continued harassment and surveillance by the Chinese authorities in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. This has had an especially negative impact on his 15 year old daughter, whose health and schooling have suffered as a result.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Thailand to immediately and unconditionally release Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei; eEnsure that the treatment of the human rights defenders, while in detention, 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 of 9 December 1988; and guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

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China Further Undercuts Online Freedom With New “Spreading Rumors” Ban

China’s latest revisions to its Criminal Law impose up to seven years in prison for “spreading rumors” about disasters. Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that the revised law — which went into effect on November 1, 2015 — does not clarify what constitutes a “rumor,” heightening concerns that the provision will be used to curtail freedom of speech, particularly on the Internet.

The vagueness of the provision means that individuals doing nothing more than asking questions or re-posting information online about reported local disasters could be subject to prosecution. “The revised Criminal Law adds a potent weapon to the Chinese government’s arsenal of punishments against netizens, including those who simply share information that departs from the official version of events. The authorities are once again criminalizing free speech on the Internet, which has been the Chinese people’s only relatively free avenue for expressing themselves,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee approved the addition of a provision to article 291(1) of the Criminal Law (Criminal Law Amendment Act (9), which states that whoever “fabricates or deliberately spreads on media, including on the Internet, false information regarding dangerous situations, the spread of diseases, disasters and police information, and who seriously disturb social order” would face prison sentences – with a maximum of seven years for those whose rumors result in “serious consequences.”

The Chinese government has detained netizens who questioned official casualty figures or who had published alternative information about disasters ranging from SARS in 2003 to the Tianjin chemical blast in 2015, under the guise of preventing “rumors.”

The revision was made in the context of a wider effort to rein in online freedom since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013. This crackdown on freedom of expression and access to information includes the following key events:

  • In August 2013, the authorities waged a campaign against “online rumors” that included warning Internet users against breaching “seven bottom lines” in their Internet postings, taking into custody the well-known online commentator Charles Xue, and closing popular “public accounts” on the social media platform “WeChat” that report and comment on current affairs;
  • In September 2013, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (the state prosecution) issued a judicial interpretation making the crimes of defamation, creating disturbances, illegal business operations, and extortion applicable to expressions in cyberspace. The first netizen who was criminally prosecuted after this took effect was well-known blogger Qin Huohuo, who was sentenced to three years in prison in April 2014 for allegedly defaming the government and celebrities by questioning whether they were corrupt or engaged in other dishonest behavior;
  • In July and August 2014, authorities suspended popular foreign instant messaging services, including KakaoTalk, claiming the service was being used for “distributing terrorism-related information”;
  • In 2015, government agencies such as the State Internet Information Office issued multiple new directives, including tightening restrictions over the use of usernames and avatars, and requiring writers of online literature in particular to register with their real names;
  • In 2015, the government has also shut down or restricted access to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which many users depend on to access content blocked to users inside the country and also help shield user privacy;
  • In March 2015, authorities also deployed a new cyber weapon, the “Great Cannon,” to disrupt the services of, an organization that works to document China’s censorship and facilitate access to information;
  • In July 2015, the government published a draft cybersecurity law that will require domestic and foreign Internet companies to increase censorship on the government’s behalf, register users’ real names, localize data and aid government surveillance; and
  • In August 2015, the government announced that it would station police in major Internet companies to more effectively prevent “spreading rumors” online.

Activists in China are regularly prosecuted for speech-related “crimes,” Human Rights Watch said. The best known of these crimes is “inciting subversion,” which carries a maximum of 15 years in prison.

Authorities have also used other crimes such as “inciting ethnic hatred,” as in the case of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who has been detained since May 2014 for a number of social media posts questioning the government’s policies towards Uyghurs and Tibetans.

While providing the public with accurate information during disasters is important, the best way to counter inaccurate information would be to ensure that official information is reliable and transparent, Human Rights Watch said.

Above all, journalists should have unimpeded access to investigate and inform the public about these events, and the wider public should have the freedom to debate and discuss disaster response, the organization said: “The casualties of China’s new provision would not be limited to journalists, activists and netizens, but the right of ordinary people and the world to know about crucial developments in China. The best way to dispel false rumors would be to allow, not curtail, free expression.”

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Rights Groups Call for Commission of Inquiry on Genocide in Myanmar

Rohingya refugees from Rakhine State in Myanmar recently arrived in Malaysia via human traffickers. April 2, 2015. Photo courtesy United to End Genocide.

Rohingya refugees from Rakhine State in Myanmar recently arrived in Malaysia via human traffickers. April 2, 2015. Photo courtesy United to End Genocide.

There is strong evidence that the government of Myanmar is responsible for genocide against Rohingya Muslims, according to a legal analysis prepared by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School. In light of the findings, rights groups say the United Nations must immediately establish a Commission of Inquiry into widespread and systematic human rights violations in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, including into whether the crime of genocide has occurred.

“Allegations of genocide should not be taken lightly,” said Matthew Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights, a Bangkok-based human rights research organization which organized the report. “Rohingya face existential threats, and their situation is worsening. Domestic remedies have failed. It’s time for the international community to act.”

U.S. human rights advocacy group United to End Genocide calls on the Obama administration to support an international Commission of Inquiry through the UN Human Rights Council on genocide against the Rohingya ethnic minority of Myanmar.

“The Yale Law School report is consistent with our findings and reports of conditions facing the Rohingya of Myanmar,” said former U.S. Congressman Tom Andrews, President of United to End Genocide. “It is past time for concerted international action in light of the overwhelming evidence that the Rohingya of Myanmar are under siege and facing disaster.’’

The 78-page legal analysis — Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims: Is Genocide Occurring in Myanmar’s Rakhine State? A Legal Analysis— draws on nearly three years of research and documentation provided to the Lowenstein Clinic by Fortify Rights, including eyewitness testimonies, internal government documents as well as UN data, reports, and information.

The publication is the first to apply the law of genocide to the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar. It concludes that strong evidence exists to establish the elements of the crime of genocide: that Rohingya are a protected group as defined under the Genocide Convention; that Rohingya have suffered acts of genocide as enumerated by the Convention; and that those acts were committed with the intent to destroy Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part.

The systematic persecution and repression of the Rohingya will likely continue regardless of the outcome of next month’s national elections in Myanmar, End Genocide says. Not surprisingly, the Rohingya are prohibited from voting in these elections and are denied all citizenship rights.

The government of Myanmar has openly attempted to prevent Rohingya births, in policy and legislation. It denies freedom of movement to more than 1 million Rohingya, and at least 140,000 internally displaced Rohingya are confined to more than 60 internment camps throughout Rakhine State. The government is responsible for denying Rohingya access to adequate humanitarian aid, sanitation, and food, and these abuses have led to avoidable deaths. Authorities have effectively forced Rohingya to take deadly journeys by sea, particularly since 2012, knowing the risks of death they face in doing so.

“The plan of the government is to finish our people, to kill our people, but they cannot kill us all by the bullet,” a Rohingya man, 52, told Fortify Rights. “What they can do is deny us food and medicine, and if we don’t die, then we’ll opt to leave the country. [In these cases] the government has used a different option to kill the people. We must understand that.”

The Lowenstein Clinic identifies specific state actors—including the Myanmar Army, the Police Force, and the now-disbanded NaSaKa—as responsible for acts that could constitute genocide. It also exposes links between perpetrators and the central government in Naypyidaw.

Fortify Rights and the Lowenstein Clinic call on the UN Human Rights Council to urgently adopt a resolution mandating an international Commission of Inquiry to fully assess the totality of the situation in Rakhine State, including human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims as well as Rakhine Buddhists. A Commission should objectively evaluate the facts, identify responsible perpetrators, and provide clear recommendations for action to effectively address and prevent further abuses in Rakhine State, Fortify Rights said.

Operationally, a commission should collate existing UN data, hold hearings, interview victims, survivors, government officials, political operatives, leaders of the Buddhist sangha, and others in Myanmar and Southeast Asia.

The UN Human Rights Council, Security Council, General Assembly, Secretary General, and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights all have authority to establish commissions of inquiry. Examples of such commissions exist throughout the world. Most recently, the UN established inquiries into serious human rights violations in Libya, the occupied Palestinian territory, Syria, North Korea, Sri Lanka, and the Central African Republic.

“The UN should truly put human rights up front in Myanmar,” said Matthew Smith, referring to the UN Secretary General’s Human Rights Up Front initiative—an effort to prevent and respond to large-scale violations of human rights. “UN member states should stop tolerating these abuses and take action.”

The Yale Law School’s Clinic’s findings reinforced United to End Genocide’s own research in Myanmar. In a report based on a fact finding mission to Myanmar’s Rakhine State last year, United to End Genocide concluded that nowhere in the world are there more know precursors to genocide than in Myanmar today.”

Last week Andrews testified at a Congressional hearing on Myanmar that the Obama administration was failing to take appropriate action to address the deteriorating conditions in Myanmar and to hold anyone in the government accountable for backsliding on its commitments to uphold human rights.  

‘’Our nation is complicit in the march to genocide in Myanmar if it is not actively working to stop it. At the very least, our U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, should be raising her voice on behalf of the United States and calling for the UN Human Rights Council to open a formal inquiry into genocide in Myanmar,’’ United to End Genocide said.

Sullivan recently traveled to Malaysia where he met with several recently arrived Rohingya families. Sullivan also visited the IDP camps in Rakhine State, Myanmar in March 2014 after which United to End Genocide released the report Marching to Genocide in Burma.

The main finding from both of these trips, Sullivan said, ‘’was that nowhere in the world are there more known precursors to genocide than in Burma today. In terms of the Rohingya refugees we met with in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last month, several had only arrived days before, including one woman who still bore a black eye from being sexually assaulted. From our conversations with the recently arrived refugees, aid workers helping in Malaysia, and other regional experts it is clear that the Rohingya are faced with a horrible choice between risking their lives at sea in the hands of dangerous human traffickers or staying in Burma to face the highest risk of genocide in the world.’’

Some 140,000 Rohingya remain displaced within Myanmar and over 100,000 have risked their lives at sea in recent years.

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Chinese Investigative Journalist Must Be Immediately Released

Press freedom organizations are condemning the detention of award-winning Chinese journalist Liu Wei, who has been held since October 8th on charges of “illegally obtaining state secrets” in connection with his coverage of a high-profile corruption case. The 37-year-old Liu Wei was arrested in Chengdu on October 8th while on his way to Beijing to attend a seminar and taken to Jiangxi province, where he is still being held in Pingxiang. 

Liu Wei is an investigative reporter and deputy editor for the Guangzhou-based newspaper Southern Metropolis. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)  are demanding his immediate release.

RSF Monday condemned his 11 day detention: “We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Liu Wei because, like Gao Yu, he is guilty of nothing more than doing his job in a professional manner and with a sense of duty,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the RSF Asia-Pacific desk.

“China is criminalizing basic reporting. The government’s interpretation of state secrets has grown so broad that it now encompasses routine criminal justice matters,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Liu Wei must be released and all criminal allegations against him dropped immediately.”

The corruption case involves a controversial master of qigong (a traditional system of exercise and meditation), Communist Party officials, businessmen and celebrities. The charge brought against Liu under article 282 of the 1997 penal codes carries a possible seven-year jail sentence.

The journalist’s arrest, which was publicized on social media on October 15th, is in connection with his coverage of Wang Lin, a martial artist from Pingxiang who was detained in July. Wang was accused of involvement in the murder of his protégé, Zou Yong, who had accused Wang of fraud, according to Xinhua. Liu reported on the allegations against Wang as well as Zou’s murder, and published documents he obtained from Wang’s ex-wife. The news website Sohu reported that Liu’s arrest could have been in connection with the documents the journalist obtained from Wang’s ex-wife, who has also been detained. The Sohu article, along with many other reports on Liu’s case, was later removed from the website.

“President Xi Jinping’s government proclaimed combatting corruption to be one of its priorities but yet again it has shown its authoritarian nature. By using a ‘state secrets’ charge to gag the source of information of public interest, Xi’s party has betrayed its real goal, which is to protect its members and prevent a new blow to its legitimacy,” Ismaïl added.

Ever since the controversial qigong master Wang Lin was arrested in a murder investigation in June, Liu had been published a devastating series of documents provided by Wang’s former wife and a police officer. According to the South China Morning Post, these two sources have been held on the same charge as Liu since September.

The requests for Liu’s release on bail that his wife and lawyer submitted on October 10th and 13th were rejected.

The official media have said nothing about Liu’s detention and the Communist Party is censoring social networks. But Southern Metropolis News, for which Liu has worked since 2009, issued a statement supporting him on October 16th. However, the outlet did not publish the statement on its own newspaper, website, mobile app, or social media accounts.

Gao Yu, a well-known journalist who was awarded UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano prize in 1997, was sentenced to seven years in prison on April 17th on the same charge of disclosing state secrets. Article 282’s vague wording allows the authorities to define any information as a state secret, even after the event.

In 2014, Liu received the “Journalist of the Year” award by the Southern Media Group which owns Southern Metropolis, for articles he wrote in 2013 about Wang.

China is ranked 176th out of 180 counties in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Continue reading

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Civil Society Delegation to Meet with Tibetan Parliament, Observe Election

A four-member delegation representing the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) and the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) will visit Dharamsala, India from October 16-20th to observe the preliminary elections for the Tibetan political leader (Sikyong) and members of the 16th Tibetan Parliament scheduled for October 18th.

The two main objectives of the delegation are to increase the profile of the exile Tibetan elections among the international community and to analyze the current state of the Tibetan elections and provide findings on observed strengths and weaknesses. The delegation members will meet with exile Tibetan leadership, officials of the Central Tibetan Administration, civil society groups, media and the general public. The delegation will visit polling booths in Dharamsala, Kullu-Manali and Bir Tibetan Society.

ADN and ANFREL, representing diverse groups of Asian civil society networks working for the strengthening of democracy and human rights, have expressed their solidarity with the Tibetan people in their quest for democracy and their historic redefining of the meaning of democracy as being restricted only to States.

Through collective will and determination, and by overcoming the obstacles of statelessness, the Tibetan people continue to uphold the principles of democracy in a borderless democracy. ‘’We stand in solidarity with the Tibetan people in their quest for democracy and their history in the making effort to redefine the meaning of democracy being restricted to States. We are looking forward to observing the principles of democracy being upheld through the will of a community that is overcoming the obstacles of being stateless,’’ the groups said in a statement.

In a 2011 public statement on the 52nd Anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising, the Dalai Lama built upon the democratic reforms he introduced in the 1960s and strengthened the Tibetan democratic system when he requested to more fully devolve his political power to an elected leadership. Since then, the Tibetan people have implemented elections in exile Tibetan communities all over the world to elect their political leader and Parliament.

On October 18th 2015, Tibetans in the diaspora will go to vote in the preliminary election for Sikyong, the Tibetan political leader and head of CTA, as well as the 44-member Tibetan parliament in exile. Candidates garnering required number of votes will qualify for the final election on March 20th 2016. Polling booths are set up all over the world where Tibetans reside outside Tibet. As of October 10th 2015, the total number of registered voters for the preliminary election was 87,179.

On October 20th 2015, the delegation will present preliminary findings of their report and will release a more expansive report a month later.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in association with International Campaign for Tibet will be hosting the delegation during their mission in Dharamsala. The members of the delegation are: Mr. Pradip Ghimire, coordinator of National Election Monitoring Alliance (NEMA), Nepal; Mr. Tur-Od Lkhagvajav, president of Transparency International, Mongolia; Mr. Ryan Whelan, campaign & advocacy coordinator (ANFREL); and Ms. Kanchan Khatri, Program Officer (NEMA), Nepal.

ADN is a civil society led multi-stakeholders’ platform among democracy advocates and human rights defenders dedicated to the strengthening of democracy and human rights. ANFREL is an Asian regional network of civil society organizations focused on elections and election monitoring; and strives to promote and support democratization at national and regional levels in Asia. ANFREL has served towards strengthening the democratization of countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, East Timor and Indonesia.

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Ahead of Election in Myanmar, Nearly 100 Prisoners of Conscience in Prison

Phyoe Phyoe Aung at court hearings in May 2015. Phyoe Phyoe Aung is a young activist and secretary general of the All Burma Federation Student Union (ABFSU). She has been in detention since March 10, 2015 after being arrested during student protests against the newly adopted National Education Law, which they say curtails academic freedom. Phyoe Phyoe Aung and over 100 student protesters, leaders and their supporters have been charged with a range of criminal offences in connection with the protest, and are facing sentences of over nine years imprisonment. Private photo.

Phyoe Phyoe Aung at court hearings in May 2015. A young activist and secretary general of the All Burma Federation Student Union, she has been in detention since March 10, 2015 after being arrested during student protests against the newly adopted National Education Law, which they say curtails academic freedom. Private photo.

Myanmar’s authorities have been locking up and harassing scores of peaceful activists as part of an intensifying and far-reaching crackdown ahead of November’s elections, Amnesty International said as it launched a new campaign to free prisoners of conscience Thursday. Myanmar will hold widely anticipated general elections on November 8th 2015 – the first since President Thein Sein and his quasi-civilian government came to power in 2011 after almost five decades of military rule.

The organization believes there are at least 91 prisoners of conscience currently behind bars in Myanmar, although the actual number is likely to be higher. This represents a dramatic increase since a wide-ranging presidential pardon at the end of 2013 when Amnesty International was aware of just two prisoners of conscience. The clampdown has affected a range of people perceived as “threats” to the government, including human rights defenders, lawyers, opposition activists, students, trade unionists and journalists.

“Myanmar’s government is trying to spin an alternate reality where all is rosy for human rights, which the international community is far too eager to accept. The reality on the ground could not be more different. Authorities have intensified a chilling crackdown on freedom of expression over the past year,” said Laura Haigh, Amnesty International’s Myanmar Researcher.

A new Amnesty International briefing — Back to the old ways: A new generation of prisoners of conscience in Myanmar — exposes how repression has drastically picked up pace over the past two years, in stark contrast to official claims that not a single person is imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights.

“The numbers speak for themselves – we believe that almost 100 peaceful activists are currently detained, while hundreds more are facing charges. President Thein Sein must immediately free all prisoners of conscience and put an end to the repressive practices that fuel arbitrary arrests,” Haigh added.

The briefing documents seven cases emblematic of Myanmar’s new generation of prisoners of conscience. These include student leader Phyoe Phyoe Aung, who is facing over nine years in prison for organizing protests in early 2015 against a new law that restricts academic freedom; and Zaw Win, a lawyer currently detained simply for using a megaphone to call for an end to judicial corruption outside a court in Mandalay Region in May 2014.

One of these prisoners of conscience is student leader Phyoe Phyoe Aung.  On March 10th 2015 police arrested Phyoe Phyoe Aung, leader of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), one of Myanmar’s largest and most well-known student movements, in the midst of a violent police crackdown on largely peaceful student protesters. She is currently detained in Tharawaddy prison in Bago Region, where she is facing a raft of politically motivated charges which could see her sentenced to over nine years in prison.

The protests had begun some months earlier, shortly after a new Education Law was adopted by Myanmar’s Parliament. Students demanded amendments, arguing that the law limited their academic freedom. In early February, student groups led by Phyoe Phyoe Aung and others organized four concurrent marches of protesters throughout the country, which were to meet in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city. As the students got closer to Yangon, tensions began to rise, coming to a head on March 10th when they attempted to dismantle a police blockade. The police responded by beating the protesters with batons, including some who had fallen to the ground.

Phyoe Phyoe Aung and more than 100 other student protesters, their leaders and supporters are now facing a range of criminal charges, including taking part in an unlawful assembly; joining or continuing an unlawful assembly, knowing it has been dispersed; “rioting”; voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty; and inciting the public to commit offenses “against the State or against public tranquility”.

‘’I want to be able to contribute, as a good citizen, in whatever way I can, in whatever role I have, either to build the nation, to transform the country, or to revolutionize the system,” Prisoner of conscience Phyoe Phyoe Aung said in June 2015.

Amnesty  has also documented a marked surge in repression as Myanmar’s general elections, scheduled for November 8th 2015, have drawn closer. Peaceful activists have been more often charged with offences without bail so they are kept in pre-trial detention for extended periods, while prison sentences have become longer.

“Myanmar’s authorities have clearly been playing a long game ahead of the elections, with repression picking up pace at least nine months before the campaigning period started in September. Their goal has been straightforward – take ‘undesirable’ voices off the streets way ahead of the elections and make sure they’re not heard,” said Haigh.

Myanmar relies on a range of draconian laws to arrest and imprison government critics. These laws contain provisions prohibiting, among other things, unlawful assembly, “disturbing state tranquility”, and “insulting religious feelings”.

The fact that the authorities can – and do – arrest people for exercising their rights creates a climate of fear among Myanmar’s civil society.

The climate of fear is compounded through other forms of intimidation, which include a pervasive system of monitoring and harassment. Activists are subjected to constant surveillance by being followed, having their photo taken when attending events, midnight “inspections” in their offices and homes, or harassment of family members.

Many prisoners of conscience in Myanmar have faced several previous stints in jail, and are often re-arrested and handed new prison sentences shortly after being released, creating a “revolving door of repression”.

This is their message to activists: if we do something they [the authorities] don’t like, they will simply find ways to arrest us,” Thet Swe Win, Co-founder and Director of the Center for Youth and Social Harmony, said in July 2015.

These laws place unlawful restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and must be repealed or amended to comply with international human rights law and standards, Amnesty says. As a UN member state, Myanmar has an obligation to respect human rights in accordance with the UN Charter and with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR states among other things that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, as well as freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Under international human rights law any restrictions placed on the exercise of these rights must be exceptional and are permissible only if they meet three key criteria: they must be provided by law; they are only for certain specified permissible purposes, namely to protect the rights and reputation of others; national security or public safety, public order, public health, or public morals; and they must be demonstrably necessary and proportionate for that purpose.

It is clear that the laws highlighted above, under which human rights defenders and peaceful activists are criminalized and imprisoned, do not meet these criteria, Amnesty says.

The Myanmar authorities have a long history of relying on a wide range of repressive and vaguely-worded laws to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. As long as these laws remain in force, peaceful activists will continue to fear arrest and prisoners of conscience will continue to fill Myanmar’s jails.

“There is no rule of law in [Myanmar] and anyone can be arrested at any time. The laws used by the authorities to oppress political activities haven’t changed yet,” said Aung Myo Kyaw, a former prisoner of conscience and member of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP-B) said in June 2015.

The repercussions go beyond those who are jailed. ‘’The family members of the prisoners of conscience also face harassment in their business and social activities… I worry about the situation of my family outside, their livelihood, as well as the prospects for the future,” said Prisoner of conscience Lu Maw Naing in June 2015.

With less than a month to go before the November general elections, Amnesty International calls on the Myanmar government to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience; drop pending charges against those who have simply exercised their human rights peacefully; and repeal or amend all laws that violate human rights.

The ongoing arrests and imprisonment of human rights defenders, political activists and other civil society members has to stop. ‘’It is time for President Thein Sein to finally deliver on his promise to release all prisoners of conscience in Myanmar,’’ Amnesty says in its briefing.

Amnesty also urges the international community, which has largely relaxed pressure on Myanmar over the past two years, to step up efforts to push President Thein Sein to release all prisoners of conscience in Myanmar.

“World leaders cannot take at face value Myanmar’s claims to have ended repression. The election offers a crucial opportunity for governments to make clear to Myanmar’s authorities that locking up and silencing peaceful critics is unacceptable. It’s an opportunity that mustn’t be missed,” urged Haigh.

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Global Coalition for the North Korean Human Rights Act Launches

 Thor Halvorssen (c) of the HRF and other human rights activists attend a conference Sept. 30 on human rights abuses in North Korea at the Seoul Press Center. Photo courtesy HRF.

Thor Halvorssen (c) of the HRF and other human rights activists attend a conference Sept. 30 on human rights abuses in North Korea at the Seoul Press Center. Photo courtesy HRF.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) on Wednesday launched a global effort, led by Garry Kasparov and other democracy activists, to raise awareness about the North Korean Human Rights Act, a bill stalled in South Korea’s National Assembly since 2005.

At press conference in Seoul, HRF President Thor Halvorssen said that if signed into law, the North Korean Human Rights Act would establish a human rights monitoring and documentation program inspired by the East German transition; launch a campaign to educate the South Korean people about the human rights situation in North Korea; send humanitarian aid to the North Korean people; dramatically increase the flow of information into the isolated North by mandating financial support for the civil society groups that carry out this work from South Korea; and create high-level positions in the South Korean government—at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Unification—dedicated to promoting human rights in North Korea.

“The North Korean government is unquestionably the worst oppressive and tyrannical regime in the world, having purged millions of its own citizens through concentration camps, enforced starvation and mass executions,” said Garry Kasparov, HRF chairman. The Russian chess master and political activist said that “The South Korean government, every year, provides US$1.7 billion of aids to foreign countries’’ yet “not a single dime has been given to the North Korean society.”

“Consider that there is already a North Korean human rights act in Japan, in the United States. Canada has a North Korean human rights day. The United Nations has an entire commission devoted to North Korean human rights, and South Korea has nothing,” Halvorssen said, criticizing South Korean lawmakers, saying they have been “invisible in this fight.”

Also attending were Serbian human rights advocate Srdja Popovic, Jimmy Wales Foundation CEO Orit Kopel, North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho and Korean lawyer Kim Tae-hoon.

For the past decade, a bill for the Act has remained stalled in South Korea’s National Assembly, trapped in political gridlock. South Korea’s opposition party opposes the bill, arguing that South Korea should not criticize the North’s human rights record, in an effort to avoid “offending” the dictator. They instead propose a different bill, which focuses on sending only humanitarian aid to the regime.

However, strong support for the bill does exist in South Korea, Halvorssen said.. National figures in favor include the country’s National Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Unification, the North Korean defector community, and President Park Geun-hye, who has personally expressed support for the act.  

“A larger global voice is needed to express solidarity with the North Korean people and help the South Korean government and people pass the North Korean Human Rights Act,” said Kasparov.

“Nonviolent action—in the form of information, education, and global attention—is a key component to bringing an end to the living nightmare of the North Korean people,” said CANVAS co-founder Srdja Popovic. “We only need look at the history of Apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union to see how international pressure can assist in bringing down dictatorship. In both conflicts it was ideas, not military hardware, that brought about change. This rings true in the struggle against modern dictators, everywhere from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe. With support from world figures, our coalition hopes to provide encouragement for South Korean lawmakers to overcome differences and unite to create a lifeline for humanity’s most oppressed people.”

“The North Korean government’s crimes against humanity are known throughout the free world. The Kim family’s theocratic dynasty has purged millions of its own citizens through concentration camps, enforced starvation, and mass executions. The horror is so great that Japan and the United States have passed laws to formalize the promotion of human rights in North Korea, while the European Union has held hearings on the subject. Canada has established a North Korea human rights day, and the United Nations has created a Special Rapporteur with the aim of investigating the North’s tyranny and a Commission of Inquiry, which in 2014 found that the Kim regime continues to commit crimes against humanity. Absent in this global effort is South Korea’s government—which has done nothing of the sort,” said Kasparov.

The Global Coalition in support of the North Korean Human Rights Act is led by Garry Kasparov and includes democracy activist Srdja Popovic, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Malaysian opposition leader Nurul Izzah Anwar, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, Stanford professor Larry Diamond, former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo, Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker and several others.

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China Must Free Supporters of Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protests

The Chinese authorities must immediately release eight activists detained for supporting last year’s pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Amnesty International said on the first anniversary of people taking to the streets in the city. The activists’ support for the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, the so-called Umbrella Movement, included posting messages and pictures online and holding banners in public with messages such as “support Hong Kong’s fight for freedom”.

“These activists are being persecuted simply for posting pictures of themselves with messages saying ‘Support Hong Kong’ and ‘Freedom is Priceless’. The Chinese authorities should immediately drop these charges against them as they have been detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression,” said William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International.

The activists were targeted as part of a nationwide crackdown in mainland China between September and November 2014, which saw at least 100 people detained for expressing support for the Umbrella Movement. Their detention is part of an unprecedented attack on civil society by the Chinese authorities since President Xi came to power in November 2012. 

Five of the activists, Su Changlan, Chen Qitang, Wang Mo, Xie Wenfei and Zhang Shengyu, have since been formally arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. A sixth person, Sun Feng, has been indicted with the same crime. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.  

Two others, Ji Sizun and Ye Xiaozheng, could face up to five years in prison on the charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. Ji Sizun faces an additional charge of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place”, which also carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Seven of the activists are from southern China. Their ongoing detention appears to be a deliberate attempt by the Chinese authorities to stifle activism on democracy in regions of mainland China close to Hong Kong, Amnesty said. Sun Feng had tried to travel to Beijing to present his own proposal on Hong Kong’s electoral reform to the central government.

In detention, Zhang Shengyu has told his lawyer he was beaten and once tied to a bed with heavy chains on his wrists and ankles for 15 days. There are also concerns for the health of Su Changlan, who has been denied adequate medical treatment according to her lawyer. None of the eight activists has been allowed visits from their families.

“The shameful prosecution of these activists demonstrates the Chinese authorities’ contempt for freedom of expression, which does not bode well for Hong Kong,” Nee added.

Su Changlan, a women’s rights activist who was taken away by police on October 27th 2014, after she shared photos of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests on social media. She was formally arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. Prosecutors have now transferred her case back to the police for further investigation. Her health has deteriorated in detention and she was denied adequate medical treatment, according to her lawyer, who she was only allowed to see for the first time in May 2015. The authorities have also prevented her family from visiting her in detention.

Chen Qitang, a friend of Su Changlan, who was trying to find Su and raise awareness of her plight. He was detained in November 2014, and later formally arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. His lawyer says Chen Qitang was being detained for posting articles in support of human rights and the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement.

Ji Sizun, a legal activist who openly supported Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. He was taken away by police on October 14th 2014 and was later indicted with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place”. He is currently being held at the Fuzhou City No. 1 Detention Centre in south-eastern China.

Sun Feng, a democracy activist from Shandong, eastern China, was taken away on November 16th 2014, and charged with “inciting subversion of state power”. His first court hearing was held on August 11th 2015, at Zibo City Immediate People’s Court. He was attempting to travel to Beijing, where he had planned to submit his own proposal to the central government on Hong Kong electoral reform. Previously, he had been detained several times for campaigning for democracy.

Wang Mo and Xie Wenfei together with three other activists, held up a banner saying “Freedom is priceless; support Hong Kong’s fight for freedom” in a street in Zengcheng, Guangzhou, southern China on 3 October 2014. They were taken away by police later that day. While the three other activists were later released, Wang Mo and Xie Wenfei have been formally arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”.

Zhang Shengyu and several of his friends held placards in support of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests on the streets in Guangzhou City, southern China.

Zhang Shengyu was criminally detained on October 3rd 2014, and was later charged with “inciting subversion of state power”. He has told his lawyer that he was frequently beaten while in detention, and was once tied to a bed with heavy chains on his wrists and ankles for 15 days.

Ye Xiaozheng was detained on 12 December 2014, after he posted pictures online of himself wearing a T-shirt with the quote “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny” in support of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protest.  He was charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and his first court hearing took place on 23 July 2015 at Hucheng District Court at Huizhou City, southern China. He is awaiting the verdict.

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