Rights Digest: Highs and lows in human rights, 6 to 20 March 2015

A big two weeks for rights anniversaries:

56th anniversary of Tibetan Uprising of ’59

20th anniversary of Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing

6th anniversary of Tibetan uprising of 2008

1st anniversary of Cao Shunli’s death

1st anniversary of Taiwan Sunflower Movement

137th Self-Immolation in Tibet

Otherwise, most all was remarkably quiet on the Tibetan front during the anniversaries. Of course, statements like that should always be qualified since no independent news coverage of Tibet is allowed by the Partystate. Much could be happening there that we don’t know about. Most of the news that does reach the rest of the world is through Radio Free Asia or the Tibet support organizations which have their contacts on the ground.

“Only the Partystate has the right to choose the next Dalai Lama”

As nonsensical as the comments were, dictatorships are in the business of making nonsense reality. In essence, the Partystate was just reiterating statements it’s made before, and this is part of its endgame on Tibet: After the Dalai Lama dies, the fake Panchen Lama (whom the Partystate named after kidnapping the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama) will be involved in selecting a fake Dalai Lama.

Human rights heroes: “We don’t want shoes; we want freedom”

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rejected shoes

In the lead-up to Tibetan Uprising Day, the Tibetan Buddhist nuns of Drakkar Choeling nunnery in Tawu were visited by Partystate officials who were just checking up on them to make sure they were happy and, while there, donated shoes to the nuns. The nuns threw the shoes out of the nunnery and told the officials, “We don’t want shoes; we want freedom.”

Report on torture in Tibet delivered at UN

Chinese Human Rights Defenders publishes its annual report on the situation of human rights defenders in China

Unfortunately, CHRD’s report didn’t get nearly the media attention it deserves. Michael Forsythe at The New York Times wrote an article on it, and that’s the only one I came across.

1st anniversary of Cao Shunli’s death

March 14 was the first anniversary of the death of Cao Shunli, the human rights defender who died as a result of medical neglect while in prison. To mark the sad occasion, CHRD announced its first annual Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights. The recipient was Zhou Weilin, who just got out of prison in February after serving an 18-month sentence. http://chrdnet.com/2015/03/activist-zhou-weilin-named-first-recipient-of-cao-shunli-memorial-award-for-human-rights-defenders/

#freethefive (but why were they detained in the first place? on whose orders?)

There has been much excellent journalism related to the case. A couple of the best pieces are China File’s dialogue, “Dark Days for Women in China?”

and Rachel Lu’s interview with Zhao Sile, “They are the best feminist activists in China”.

Everyone is speculating as to what the Partystate is up to. Even for the Partystate, arresting so many women’s rights activist who have no connection to political activism is a new low of sorts. At first, it was thought that maybe the security apparatus was acting on its own, but now that the women have been formally charged, it’s clear that higher-ups were behind the arrests. The best guess is just that it fits into its general crackdown on civil society and anything that has the faintest whiff of independent organization, especially across the country, and these women were working in different parts of China.

The arrests have sure given the Partystate a black eye internationally, but that doesn’t seem to be something it cares much about these days. In fact, it’s always a bit of a catch-22: Do you publicize a case or does that just mean the Partystate will go ahead and prosecute because it doesn’t want to lose face and look like it’s being influenced by international pressure? Now that the women have been charged, the best bet is that they’ll be convicted and perhaps given a suspended sentence to show the Partystate’s “clemency”. They’ll be made an example for others. Given how weak the women’s rights movement is in China, it hardly poses a threat of any kind to the Partystate, and their arrest just shows its currently voracious appetite for oppression, the sort of thing that David Shambaugh argues in his recent “The Coming Crack-up of China” could ironically cause the Partystate’s downfall. We doubt that, in the short term at least. We’re more worried about the sort of society it’s creating.

59th annual Commission on the Status of Women session (instead of a world forum)

Women’s rights activists wanted the UN to hold another world forum, not just its annual commission session, to mark the occasion and raise the profile of women’s rights issues, but states demurred. In fact, the commission session itself was a rather somber and tedious affair, and much of the controversy surrounded the fact that states negotiated over the Political Declaration in secret before the session, all but excluding civil society. The normal procedure is to negotiate over a draft during a session, when there is more opportunity for media attention and NGO commentary.

All the real action was going on at events held by women’s rights organizations elsewhere in New York, symbolic of a general trend — it’s civil society pushing the agenda on rights; states have largely lost interest and are just going through the motions, if not actively blocking rights initiatives.

The CSW had the opportunity to make progress on the 2013 General Assembly resolution on women human rights defenders. But instead of doing so, states excised the paragraph in its Political Declaration on the need to protect women human rights defenders, just as the five were detained in China, showing the need for such language.

The slogan of the CSW is a pledge to achieve gender equality by 2030, which sounds nice, but women’s rights groups are virtually unanimous in criticizing the Political Declaration for lacking substance and ambition. How will states reach gender equality by 2030? They don’t really say.

The mainstream media really falls down in its coverage of these events, probably because it sees them as no more than talk shops. But because of their fixation on “news”, they miss trends and patterns. The Guardian is one of the few major papers with substantial coverage.

The first Occupy HK related conviction?

Tang Tak-pang is convicted of obstructing bailiffs during the Mong Kok clearance and fined $3,000. http://rthk.hk/rthk/news/elocal/news.htm?elocal&20150317&56&1084900

Police originally arrested 20 people and charged them with contempt of court and obstructing bailiffs and police. The charges were later dropped. Having been present at the Mong Kok clearances, I saw that the majority of arrests were bogus and served the sole purpose of removing people from the scene and intimidating others. I hadn’t been aware of the case of Tang, who plead not guilty.

It’s very important to keep close watch on the Department of Justice and police as they bring OccupyHK-related prosecutions. Who are they prosecuting? On what charges? Up to now, police investigations have appeared strikingly arbitrary and haphazard. The Department of Justice could use the cases to test the impartiality of the HK judiciary, or it might make the decision to not inflame public opinion or give yellow ribbons a platform and bring relatively few prosecutions.

There has been one other conviction of a supposed yellow ribbon related to the occupations, but the case is a bit ambiguous. Yu Tat-sing plead guilty to one count of criminal damage and was sentenced to a suspended sentence of four months in prison and an $8,000 fine for launching a cyberattack on an HK government website, apparently in retaliation for the police teargasing demonstrators, but in closing arguments, his lawyer suggested he was venting his anger at the government after divorcing his wife and closing his pet shop.

Speaking of cyberattacks, the police appear to have made no progress in their supposed investigations of the massive cyberattacks on the Occupy Central referendum or Apple Daily. Is anything at all happening there? If the police can find a ready culprit, they’ll act, but otherwise, it seems, they can’t be bothered. Who knows? Maybe they received political instructions not to investigate or not to put much effort into investigation.

There have also been a couple of convictions of blue ribbons related to the occupations. One man received a remarkably harsh sentence of six months in prison for “behaving in a disorderly manner”. He threatened to light himself and demonstrators on fire with paint thinner at the Mong Kok occupation. I feel sorry for him: He’d lost his job as a security guard and had a falling out with his fourteen-year-old daughter and appears to have acted on impulse and on his own. He didn’t even end up following through on his threat.

Another blue ribbon has plead guilty to “unlawfully and maliciously wounding” an RTHK reporter. No sentence yet.

HK police rip yellow umbrellas out of people’s hands at Government House “open” day

Sometimes a picture says it all. This four-minute video shows police ripping yellow umbrellas out of people’s hands at HK Government House open day.

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But these pictures don’t quite say it all: While that was happening, people wearing “Support CY” t-shirts were freely strolling the Government House gardens. Talk about a double standard, and a sure sign that the police were policing political expression rather than enforcing the law.

They can hardly argue the people with yellow umbrellas posed a security threat since the protest groups who said they were going to turn up at Government House didn’t, leaving only a few dozen people who the police either evicted or prevented from entering because they had umbrellas or other shirts or paraphernalia associated with the fight for genuine universal suffrage.

The images of police ripping the yellow umbrellas out of people’s hands once again show how far it has gone in becoming a political tool of the HK government rather than a law enforcement agency.

Meanwhile, it was reported that the police are launching an “internal review” into their policing of the occupations. The review will be lead by the same officer who supervised planning for and policing of the occupations, so not a lot of critical distance there. It appears the main purpose of the review is to see how police can better ensure nothing of the sort happens in the future.

There have been many calls from many quarters for an independent investigation of the policing of the occupations, of the teargasing, pepper-spraying, beatings, baton charges, abuse of journalists and the rest, but the HK government and police are dead set against such accountability.

Chen Guangcheng’s memoir published

The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China

But it’s really well written and a moving story, a must-read if you want to know what it’s like to be a grassroots activist in China these days.

Josh Chin has an excellent interview with Chen:

And Chen’s also responsible for the quote of the week:

“As long as China has a one-party system, it’s not a fit place for humans to live.”

Written by

Author of ‘Umbrella: A Political Tale from Hong Kong’ and ‘As long as there is resistance, there is hope: Essays on the Hong Kong freedom struggle…’

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