Uyghur scholar Tohti faces trial, as China ‘rescues’ children from religious schools

tohtiA sweep on illegal religious activity in the capital of China’s unruly far western region of Xinjiang has resulted in 190 children being “rescued”, along with the detention of dozens of people, a state newspaper said on Monday. Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people who speak a Turkic language, has been beset for years by violence that the Chinese government blames on Islamist militants and separatists, Reuters reports:

Hundreds have died in violence in Xinjiang in the past 18 months, prompting a sweeping crackdown by the government, including on religious activities. Last month the government said it had “rescued” 82 children in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi from religious schools known as madrassas, and that campaign appears to be continuing….Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say the government’s repressive policies in Xinjiang, including controls on Islam, have provoked unrest, a claim Beijing denies.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said that he feared more people would end up being caught up in the dragnet.

China thinks that Uighurs who uphold their faith and use the Internet are a challenge to China’s rule,” he said in an emailed comment. “China’s hostility will probably mean even more Uighurs lose their freedom.”

The trial of Uyghur scholar and activist Ilham Tohti (above) has been scheduled for Wednesday, September 17. Tohti has been detained since January, and was formally charged with separatism in July. In meetings with his lawyer, he has complained of mistreatment and earlier held a ten-day hunger strike to protest his conditions. According to his lawyer Li Fangping, prison authorities have been holding Ilham Tohti in ankle shackles for over a month. AP reports:

Authorities put shackles on Tohti’s ankles on Aug. 9, and they have remained there ever since, even when he goes to sleep, he told Li.The prosecuting attorney’s office argued that Tohti should be restricted because he had coughed to disturb fellow inmates, which led to scuffles with them, according to Li, who has reviewed materials provided by the prosecutors. Shortly after he was detained, Tohti went on a hunger strike for 10 days in January to protest being served food that did not follow Islamic dietary laws, Li has said. [Source]

Tohti has denied the charges against him and explains the motivations and goals behind his activism in a 2011 biographical essay. Read more by and about Ilham Tohti via CDT.

Tohti, formerly an economics professor at Beijing University, was arrested earlier this year in Beijing amid rising tensions in the northwestern region of Xinjiang between Muslim Uygurs and majority Han people, the SCMP reports:

He has been a vocal critic of the government’s policies towards the Uygurs, who are concentrated in the restive western Xinjiang region. Tohti is accused of activities aimed at overthrowing Chinese rule in Xinjiang – charges he denies. While a professor at Beijing University, he spoke openly about problems with China’s ethnic policies.

China’s system ‘not as stable as it seems’?

china cpcongress clbOver the weekend, thousands of residents of Boluo County, Guangdong took to the streets to protest a planned garbage incinerator, Chris Buckley at the New York Times reports:

A street march broke out on Saturday and three residents contacted by telephone said the protest had resumed on Sunday, when people again walked toward government offices in the main town, despite a police announcement issued through the domestic news media that 24 people had already been detained. The residents spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing fears of arrest.

“We strongly urge the government authorities to reconsider the siting of the waste incineration plant,” said an appeal against the project that spread on the Internet in China, notes China Digital Times [a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy]. One of the Boluo residents who helped with the appeal confirmed it had come from there.

In the two years since he was named general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping has moved swiftly to consolidate his personal grip on political power, established “leading small groups,” which he chairs, to handle pressing domestic and foreign policy problems. and launched a series of well-publicized corruption investigations targeting high-ranking civilian and military officials, notes a leading analyst.

But despite this appearance of solidity, there are some indications that the system may not be as stable as it seems, Princeton University’s Aaron L. Friedberg writes for The Diplomat:

Since shortly before Xi’s elevation to the top leadership post there have been periodic rumors of coup attempts and assassination plots against him. As recently as August of this year, Radio Free Asia carried a story under the headline “Some Kind of Coup May Have Taken Place in China.” …. Meanwhile, at around the same time, a Hong Kong magazine published an account claiming that Xi had already survived six assassination attempts. Xi himself reportedly said that he was prepared to but aside considerations of “life, death, and reputation” in order to pursue his campaign against corruption…..

Xi may succeed in neutralizing his opponents or, as he suggested in his June speech, “the armies of corruption and anti-corruption” may become locked in “stalemate.”  But sudden, unexpected and potentially violent developments cannot be ruled out.  The rules that have governed high-level political combat in China for over thirty years no longer seem to apply. 

At 81 years old and after decades imprisoned in labor camps as a foe of the Communist Party, the Beijing writer and underground publisher Tie Liu had said that he was too old to seriously worry the security police anymore. But they raided his home over the weekend and detained him on a charge of “creating a disturbance,” his wife and friends said on Monday. – New York Times (HT: FPI)   Pro-democracy politicians in Hong Kong should veto China’s proposal for universal suffrage in the territory, according to roughly half the respondents in a new poll. – Financial Times

Uncivil societies

russia_civilsociety_HRWThe ongoing crackdown on civil society groups “is about weakening NGOs, not making them more transparent or effective,” The Economist notes:

It is being undertaken by leaders who, if they accept democracy at all, want it to amount to nothing more than a tame vote every few years. Foreign donations are an easy target for autocrats whose worst nightmare is a flourishing civil society. NGOs’ activities in the “colour” revolutions a decade ago in the former Soviet Union and, more recently, the Arab spring, have sharpened autocrats’ hostility to them.

It is hardly surprising that leaders like Mr Putin want to curb those who seek to promote democracy, but these laws reach far beyond free speech and human rights. NGOs also suffer if they criticise poor public services, stand up for reviled minorities or disclose facts that the powerful want to hide. Mr Orban has targeted a group that publicises discrimination against Roma and another that runs a hotline for battered women. Among those Mr Putin has dubbed foreign agents are a group of women seeking information about Russian servicemen injured and killed while covertly deployed in Ukraine.

“Persuading autocrats who have decided that NGOs pose an existential threat to ease up will be a struggle. But donor countries can help stem the illiberal tide,” The Economist notes. “Initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership, launched in 2011, which supports governments keen to increase transparency and cut corruption, should help to stop the trend spreading.”

RTWT

Waves of democratization are not over?

JODIn the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy, (PDF), Marc Plattner makes the provocative claim that “the era of democratic transitions is over, and should now become the province of the historians,” notes political scientist Jay Ulfelder. By that, he seems to mean that we should not expect new waves of democratization similar in form and scale to the ones that have occurred before. I think Plattner is wrong, in part because he has defined “wave” too broadly, he writes on his Dart Throwing Chimp blog.

In his essay, Plattner implicitly adopts the definition of waves of democratization described by Samuel Huntington on p. 15 of his influential 1991 book:

A wave of democratization is a group of transitions from nondemocratic to democratic regimes that occur within a specified period of time and that significantly outnumber transitions in the opposite direction during that period of time.

Much of what’s been written and said about waves of democratization since that book was published accepts those terms and the three waves Huntington identifies when he applies them to the historical evidence: one in Europe from the 1820s to the 1920s; another and wider one in Europe, Latin America, and Asia from the 1940s to the early 1960s; and a third and so-far final one that began in Portugal in 1974, has been global in scope, and now appears to have stalled or ended…..

I think we can make out at least five and maybe more such waves since the early 1900s, not the three or maybe four we usually hear about.

First, as Plattner  (p. 9) points out, what Huntington describes as the “first, long” wave really includes two distinct clusters: 1) the “dozen or so European and European-settler countries that already had succeeded in establishing a fair degree of freedom and rule of law, and them moved into the democratic column by gradually extending the suffrage”; and 2) “countries that became democratic after World War I, many of them new nations born from the midst of the European empires defeated and destroyed during the war.”

The second (or now third?) wave grew out of World War II. Even though this wave was relatively short, it also included a few distinct sub-clusters: countries defeated in that war, countries born of decolonization, and a number of Latin American cases. …. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to split the so-called second wave into two clusters (war losers and newly independent states) and a clump of coincidences (Latin America), but there are enough direct linkages across those sets to see meaning in a larger wave, too.

As for the so-called third wave, I’m with Mike McFaul (here) and others who see at least two separate clusters in there. The wave of democratization that swept southern Europe and Latin America in the 1970s and early 1980s is temporally and causally distinct from the spate of transitions associated with the USSR’s reform and disintegration, so it makes no sense to talk of a coherent era spanning the past 40 years. Less clear is where to put the many democratic transitions—some successful, many others aborted or short lived—that occurred in Africa as Communist rule collapsed. Based partly on Robert Bates’ analysis (here), I am comfortable grouping them with the post-Communist cases. …

So, based on that definition and its application, I think it’s fair to say that we have seen at least five waves of democratization in the past two centuries, and perhaps as many as six or seven….

Nearly two-thirds of the world’s countries now have regimes that most observers would call democratic, so the pool of potential democratizers is substantially diminished. As Plattner puts it (p. 14), “The ‘low-hanging fruit’ has been picked.” Still, if we look for groups of authoritarian regimes that share enough political, economic, social, and cultural connections to allow common causes and contagion to kick in, then I think we can find some sets in which this dynamic could clearly happen again. I see three in particular.

The first and most obvious is in the Middle East and North Africa, the region that has proved most resistant to democratization to date. In fact, I think we already saw—or, arguably, are still seeing—the next wave of democratization in the form of the Arab Spring and its aftermath. So far, that cluster of popular uprisings and state collapses has only produced one persistently democratic state (Tunisia), but it has also produced a democratic interlude in Egypt; a series of competitively elected (albeit ineffective) governments in Libya; a nonviolent transfer of power between elected governments in Iraq; ongoing (albeit not particularly liberal) revolutions in Syria and Yemen; and sustained, liberal challenges to authoritarian rule in Bahrain, Kuwait, and, perhaps, Saudi Arabia. …

Beyond that, though, I also see the possibility of a wave of regime breakdowns and attempts at democracy in Asia brought on by economic or political instability in China. Many of the autocracies that remain in that region—and there are many—depend directly or indirectly on Chinese patronage and trade, so any significant disruption in China’s political economy would send shock waves through their systems as well. I happen to think that systemic instability will probably hit China in the next few years (see here, here, and here), but the timing is less relevant here than the possibility of this turbulence, and thus of the wider wave of democratization it could help to produce.

RTWT

Guo Feixiong case a ‘dark verdict on China’s future’

 

guo feixiongDissident writer and human rights legal activist Guo Feixiong (left), was detained in August of 2013, formally arrested two months later for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place,” and finally allowed access to legal representation in November of 2013. The New York Times reports that the activist’s trial is expected to begin on Friday, and that his lawyers and family are expecting conviction and imprisonment, China Digital Times reports:

The charges against Yang Maodong and Sun Deshang stem from their involvement in organizing support for Southern Weekly staff members who protested against censorship at the paper in early 2013. The upcoming trial will be the latest in the Xi administration’s ongoing drive to stifle China’s nascent civil society.

With the trials of Gu and other rights advocates, “the Chinese government has sent a clear signal to society: For citizens to demand their rights is a form of provocation, an attack, and the state will repress such behavior without restraint. There is a zero-sum relationship between the government’s repressive system and the people’s basic rights; there is no longer flexibility,” notes Xiao Shu, the pen name of Chen Min, a researcher at the Transition Institute in Beijing.

The government is afraid of a “color revolution” and has reportedly sent agents to Russia and Central Asia to study how to prevent such events, Chen writes for the Wall Street Journal:

Beijing’s newly established National Security Commission has apparently investigated foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations in China, and several well-known NGOs are now at risk. All of which exposes one thing: The Chinese authorities are fearful. The power of civil society in China is growing. The public’s rights consciousness is awakening. Yet our civil society is still extremely weak compared with the world’s strongest ruling state.

The Chinese authorities’ overconfidence in hard power and underconfidence in soft power has rendered them incapable of assessing the situation objectively. So officials are fearful and treat the slowly growing rights movement as a mortal enemy. They probably don’t realize that this extreme policy has antagonized people on all sides, stimulating powerful counterforces.

If the government gives no space to the people, it cannot expect the people to give it space in return. If the government gives no retreat route to civil society, it cannot expect civil society to offer a retreat route in return. The government’s imagined “hostile forces” and “color revolution” will turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. If the authorities don’t change direction, they will eventually reap what they sow.

RTWT