HK’s unofficial poll ‘draws Beijing’s ire’

More than 200,000 residents of Hong Kong did something on Friday that no one in mainland China can do: They participated in a free vote over their political future, The New York Times reports:

The results are nonbinding because the election is not official: It is a referendum held by a civic group on how the 7.2 million people in Hong Kong, a former British colony, will elect their head of government. The voting on Friday was through computers and mobile phones, with organizers saying they would have been pleased if 100,000 people had cast ballots over the entire 10-day voting period, which ends June 29…..

The referendum’s organizers have vowed to disrupt the city’s central business district later this year with a sit-in protest, called Occupy Central, drawing on civil disobedience principles — Henry David Thoreau is often invoked — should the central government in Beijing and Hong Kong’s administration fail to come up with a plan for universal suffrage, promised by 2017, that meets international standards for free and fair elections. Mr. Leung, who took office in 2012, was chosen by a group of fewer than 1,200 Hong Kong residents.

“Organizers of the referendum say its online voting platform has faced cyberattacks in recent days,” The Times reports:

The standoff comes as one authoritative poll shows that dissatisfaction in Hong Kong with the way Beijing is managing its rule over the territory is at its highest level in a decade. The trend is especially pronounced among the young, with 82 percent of permanent residents aged 21 to 29 polled in December and January by the Hong Kong Transition Project expressing dissatisfaction.

Such feelings are being driven by concern that Hong Kong’s civil liberties, guaranteed until 2047, are being slowly eroded as the mainland’s economic and political influence grows. A policy document, or white paper, recently issued by the State Council reminded Hong Kong’s people that their liberties were granted solely by Beijing and also said that judges and other government officials must be “patriots,” language that Hong Kong’s bar association says encroaches on judicial independence.


Uncivil society: the rise of militarized NGOs

naimWho invaded Crimea? Civil society. Who has occupied government offices and police headquarters in eastern Ukraine, bringing massive instability to that region? Civil society. Who is fighting the governments of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Nouri al-Malaki in Iraq? Civil society. And who are the colectivos confronting Venezuelan student protesters? Civil-society activists, of course, the Carnegie Endowment’s Moisés Naím writes for The Atlantic:

The reality is that these groups, “movements,” and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are appendices of their governments and draw their “activists” from the armed forces, security services, and government militias. They carry out their repressive deeds disguised as “civil society,” in an attempt to mask the behavior of governments that want to avoid being recognized by the international community for what they really are: autocracies that violate global norms, trample human rights, and brutalize their critics. They have even earned their own acronym—GONGOs—for “Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organizations.” Their rise is forcing us to rethink our benign definitions of NGOs and civil society to accommodate armed groups of civilians and even, most provocatively, terrorists.

In some ways, there is nothing new about this phenomenon: the deployment of  “militias,” “paramilitaries,” and  “mercenaries” is as old as warfare itself, and their use in proxy conflicts between nation-states is also a longtime practice, notes Naím, a member of the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy.

What’s different now is that globalization and the spread of democracy have empowered civil society around the world as never before, which in turn has contributed to the proliferation of NGOs.


Moisés Naím is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, a senior associate in the International Economics Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the chief international columnist for El Pais and La Repubblica, Spain’s and Italy’s largest dailies. He is author of more than 10 books, including, most recently, The End of Power.

Tajikistan: free or charge researcher, says rights group


TAJIKISTAN MONITORTajik authorities should immediately release or credibly charge a blogger and academic researcher detained on June 16 in southeastern Tajikistan, Human Rights Watch said today:

Two persons identifying themselves as officers with Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security detained Alexander Sodiqov in Khorog, capital of the autonomous republic of Gorno-Badakhshan, on suspicion of spying for an unnamed country after he met with civil society activist Alim Sherzamonov. Government officials refuse to confirm he is in custody and have not disclosed his whereabouts.

At the time of his detention, Sodiqov, a Tajik citizen, Ph.D student at the University of Toronto, and a well-known blogger for Global Voices, was visiting the autonomous republic of Gorno-Badakhshan to conduct academic research on conflict resolution under the auspices of the University of Exeter in the UK. Gorno-Badakhshan experienced clashes between central government forces and an armed group in July 2012 and more recent protests in May 2014.

“An academic researcher has apparently been ‘disappeared’ in Tajikistan, where authorities have failed to account for his whereabouts or well-being for three days,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Tajik government should immediately release or credibly charge Alexander Sodiqov, provide him access to a lawyer and his family, and stop this agonizing ordeal.”

“Enforced disappearances are a serious crime and have no place in a country that aspires to respect the rule of law,” said Williamson.


Growing concern over rights activist Mbonimpa – ‘Burundi’s Mandela’


Credit; Front Line Defenders

Credit; Front Line Defenders

A coalition of NGOs in Burundi today filed four complaints before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to challenge the power of Prime Minister Pierre Nkurunziza on cases of extrajudicial killings committed between 2010 and 2012.

The extrajudicial killings of Jackson Ndikuriyo, Audace Vianney Habonarugira, Médard Ndayishimiye and Jean-Claude Ndimumahoro have never been solved by the competent authorities.

“These opponents were killed between 2010 and 2012 but to date, there is no record of these cases in the courts,” complains Pacific Nininahazwe, head of the Forum for Awareness and Development (FOCODE), one of four Burundian NGOs which filed the complaint

Human rights defenders already fear for their safety “especially in this pre-election period, characterized by intimidation against regime opponents and defenders of human rights,” said one activist in Burundi.

The activist alluded in particular to the May 15 arrest of Pierre Claver Mbonimpa (above), known as the “Burundian Mandela,” who is accused of “threatening state security” for saying that young members of the ruling party were armed and sent into eastern DRC to attend military training.

Human rights groups are expressing concern over the fate of Mbonimpa, chairman of Burundi’s Association for the Protection of Human and Prisoners’ Rights [APRODH].

Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, this week tweeted “#Burundihuman rights leader Pierre Mbonimpa has been jailed for 35 days—his govt continues to deny him a trial. Must be given justice ASAP.”

The mayor of Bujumbura has banned a support march staged by civil society scheduled for 16 June on the grounds that it was “insurrectionary in nature.”

“We are increasingly observing a poor understanding and misinterpretation of the law regulating public demonstrations and meetings,” said Vital Shiminimana, delegate general of the Forum for the Strengthening of the Civil Society [FORSC], responding to the ban. “We consider that some authorities are even not able to interpret the law that they are yet expected to interpret. They have a tendency to suggest that all public demonstrations are insurrections.”

APRODH is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

China: harsh sentences for anti-corruption activists

China-_Tre_Activists_-_Liu_-_Wei-LiNew Citizens’ Movement activists Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping were each sentenced to six and a half years in prison on Thursday, while a third, Li Sihua, received a sentence of three years, China Digital Times reports.

The New Citizens advocate causes such as asset disclosure by officials and education rights for migrants’ children; these judgments are the latest in a series against members of the movement, which has been systematically dismantled over the past year. From Patrick Boehler at South China Morning Post:

The Yushui District People’s Court in Xinyu found all three defendants guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. Liu and Wei were also found guilty of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order in a public space” and “using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement”.

The Xinyu verdicts are the harshest reported so far in a nationwide crackdown on the New Citizens Movement that started last year.

[…] Local authorities in Xinyu have long considered the three “thorns in their eyes”, said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch. “The local authorities have essentially used the current crackdown as an opportunity,” she said. [Source]

The charges of “using an evil cult” refer to messages Liu and Wei sent about the trial of a Falun Gong practitioner in 2012. A press release from Amnesty International reported that some of the charges had been changed without proper notice:

The court changed the charge from “illegal assembly” to the more heavy charge of “picking quarrels and creating troubles” six months after the trial and just days before the sentencing. This sudden change meant that Liu Ping’s lawyers, Si Weijiang and Yang Xuelin, were only informed of the date of the sentencing two days in advance. This violates the legal requirement of three days’ advance notice, and forced the lawyers to be absent at the sentencing due to other court appearances. [Source]

The three’s trial in Xinyu in December—their second, after they aborted the first by dismissing their own lawyers in protest—was marked by pandemonium outside the courthouse. Defence lawyers including Pu Zhiqiang, himself recently arrested, reported that hundreds of “government-appointed thugs” surrounded them, shoving and hurling insults. (A subsequent directory from the State Council Information Office ordered that “all online news on the case of Liu Ping and the rest […] especially news related to the comments and actions of their lawyers” be deleted.) The New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow reported on Wednesday that local authorities had taken a heavy-handed approach ahead of the sentencing as well….

“This is a crazy retaliation, a shameless retaliation, which has no connection with the law, the legal system or rule of law,” the New Citizens Movement said in a statement on its website. “This is not just a retaliation against Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua but retaliates against and dishonors the rights of citizens.”

“The harsh sentences are just the latest moves in the politically motivated crackdown on the New Citizens’ Movement,” William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said in an e-mailed statement. “They are prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

China Digital Times is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.