Obama ‘embraces democracy promotion again’?

obama un sept 25

FOR MORE than a decade, democracy has been in retreat around the world. But this week President Obama sounded something like the beginning of a counterattack, the Washington Post reports.

If he acts on the vows he articulated in two speeches in New York and in a presidential memorandum, the United States could begin to shift the momentum, the paper adds:

In talks to the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday and the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, Mr. Obama mentioned democracy sparingly, preferring to talk about civil society. But he left no doubt about his meaning when he pledged “to stand with the courageous citizens and brave civil society groups who are working for equality and opportunity and justice and human dignity all over the world.” He saluted democracy activists, including in nations whose governments in the past he has been loath to offend — Ahmed Maher in Egypt, for example, and Liu Xiaobo and Ilham Tohti in China.

“Oppressive governments are sharing ‘worst practices’ to weaken civil society,” Mr. Obama said in remarks addressed to democratic activists around the world. “We’re going to help you share the ‘best practices’ to stay strong and vibrant.” It is significant that the president recognized that dictators are banding together to promote autocracy and checkmate democracy. It could be even more significant if, having recognized the altered landscape, Mr. Obama really invigorates democracy promotion as a key plank of U.S. foreign policy.

“Now, as he is forced to confront an aggressive Russia and a rampaging Islamic State, he may be remembering that the United States and its allies cannot defeat Islamist fundamentalism or Russian neo-fascism without a more hopeful ideology of their own,” the Post continues. “That would be a sound foundation for a reinvigorated, and more successful, foreign policy over the coming 28 months.”


Jailing of Tohti ‘will radicalize more Uyghurs’

china tohti2China’s sledgehammer approach to dissent was on display once more this week, when the authorities sentenced the Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti to life in prison on Tuesday, notes a leading rights advocate. The verdict attracted widespread international condemnation and risks further accelerating a vicious circle of repression, discrimination and violence in China’s westernmost region, Human Rights Watch’s Nicholas Bequelin writes for the New York Times:

The escalation of violence is the direct result of China’s repression. The overwhelming majority of Uyghurs are still opposed to violence, and to any form of radical Islamism, which they see as foreign and counter to their moderate way of life. Yet it should surprise no one that as Beijing tightens its grip, more Uyghurs are becoming radicalized.

Wang Lixiong, one of the few Han scholars to speak openly about the nation’s ethnic policies, said in an interview that silencing a moderate like Mr. Tohti would prove counterproductive.

“Ilham had an extensive network among Uyghurs and Han Chinese,” he said. “Now that he’s gone, it will give radicals an example to show to their people that whoever is a moderate and still harbors illusions of improving ethnic ties should look at Ilham’s case for proof that it’s a dead end.”

The news that Tohti had been sentenced to life in prison on charges of separatism drew a torrent of international outrage this week, Andrew Jacobs writes for The Times:

By contrast, Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese scholar and Nobel laureate who agitated for an end to single-party rule, is serving 11 years for subversion.

Many analysts said the severe sentence, handed down on Tuesday, fit in with Beijing’s increasingly heavy-handed treatment of China’s ethnic minorities, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang, where resistance to rule by the Han majority shows no signs of abating. A slow-boil Uyghur insurgency in Xinjiang, the resource-rich expanse of northwest China, has claimed hundreds of lives in a wave of violence over the past year.

Gardner Bovingdon, a professor at Indiana University who studies the region, said attempts at social engineering would probably exacerbate discontent among Uyghurs, who speak a Turkic language and are culturally more Central Asian than East Asian, Jacobs adds:

“Forcing Uyghurs to assimilate with the Han while flooding the streets with armed troops is not the way to ease the mounting anger and estrangement,” said Professor Bovingdon, who, like a number of Western experts on Xinjiang, has been unable to obtain a Chinese visa in recent years.

The Communist Party’s aversion to outside criticism is well known, and Chinese leaders have long had zero tolerance for any challenge to their handling of minority affairs. Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, said party officials believed that any airing of minority grievances could encourage strife.

“The fact that Ilham Tohti survived so long makes him an outlier,” Mr. Bequelin said. “The truth is, there is a well-enforced prohibition against Uyghurs and Tibetans criticizing minority policies, and reality finally caught up with him.”


China’s ‘Mandela’: Tohti should get Nobel peace prize

china tohti2

Not long before his arrest in January this year, when Ilham Tohti, a 44-year-old Uighur economics professor, was on an outing with his wife and children, three secret policemen rammed their car into his from the rear. “We’ll kill your whole family!” one of them screamed, Chinese dissident Teng Biao (below) writes for the Guardian:

Afterwards, Tohti wrote his will. Even if I am murdered by secret police, it said, remember, “it is not the Han Chinese who killed me, and do not place hatred between the two people, Uighur and Han”.

Tohti was put on trial for “separatism” on 17 and 18 September. The sentence was handed down four days later by the Intermediate People’s Court in Urumqi, the capital of China’s increasingly violent Xinjiang region, where Uighurs are the main ethnic group: life imprisonment for the crime of separatism.

Tohti’s troubles began in 2006 when he founded Uighurbiz, a Chinese-language website devoted to fostering understanding between the Uighur and Han people, China’s dominant ethnic group. For years, in his writing and speeches, he has repeatedly emphasised his opposition to separatism, religious extremism and terrorism. What he has focused most on is the need to implement Xinjiang’s long-promised autonomy; the need to observe the rule of law and human rights; that all ethnic groups should share fairly in the fruits of China’s development; and that discrimination based on region, ethnicity or gender must be eliminated.

Teng Biao

Teng Biao

Chinese state media has blasted the notion that Tohti is the Chinese Mandela, in a move that seems likely to fuel further arguments that Mr. Tohti is, in fact, the Chinese Mandela, the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time reports:

In an English-language commentary, the official Xinhua News Agency slammed the “irritating comparison” between Mr. Tohti and the late South African leader Nelson Mandela as reflecting a “dangerous ignorance of history.”

Such a comparison appears to have come from Wang Lixiong, a Chinese writer and ethnic rights activist. “On Sept. 23, 2014, the authorities created the Uighur Mandela,” Mr. Wang wrote on Tuesday in a tweetthat was later quoted by the Guardian and the Economist. A report by U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia later also quoted a Uighur rights activist in the U.K. comparing Mr. Tohti to both Mandela and Gandhi.

 The White House issued a statement that it was “deeply concerned” about Mr. Tohti’s conviction and life sentencing.

“He is a respected professor who has long championed efforts to bridge differences between Uighurs and Han Chinese,” it continued. “We believe that civil society leaders like Ilham Tohti play a vital role in reducing the sources of inter-ethnic tension in China, and should not be persecuted for peacefully expressing their views.”

The PRC’s policies have stamped out religious freedom and weakened indigenous and moderate religious practices among the Uyghurs, says a leading analyst. This, in turn, has been radicalizing conservative Muslims in the XUAR and leaving others who would like to leave but cannot vulnerable to exploitation by radical groups, notes Kilic Kanat, an Assistant Professor at Penn State University.

tohtiThe aggressive responses of the Chinese government to religious movements and growing grievances in the region have further fueled the conflict, he writes for the Hudson Institute’s Current Trends in Islamist Ideology:

Nor has the Chinese government shown any intention to take a different approach to resolving the problem. As a result, Beijing’s repressive policies combined with its intransigence and refusal to address the religious, economic, and cultural causes of the unrest in XUAR are likely to contribute to greater radicalization among Uyghurs. This will, among other things, continue to create opportunities for radical groups to penetrate and take root in the region and this could make the PRC’s fears over radicalization among Uyghurs in XUAR a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Secretary of State John Kerry said that he and the U.S. ambassador to China, Max Baucus, had raised Mr. Tohti’s case with the Chinese authorities, and Mr. Kerry called again on Tuesday for the release of the scholar and several of his students who are also facing trial.

“Peaceful dissent is not a crime,” Mr. Kerry said, echoing comments made by scholars and human rights groups, that the ruling Communist Party’s determination to suppress peaceful dissent will only foment violence.

In the New York Times, Andrew Jacobs publishes excerpts from a series of interviews he  conducted with Mr. Tohti in August 2010.

“Mr. Tohti has a number of relatives working for Xinjiang’s public security apparatus, including an older brother who is the vice director of a prefectural police department,” he writes. “In the interview, he described how relatives were occasionally sent to Beijing by their employers to persuade him to give up his advocacy work.”

The lack of external Western support for Uyghur rights and the absence of any meaningful pressure on the Chinese government has meant the Uyghurs are increasingly isolated and alone,38 Kanat writes:

Moreover, the failures of the Western democracies to speak against the injustice in the XUAR is emboldening the PRC to continue its “strike hard” policies and also contributing to the growing disillusionment within Uyghur society. With no options for making a better future for themselves in their homeland, a new generation of Uyghurs will increasingly find themselves squeezed between a repressive Chinese government and the temptations of radicalism.


Rights groups probe Azerbaijani crackdown




Under pressure from human rights activists, a natural resources industry watchdog is reviewing whether to suspend Azerbaijan’s membership over Baku’s crackdown on civil society groups, Transitions Online reports”

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) has dispatched a delegation to Baku to investigate the government’s recent moves against human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations, according to the Financial Times.  A decision to suspend Azerbaijan would be a blow to the government, an early supporter of the decade-old initiative. EITI represents a coalition of governments, corporations, and civic groups that promotes open accountability of revenues from petroleum and other natural resources. …

Human Rights Watch has pressed the EITI to suspend Azerbaijan’s membership. “Azerbaijan’s government is squeezing activist groups to the breaking point while claiming to international audiences that it’s a leader on open civic participation and good governance,” Lisa Misol, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement last month. “Azerbaijan is blatantly violating EITI rules, and EITI cannot afford to be complicit in this hypocrisy.” 


Freedom House

Freedom House

Three UN human rights representatives have also condemned Baku’s ham-handed treatment of activists and efforts to shut down critical groups. “We are appalled by the increasing incidents of surveillance, interrogation, arrest, sentencing on the basis of trumped-up charges, assets-freezing, and ban on travel of the activists in Azerbaijan,” UN special rapporteurs Michel Forst, Maina Kiai (right), and David Kaye said in a statement. …RTWT

You are cordially invited to a reception with special guest Maina Kiai, executive director of InformAction and recipient of Freedom House’s 2014 Freedom Award. He will give brief remarks about key challenges to human rights in Africa and globally. 

Maina Kiai has campaigned for human rights in Kenya and internationally for the last 20 years. He founded the unofficial Kenya Human Rights Commission and later served as Chairman of Kenya’s National Human Rights Commission, earning a national reputation for his courageous and effective advocacy against official corruption and impunity following the violence that convulsed Kenya in 2008. Mr. Kiai has directed Amnesty International’s Africa Program, led the International Council on Human Rights Policy, and currently serves as UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and assembly.


Pre-empt a Tiananmen in Hong Kong

CHINA HK CDTThousands of Hong Kong university students abandoned classes on Monday to rally against Chinese government limits on voting rights, a bellwether demonstration of the city’s appetite for turning smoldering discontent into street-level opposition, the New York Times reports:

Last month, the Chinese legislature proposed election rule changes for Hong Kong. Starting in 2017, they would allow residents to vote directly for the leader of the city’s government, the chief executive, but a nominating committee dominated by pro-Beijing loyalists would be used to restrict how many and which candidates could enter the contest.

The demonstrations may have only the slightest chance of forcing Beijing to change its mind and allow an open ballot, but student activists said they were ready to fight for many years…..Frustration with Chinese policy in Hong Kong is especially deep among the young, and contention over voting rights has given many otherwise apolitical students a jolt of civic engagement.

Two of the world’s powerful autocracies, both rooted in the idea and practice of communist dictatorship, are bent on encroaching upon freedom and democracy on two different fronts: Ukraine and Hong Kong, former political prisoners Yang Jianli, Teng Biao and Hu Jia write for the Wall Street Journal:

China has the potential to become an even more relentless, aggressive dictatorship than Russia. From their support for rogue regimes in Iran, North Korea, and Syria to their military buildups and aggressive use of cyber warfare and technology theft, Moscow and Beijing are playing for keeps and their corrosive impact should worry the free world.

Only a strong, unambiguous warning from the U.S. will cause either of those countries to carefully consider the costs of new violent acts of repression, they contend (Mr. Yang is the president of Initiatives for China. Mr. Teng is a human rights lawyer. Mr. Hu is a winner of the Sakharov Prize.) RTWT