‘Gusano’ highlights Cuba’s intolerance of dissent

The Cuban pro-democracy group For Another Cuba has produced an exceptional documentary, detailing the intimidation, harassment and violence facing critics of the Communist regime. Totalitarian regimes are marked by their violent intolerance of even peaceful dissent and Gusano (‘Worm’) highlights the treatment meted out to those Cubans who opt to leave the island, notably by government-organized mobs, a.k.a. Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.

Essential viewing.    



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

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.


Vietnam’s pivot: netizens demand ‘right to know’

vietnamese bloggers

Bloggers across Vietnam launched an online campaign Tuesday demanding that their authoritarian government keep the people closely informed about national and foreign policies, including its dealings with giant neighbor China whose territorial disputes with Hanoi have led to riots and a sharp deterioration in bilateral relations, Radio Free Asia reports:

Vietnamese activists have become increasingly vocal over what they call China’s aggression in the disputed South China Sea and Hanoi’s reluctance to take a stronger stand against its northern neighbor. The “We Want to Know” campaign was launched by a Vietnamese bloggers’ group early Tuesday and quickly spread on the Internet through Facebook and other social media sites across the one-party communist state, Haiphong-based blogger Pham Thanh Nghien told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. “At 12:00 a.m. last night, Vietnam time, the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers began the campaign ‘We Want to Know,’” said Nghien, who was freed from prison in September 2012 after her online writings earned her a four-year term behind bars. “Our network believes that free access to information helps people exercise their rights as citizens of the country,” she said.

Vietnam’s international strategy is shifting in a dramatic fashion, notes one observer. For years, the country hoped that it could manage China’s drive for regional hegemony by showing Beijing sufficient deference. But that strategy has been upended in recent months, analyst David Brown writes for Foreign Affairs:

At the end of July, Vietnam was awash with rumors that the country’s Politburo had voted 9–5 in favor of “standing up to China.” There was also talk that an extraordinary plenum of the 200-member Party Central Committee would convene to review and confirm the Politburo’s new tilt. The rumors may simply reflect the wishful thinking of a public that’s been far more disposed to tangle with China than its leaders have been. Beijing and Hanoi are still pro forma friends; Le Hong Anh, Vietnam’s top cop and a stalwart of the pro-China faction, was correctly welcomed in Beijing in mid-August and doubtless warned against unfriendly moves.

Even so, chances are good that Vietnam will soon take two game-changing step, Brown suggests:

First, Vietnam will likely challenge China in international courts, seeking a verdict that declares Beijing’s assertion of “historic sovereignty” over nearly all of the South China Sea to beillegitimate and its tactics impermissible…..Second, Vietnam is likely to forge a more intimate diplomatic and military relationship with the United States — not a formal alliance but a partnership based on a common interest in preventing Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea.

Hanoi wants the United States to agree to lift its ban on lethal weapons sales, a step that Washington has conditioned on Hanoi’s improving its treatment of political dissidents. For both governments, it’s a matter of principle. There is a yawning gap between the United States’ insistence that the Vietnamese regime respect fundamental political rights and Vietnamese Communist leaders’ belief that tolerating agitation for democracy poses an existential threat to their system.

On this matter of political freedoms, Hanoi, Washington, or both must compromise if they are to move ahead, but neither country has much room for maneuver. Many members of Congress will be wary of embracing Hanoi, even if they acknowledge that forestalling China’s regional hegemony is in both countries’ interest. For its part, the Vietnamese Politburo’s vision of political order has limited its ability to compromise on human rights. And yet, if Hanoi cannot pledge to open up the sphere of political participation, or Washington cannot take a longer view, the long-discussed strategic relationship will still be beyond reach.