Uyghurs ‘trapped in a virtual cage’

Chinese authorities have exerted effective control over how Uyghurs seek, receive and impart information online by employing technical and legislative strategies, according to Trapped in a Virtual Cage: Chinese State Repression of Uyghurs Online. The new report from the Uyghur Human Rights Project also documents how the Communist authorities use the criminal justice system to create an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and self-censorship.

“It is no surprise Chinese officials have placed unprecedented controls over the Uyghur Internet. They fear that an open online environment in East Turkestan will expose egregious human rights abuses committed against the Uyghur people under their administration,” said UHRP director, Alim Seytoff. “This report is the most comprehensive analysis available on the systemic repression of Uyghur online activity. The Chinese authorities can, at will, imprison Uyghurs who peacefully express dissent online and deny Uyghurs access to the Internet at the flick of a switch.”

“The Internet in East Turkestan is not the vehicle for empowerment, accountability and freedom that it is in the democracies of the world. What it represents, however, is another means for the Chinese state to disseminate propaganda and falsehoods about the Uyghur condition, as well as to flush out its perceived enemies,” added Mr. Seytoff.

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.

Exporting repression: Extraterritorial practices and Central Asian authoritarianism


Governments in the former Soviet Union are routinely flouting European and international rules designed to protect refugees, asylum seekers and others who are at risk of persecution in their home countries, according to Shelter from the Storm?, a publication of the London-based Foreign Policy Centre.

The reports demonstrates how Commonwealth of Independent States member countries are placing regional ties and alleged security concerns ahead of their duties to prevent individuals being returned to face possible torture and other human rights abuses. It shows how the European Court of Human Rights can be a lifeline for those facing extradition to Central Asia, but also that Russia has flouted some judgements and extradited individuals to places such as Uzbekistan where torture and other abuse is believed to be rife.

Post-Soviet authoritarian states view diaspora communities and political exiles as dangerous threats to their political dominance at home, writes Dr David Lewis (University of Exeter). Faced with political activism among their citizens abroad, they seek to expand their domestic modes of repression beyond their own borders.

Central Asian states, such as Uzbekistan, have been particularly active in this regard, using a wide range of mechanisms to maintain political influence over citizens who have moved abroad. These activities pose a serious threat to the security of dissidents in exile, but also serve to export the dynamics of political repression around the world. EU states should resist unwarranted extradition requests and Interpol ‘Red Notices’ against political exiles, ensure that those seeking political asylum are fully protected and constrain foreign intelligence activities targeting activists, journalists and dissidents under their jurisdiction.

Central Asia’s authoritarian states

Western attempts to support the emergence of liberal-democratic political systems in the post-Soviet world have largely failed. Nowhere is this more obvious than among the five states of Central Asia, where authoritarian rule has become the default political order. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have become two of the most repressive states in the world, scoring the lowest possible scores on Freedom House’s annual rankings of political and civic freedoms. Tajikistan and Kazakhstan offer slightly more liberal environments, allowing some limited space for NGOs and independent media to operate. Only Kyrgyzstan has held recent competitive elections, but its relatively pluralistic system has been marred by instability and an outbreak of inter-ethnic violence in 2010 that claimed hundreds of lives.

Authoritarian regimes in Central Asia rely on a complex mixture of formal and informal mechanisms of control, but a major role is played by repressive security and law enforcement agencies. Inside the borders of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, security forces have clamped down on any popular protest or political opposition. ……………RTWT

Daria Trenina (MGIMO-University) writes about the risks refugees from countries of Central Asia face in Russia. It analyses the provisions of Russian law relevant to extradition and expulsion proceedings and describes the short-comings of the Russian legal system, criticized by the European Court of Human Rights, as well the practices of law-enforcement authorities that lead to the violation of obligations to protect human rights.

Julia Hall and Maisy Weicherding (Amnesty International) focus their attention on the growing use of diplomatic assurances – promises by the receiving state that a person extradited or otherwise forcibly returned will not be tortured or ill-treated on return – by key countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have relied on such unreliable promises to forcibly return or attempt to forcibly return people to places where they have been at risk of torture, including to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, for example, have offered such assurances to other countries in an attempt to rein in people suspected of terrorism or business-related crimes.

Felix Corley (Forum 18 News Service) looks in detail at the way Uzbekistan seeks to extradite those who have fled the country to escape criminal punishment for exercising the right to freedom  of religion or belief. He notes that the United Nations has recognised that torture is ‘widespread’ in Uzbekistan and looks at the cases of 30 such individuals Kazakhstan extradited in defiance of the UN, many of whom received long prison terms. Amid widespread international publicity of their cases, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan eventually refrained from extraditing two others.

Alex Tinsley (Fair Trials International) discusses the problem of political abuse of INTERPOL and presents the legal and practical issues underlying the current perception that it is vulnerable to abuse and in need of reform. He suggests that reform is becoming urgent in view of the broader problem relating to extraditions and unlawful refoulement practices between the authorities of former Soviet Union and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation countries, it being essential that INTERPOL maintains a firm line excluding any use of its systems for such purposes. His essay suggests that INTERPOL should make progress consulting relevant stakeholders, updating its rules relating to recognised refugees and reforming the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCIF).

Kris Pollet and Claire Rimmer Quaid’s (European Council on Refugees and Exiles). ….RTWT

Chinese democracy, Western traps, and the end of History

Days after the 25th anniversary of the suppression of “pro-democracy” protests in Beijing, China Digital Times highlights a Reuters report on a People’s Daily article celebrating the stability brought by China’s political system:

President Xi Jinping’s ascendancy in a once-in-a-decade generational leadership transition had given many Chinese hope for political reform, mainly due to his folksy style and the legacy of his father, Xi Zhongxun, a former reformist vice-premier.

But the repeated message the party has given out since Xi became president last year is that there will be no political liberalization. […] In a lengthy commentary, the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper said the country needed to be on guard against falling into the “trap” of Western-style democracy.

“Over the past few months, from Kiev to Bangkok, the politics of the street and public clashes have caused deep sorrow,” the newspaper said.

“Looking back at the ‘color revolutions’ which have occurred in recent years … how can we not say with deep feeling: rejoice that we have resolutely upheld socialism with Chinese characteristics. Otherwise, would China have peace?” [Source]

Xinhua produced an English summary of the article [Chinese]:

“Copying Western-style democracy would probably lead to disaster” and “‘street politics’ usually leads to domestic turmoil and even civil war,” according to the article by Mi Bohua.

The article acknowledged that democracy is good, but said it should be realized in different forms in different countries.

[…] For the United States and other Western countries, anything that accords with their interests and accepts their manipulation is democracy, while those that do not fit the norm are not, said the article.

[…] “In many circumstances, the so-called ‘value of democracy’ has become a big stick for certain countries to practice hegemony and new interventionism,” it said. [Source]

Last week, The Diplomat translated a 2011 blog post by Yang Hengjun, in which he argued that the West uses human rights and democracy to promote its own interests, but warned that this should not blind Chinese to their genuine value. He noted also that “Beijing’s rhetoric has shifted from ‘democracy isn’t suitable for China’ to ‘China doesn’t need democracy’ and finally to ‘China is already democratic,’” albeit in a form distinct from those found elsewhere. Last month at The Huffington Post, for example, the Center for China Studies’ Hu Angang argued that because the Communist Party represents the combined interests of the Chinese people rather than those of particular segments of society as in the West, China is actually more democratic than the U.S..

People’s Daily warned, according to Xinhua, that “countries in western Asia and northern Africa, Ukraine and Thailand […] have been led astray to the wrong path of Western-style democracy, that is, ‘street politics,’” often with overt or covert Western involvement. Such “street politics” have also arisen closer to home in recent months. The three-week occupation of Taiwan’s legislature by students opposed to a cross-Strait trade pact prompted Red Guard comparisons on Weibo, together with lamentations that “this isn’t the democracy we want.” Beijing’s impatience with delays induced by protests has since led to a suspension of cooperation talks. “If politics simply means taking to the street and shouting out slogans as occurred in the past,” the state-run Global Times reported last week, “many young people said they feel politics has nothing to do with them.” (The article excluded China’s own frequent protests from the “street politics” category on the grounds that “participants were not giving out political prescriptions, but instead targeting specific problems they faced, such as an unwanted chemical plant near their community, or a factory that discharges pollutants to a local river.”)……

China’s leaders now reject the very notion of “projecting universalistic ideals,” as comments by Xi Jinping at the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum last week illustrate. From Xinhua:

“A person’s shoes don’t have to be identical to those of others but must fit the person’s feet; a country’s way of governance doesn’t have to be the same with that of others but must benefit its own people,” said Xi.

Only the people of a country can tell whether the country’s path of development suits them or not, he said.

“Just like we can not turn all flowers violet, we can not expect countries with different cultural traditions, historical experiences and national realities to follow the same mode of development. Otherwise the world will be too boring,” he said. [Source]