Growing concern over veteran Vietnamese dissident

Human rights and pro-democracy groups are concerned that the health of a detained Vietnamese dissident is deteriorating rapidly.   

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights is “extremely disturbed” by reports that Nguyen Huu Cau (right) is seriously ill in Z30A Xuan Loc prison camp:  

According to his daughter, Nguyen Thi Anh Thu, he is suffering from a heart condition, low cerebral blood flow (ischemia) and is virtually blind in both eyes. He is also very deaf and extremely weak as a result of harsh detention conditions and inadequate medical care in prison. 

“Subjecting prisoners to inhuman treatment – especially persons who should never have been detained at all – is inadmissible”, said VCHR President Vo Van Ai. ”I call upon UN member states not to support Vietnam’s candidature for membership of the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 which will be voted at the UN General Assembly in New York in September this year.” 

Nguyen Huu Cau, 66, has spent a total of 37 years in jail, VCHR notes:  

A former officer in the South Vietnamese army, he was arrested in 1975 after Vietnam was united under Communist rule and spent six years in ”re-education camp”. In 1982, he was arrested again for writing poetry and songs about power abuse and corruption of high-ranking Communist Party officials in the province of Kien Giang. He was charged with “sabotage” and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison, and he has been detained in Z30A prison camp since then.

Nguyen Huu Cau has been frequently held in solitary confinement, and his health has deteriorated seriously over the past few years. Despite this, he has continued to challenge the camp authorities over his unfair detention. Over the past 30 years, Nguyen Huu Cau has written over 500 letters to the authorities demanding a re-trial, but has never received a reply. He refuses to demand clemency or seek early release. 

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group

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Kenyan court orders partial recount amid fears of post-poll strife

Kenya‘s Supreme Court today ordered a recount of votes cast at 22 polling centers, after presidential elections in which a second-round run off was only avoided by the narrowest of margins,” AFP reports:

The court also ordered the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to provide the voter registration list it used in the tally of the presidential vote after an electronic system failed.

Outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s party and civil society groups have filed separate legal challenges in Kenya’s highest court alleging widespread irregularities in the polls. The panel of six judges has until Saturday to decide whether Kenyatta should be confirmed as Kenya’s new president or whether new elections should take place — a high-stakes test for a country still traumatized by deadly violence after the last polls five years ago.

“People are relieved that violence hasn’t broken out, and that is something to celebrate. But this has not been a satisfactory election,” Kenya expert Michaela Wrong told the UK’s Overseas Development Institute.  

The case challenging the election results is being streamed live online by the InformAction NGO here 

“Did the election pass the test? The answer depends on your level of optimism,” analyst Alina Rocha Menocal writes on Foreign Policy, suggesting what the election says about the health of Kenyan democracy.

Civil society activists are disturbed by the prospect of ethnic strife arising from the contested election and by fears that specific democracy advocates are being targeted for reprisals.

Some sinister groups have published what they call an Evil Society Web (above), claiming that civil society groups comprise “a movement of privileged local elites fully funded by foreign states,” in an ominous echo of xenophobic attacks on pro-democracy NGOs in Russia and Egypt.

One of the activists targeted is InformAction’s director Maina Kiai, who said his group is streaming the Supreme Court proceedings to ensure freedom of information and accountability.

“The last few weeks has seen the domestic media taking on a role that reminds us of dictatorship in Kenya – we believe it’s important that as many people as possible in Kenya and across the world get to hear the evidence and reach their own conclusions,” he said.

The election attracted controversy before it began, InformAction said in a press release:

The International Criminal Court (ICC) had indicted two of the principal candidates – Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto – for Crimes against Humanity, relating to violence in the last election. The two formed an alliance after facing challenges over their integrity to stand for public office.

In the disputed 2007 presidential election, more than 1,300 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced. As a result, strong recommendations were made to ensure public confidence in the next election. A successful process was seen as critical to the peaceful future of the country. The IEBC was equipped with biometric voter registration kits and a system of electronic transmission to comply with the post-Crisis recommendations.  But the kits failed as soon as polling stations opened, and the transmission of results collapsed the following day, even though less than 50% of the polling stations had reported.

“The I.C.C. was definitely a factor in this election, but not necessarily the factor you would expect,” said Kiai (right), now the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of association

“We have a newly-minted election body that has failed the test.  The elections were eventually conducted in the same way as the 2007 elections, even though the IEBC was constituted to do it differently,” he said.

“A fair election process is the only way people in this country have a peaceful right to change governments and express their choices in a fair and transparent way.”

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For Cuba’s blacks, the ‘revolution hasn’t begun’

Antúnez is one of a new generation of Afro-Cuban dissident leaders

“Change is the latest news to come out of Cuba, though for Afro-Cubans like myself, this is more dream than reality, writes Roberto Zurbano, the editor of Casa de las Americas:

Over the last decade, scores of ridiculous prohibitions for Cubans living on the island have been eliminated, among them sleeping at a hotel, buying a cellphone, selling a house or car and traveling abroad. These gestures have been celebrated as signs of openness and reform, though they are really nothing more than efforts to make life more normal.

“The reality is that in Cuba, your experience of these changes depends on your skin color,” he writes for The New York Times:

Black Cubans have less property and money, and also have to contend with pervasive racism. Not long ago it was common for hotel managers, for example, to hire only white staff members, so as not to offend the supposed sensibilities of their European clientele.

That type of blatant racism has become less socially acceptable, but blacks are still woefully underrepresented in tourism — probably the economy’s most lucrative sector — and are far less likely than whites to own their own businesses.

Racism in Cuba has been concealed and reinforced in part because it isn’t talked about,” says Zurbano.

But civil society groups like the Afro-Cuban Alliance are striving to promote discussion and analysis of racial issues, while Afro-Cuban activists like Oscar Biscet and Jorge Luis García Pérez* (above), commonly known as “Antúnez,” are also assuming more prominent leadership roles in the island’s dissident movement.

“The end of the Castros’ rule will mean an end to an era in Cuban politics,” Zurbano notes:

It is unrealistic to hope for a black president, given the insufficient racial consciousness on the island. But by the time Raúl Castro leaves office, Cuba will be a very different place. We can only hope that women, blacks and young people will be able to help guide the nation toward greater equality of opportunity and the achievement of full citizenship for Cubans of all colors.


*Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez (aka “Antúnez”) was one of five Cuban dissidents honored by the National Endowment for Democracy., the Washington-based democracy assistance group. Addressing the meeting by phone from central Cuba, he accepted the NED’s 2009 Democracy Award as an indication of the “prestige and recognition which the political opposition has gained.”

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