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.

Huge crowds hold Tiananmen vigil in Hong Kong

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Tens of thousands of people attended a vigil in Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, calling on China to vindicate the student movement that led the protests, Bloomberg reports:

Visitors to the event at Victoria Park were greeted with loudspeakers broadcasting slogans and banners demanding an end to the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. A human-sized Goddess of Democracy statue stood in the park, where many were sitting. As night fell, hundreds lit candles and observed a moment of silence at 8:38 p.m. after organizers placed wreaths to commemorate those who lost their lives.

Some estimates put the crowd at up to 180,000-strong.

Tiananmen is generally thought of as a student movement, but there was also a great deal of worker participation, as workers, students, and other participants had the same goals, notes Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan.

“They all wanted the ruling Chinese Communist Party to open itself up to dialogue with society over issues of corruption, reform, rule of law, and citizens’ rights,” he writes for the Shanker blog:

A group called the Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation took shape during the movement under the leadership of Han Dongfang, then a young railway worker ["one of the few activists from Tiananmen who has been able to translate ideals into real change for thousands of Chinese"]. Today he leads an important worker rights organization, China Labour Bulletin, that works on Chinese labor rights issues from its office in Hong Kong.  Outside of Beijing, demonstrations occurred in more than 300 other cities, also with worker participation. Some of the harshest penalties after the crackdown were imposed on workers, rather than students.

Looking back on the Tiananmen movement, it is striking how modest the protesters’ demands were: an end to press censorship and restrictions on demonstrations; openness about the income of state leaders; increased funding for education, notes Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

“Since then, China has made progress in many ways: building a modern economy, lifting hundreds of millions from poverty and becoming an influential power. It is hard to imagine how granting the demonstrators’ demands would have held back any of this progress; on the contrary, China could have advanced even further and shared those advances with even more of its people,” he writes for The Washington Post.

Eventually, China’s communist leaders may find their efforts to suppress memory backfire, the Foreign Policy Initiative’s Ellen Bork writes for The Daily Beast:

According to Min Xin Pei, a scholar of totalitarian transitions at Claremont McKenna College, half of China’s population was born after 1976. They don’t remember the chaotic and violent Cultural Revolution in which millions were sent to perform manual labor in the countryside, as marauding Red Guards sowed paranoia among family and friends. Might this contribute to a change of rule one day? “The basis of rule of all authoritarian regimes is one simple fact—fear,” Pei told an audience at the National Endowment for Democracy.

“A psychological shift can come very very quickly.” What that shift will bring, no one can say for sure. But the world will have had at least 25 years to prepare for it.

China’s repression worse than ever

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The Chinese regime argues that the massacre of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square laid the groundwork for political stability and China’s miraculous economic growth, according to Andrew J. Nathan and . Yet the continuous intensification of repression since then tells another story, they write for The New Republic.

Five years ago, Tiananmen activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo was handed an eleven-year prison sentence for advocating civil rights and constitutionalism. Earlier this year, human rights activist Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years in prison for opposing corruption and abuse of power. The National Endowment for Democracy, with which we are both affiliated, honored Liu and Xu on May 29 in the U.S. Congress in an effort to raise awareness of their cases in advance of the Tiananmen anniversary—and through their cases, to bring awareness to the estimated 4,800 political prisoners in Chinese jails and camps.

The need to sustain and progressively intensify repression is a sign that the June 4 crackdown did not solve China’s problems; it exacerbated them. The ruling Chinese Communist Party faced a fork in the road in 1989. It could have dialogued with the students, as party leader Zhao Ziyang advocated, forming a common front against corruption. But the prime minister, Li Peng, argued that dialogue could end the Party’s monopoly on power. The top leader, Deng Xiaoping, sided with Li and the rest is history.

Refusal to dialogue with citizens has marked the regime’s modus operandi since then. This explains why citizens lack trust in government when it comes to land seizures, corruption, and pollution. Recent demonstrations against the building of a chemical plant in Maoming, Guizhou, and against an incinerator project in Hangzhou are signs of this corrosive mistrust.

Keeping mouths and minds shut is the task of a growing security apparatus. In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon, a book one of us co-edited with Xu Youyu, one of the persons who disappeared on May 3, shows how the political police have a wide range of flexible measures that they can use to warn people to keep quiet….

Read the rest.

Hua Ze is executive director of China Rights in Action, a former documentary film producer in China, and co-editor of In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon. Andrew J. Nathan is a professor of political science at Columbia University, co-editor of The Tiananmen Papers, and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Tiananmen: there was alternative to crackdown for CCP

china-tiananmen_jpg_600x713_q85China’s ruling Communist party today defended the Tiananmen massacre, but the leadership had a clear alternative to the crackdown that could have still generated a high levels of economic growth, says a leading analyst.

“I think Li Peng [then China's premier] was right that had they agreed to dialogue with the students on authentic grounds, giving some real power to civil society, it would have changed the form of rule,” Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan told The Guardian.

The alternative to a crackdown was there. Even Deng Xiaoping saw the good sense of the proposal until Li Peng came to him and said ‘the students are calling for your head’,” said Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

Had they moved to a political model that had more transparency, more independent rule of law, more independent media, more chances for civil society to supervise, I believe China would still have had economic growth – it was a period of the growth of Asia and the globalised trading economy – but a more healthy form. I think China would be more stable.

Despite the party’s attempts to expunge the events from the record, the scars remain in the collective consciousness of its subjects. For the idealistic student leaders who gathered in Tiananmen Square to face down the ageing autocrats, the trauma, guilt and rage from what followed has haunted them ever since, the FT reports.

“These students were called on to the global stage as very young people but many were not ready for it and they still feel an immense pressure and responsibility for what China could have been and what it is now,” says Perry Link, a professor at University of California at Riverside, who co-edited the Tiananmen Papers.

What Poland did on June 4 1989 was stunningly original, pioneering a new model of peaceful regime change. Yet China’s June 4 1989 was deeply unoriginal, Oxford University’s Timothy Garton-Ash writes for The Financial Times:

Deng Xiaoping just did what communist leaders always used to do when faced with men and women rising up spontaneously for freedom: shoot them.

By contrast, what China has done since 1989 has been extremely original, combining the dynamism of a market economy with continued one-party rule. Leninist capitalism! That is why China today is, for a student of comparative politics, the most interesting place on earth. For here is something very rare in politics: a genuinely new experiment, its future wholly uncertain.

“I am fairly confident that Poland in 10 years will be a western, European liberal democracy, in the same boat as France and Germany,” says Garton-Ash:

But China? Will it muddle through on its journey without maps, “crossing the river by feeling the stones”, as Deng put it? Or will the contradictions between its political and economic system, and the growing tensions afflicting its society, lead to another crisis?

Despite the party’s attempts to expunge the events from the record, the scars remain in the collective consciousness of its subjects. For the idealistic student leaders who gathered in Tiananmen Square to face down the ageing autocrats, the trauma, guilt and rage from what followed has haunted them ever since, the FT reports:

“These students were called on to the global stage as very young people but many were not ready for it and they still feel an immense pressure and responsibility for what China could have been and what it is now,” says Perry Link, a professor at University of California at Riverside, who co-edited the Tiananmen Papers.

Economic growth can’t stifle discontent

Some 25 years after the Tiananmen massacre, you would think China’s Communist rulers would feel confident. Yet their behavior suggests fear, notes The Washington Post:

They dare not let their people know what happened at Tiananmen Square. They employ tens of thousands of agents to watch over online conversations, blocking and censoring any hint of criticism. They knock down churches that become too popular. Increasingly, they bully, harass and imprison peaceful citizens who urge the regime to follow its own constitution.

Two of those citizens, Liu Xiaobo and Xu Zhiyong, received Democracy Awards last week from the National Endowment for Democracy here in Washington, though neither was able to accept the honor in person. ….Mr. Xu’s award was accepted by another brave activist, Hua Ze, who now lives in exile in the United States. When she was kidnapped by Chinese security agents in 2010 and interrogated brutally over many days, she infuriated her captors with her fearlessness. (Her account is published in the recently published “In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon: Stories of Repression in the New China.”)


Details emerge of army chaos before Tiananmen massacre

US China Tiananmen PhotoOn a spring evening in 1989, with the student occupation of Tiananmen Square entering its second month and the Chinese leadership unnerved and divided, top army commanders were summoned to headquarters to pledge their support for the use of military force to quash the protests, Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley write for The New York Times:

One refused.

In a stunning rebuke to his superiors, Maj. Gen. Xu Qinxian, leader of the mighty 38th Group Army, said the protests were a political problem, and should be settled through negotiations, not force, according to new accounts of his actions from researchers who interviewed him.

“I’d rather be beheaded than be a criminal in the eyes of history,” he told Yang Jisheng, a historian.

Although General Xu was soon arrested, his defiance sent shudders through the party establishment, fueling speculation of a military revolt and heightening the leadership’s belief that the student-led protests were nothing less than an existential threat to the Communist Party.