Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

Vietnam Frees Two Prominent Dissidents Following Foreign Pressure

April 13, 2014


Photo: VN Nguyen Tien Trung at trial Jan 20 2010

Vietnam on Saturday freed two prominent dissidents following international pressure on the one party communist state to improve its human rights record.

Pro-democracy activist Nguyen Tien Trung and writer and blogger Vi Duc Hoi were released after serving up to nearly five years in prison and prior to completion of their full sentences, family members said.

Trung, 31, was arrested in July 2009 and sentenced the next year to seven years in prison on charges on charges of attempting to “overthrow the government” by supporting the formation of an opposition party to the ruling Vietnam Communist Party.

Hoi, 57, a former member of the Communist Party, was arrested in October 2010 and sentenced the next year to eight years in prison which was later reduced to five years for “conducting propaganda” against the government, based on his articles and internet postings advocating human rights and democratic reforms.

“I lost some weight but I am still OK physically and mentally,” Hoi told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on his release Saturday morning.

International pressure

Hoi, who remains critical of the government, said foreign pressure had forced the authorities to release him before his five-year prison term was up.

“It was due to international pressure that the government of Vietnam had to release me. It is not due to any health problem,” he said.

“I may have been imprisoned but I still know what is going on. This government has no mercy for people like me. I always maintain that I’m innocent, even at my trial, and that is why they don’t like me.”

Trung’s mother Le Thi Tam said her son was surprised when told of his release while performing his morning duties in prison.

“He was sweeping the ground and watering some plants when they summoned him and read out the announcement of his release,” she told RFA.

“The prison had a car to drive him to the commune’s office and then he came home on a motorbike. We were very surprised and happy,” she said. “When he was arrested, nobody in our family cried but we all cried today when he returned home.”

Earlier this week, another prominent Vietnamese dissident Cu Huy Ha Vu, who was jailed after trying to sue the prime minister, was freed and allowed to travel to the United States following intense campaigning by rights groups and foreign governments.

Vu, a French-trained lawyer and son of a Vietnamese revolutionary leader, was sentenced in April 2011 to seven years in prison for “anti-state activity.”


Both Trung and Hoi still have to serve three years each in probation.

Trung was sentenced with three others in Ho Chi Minh City in January 2010 for alleged links to the banned Democratic Party of Vietnam.

They were accused of “colluding” with Vietnamese activists based abroad to create anti-government websites, post critical articles on the Internet, and incite social instability, and charged with attempting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

As the leader of the Assembly of Vietnamese Youth for Democracy, he had been one of the outspoken political dissidents in Vietnam.

Hoi’s articles and internet postings advocating human rights and democratic reforms were viewed by the court as a national security crime under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

In 2009, he won the Hellman/Hammett grant, an annual writers’ prize awarded by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch to persecuted writers around the world, “in recognition of his courage as a writer despite harassment and repression by the government.”


In his 2008 memoir, “Facing Reality,” Hoi wrote: “The biggest loss for a human being is the loss of the right to be a human being; the biggest criminal is the one who robs others of human rights; the most pitiful person is the one who does not understand human rights; the one who deserves criticism most is the one who forgets human rights; the most cowardly person is the one who accepts the loss of human rights.”

“I once deserved to be criticized and was once a coward.”

The Vietnamese government has come under constant criticism from rights groups and Western governments for its intolerance of political dissent and systematic violations of freedom of religion.

All newspapers and television channels in Vietnam are state-run. Lawyers, bloggers and activists are regularly subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, according to rights groups.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says Vietnam is the world’s second biggest prison for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, after China.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

Chinese pro-democracy and civil rights activists warns Communist Party: ‘We cannot be stopped’

April 11, 2014

China:A trenchant essay by the civil rights group New Citizens’ Movement is published condemning Beijing’s ‘systematic persecution’ of dissidents as its jailed leader’s appeal is denied

Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing-based legal scholar, was detained earlier this year after founding a nationwide group called the

Xu Zhiyong, a legal scholar and activist, was detained on charges of “disturbing public order.”  Photo: AP

The Communist Party’s time in power is running out, one of China’s leading civil rights activists warned on Friday after a court rejected his attempt to overturn a four year jail term that supporters, activists and diplomats claim was based on trumped-up charges.

In a remarkable courtroom attack on Beijing’s attempts to silence its opponents, Xu Zhiyong, the 41-year-old founder of a civil-rights group called the New Citizens’ Movement, warned the Party its ongoing crackdown on activists was destined to fail.

“This ridiculous judgment cannot hold back the tide of human progress. The dark clouds of the Communist dictatorship will one day clear,” Dr Xu said, according to Zhang Qingfang, his lawyer, who was present.

“The light of freedom, fairness, justice and love will eventually fill China,” added Dr Xu, a legal scholar whose imprisonment came during a year-long campaign by China’s new president Xi Jinping against dissenters.

Dr Xu was speaking after Beijing’s high court rejected an appeal to overturn his earlier conviction for “gathering crowds to disturb public order”.

The academic, who was sentenced to four years imprisonment in January, is one of dozens of activists caught up in what has been described as the most severe attack on government critics since the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

Members of the movement marked Dr Xu’s failed appeal by publishing a withering critique of the Communist Party’s attempts to force their group into extinction.

Beijing’s “systematic persecution” of its enemies would fail to destroy a growing popular demand for major political and social change, argued a combative essay on the movement’s newly launched website.

“This is a movement that cannot be stopped,” wrote Chen Min a journalist and activist better known by the pen name Xiao Shu.

“Any attempt to hold [it] back is destined to fail, like beating back water with a sword,” Mr Chen added, according to a translation by the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project. “False charges, persecution and forced suppression will not avail but in fact will only steel our resolve.”

Teng Biao, a lawyer and co-founder of the New Citizens’ Movement, said Beijing’s politically motivated campaign would backfire.

“We will not stop,” Teng Biao told The Telegraph shortly after his friend’s appeal was rejected. “We will let the whole world know that this crackdown cannot stop us. We will keep following Dr Xu’s example. We believe that what we are doing and what we have done is legal and useful and important for society.”

Dr Xu and others conceived the New Citizens’ Movement in mid-2012 as a China-wide network of lawyers, academics, petitioners and liberal thinkers who were united by their desire for social change.

Its members, said by some to number in the thousands, hold informal dinner gatherings where they discuss the future of the world’s second largest economy and highlight issues including government corruption and transparency.

China’s leaders apparently feared the movement might grow into a “political threat”, said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Beijing responded with force, detaining or arresting dozens of activists since last year in order to send a message that “organised advocating for change is not acceptable”.

A spokesperson for the US embassy in Beijing said: “We call on Chinese authorities to release Xu and other political prisoners immediately, remove restrictions on their freedom of movement and guarantee them the protections and freedoms to which they are entitled under China’s international human rights commitments.”

A Foreign Office report issued on the eve of the appeal said 2014 had seen “ongoing restrictions on civil and political freedoms in China”.

Teng Biao said attempts to kill off the New Citizens’ Movement by jailing members would only make it stronger.

“I know that many citizens around China continue their activities, their dinner gatherings, their activities demanding the disclosure of officials’ assets,” he said.

“This kind of crackdown cannot prevent the New Citizens’ Movement from growing stronger. We have seen more and more people standing up and fighting for liberty and human rights.”

Mr Zhang, Dr Xu’s lawyer, said Friday’s verdict, while not unexpected, was “outrageous”.

“I believe the government has made a grave mistake,” he said. By criminalising “sensible and peaceful” citizens with legitimate complaints, the Communist Party risked creating “radical and violent opposition.”

“The government will come to regret this,” he said.

Beijing’s internet censors appeared to have blocked the New Citizens’ Movement new website by Friday afternoon, just hours after its launch. However, internet users who managed to scale the “Great Firewall of China” found a defiant message from the group.

“Repression will not end the New Citizens’ Movement,” it said. “This is the road to a free China. It is the road to a better China. We are duty bound to forge ahead.”


Photo: Chinese people wear face masks with “No to Kunming PX,” paraxylene, written, chant slogans as they hold protest against a planned refinery project in downtown Kunming in southwest China’s Yunnan province Saturday, May 4, 2013. After word spread about an environmental protest that was planned for Saturday in the central Chinese city of Chengdu, drugstores and printing shops were ordered to report anyone making certain purchases. Microbloggers say government fliers urged people not to demonstrate, and schools were told to stay open to keep students on campus. Meanwhile, hundreds of people – many wearing mouth masks – gathered in Kunming to protest a planned refinery project in the area. The demonstrators demanded information transparency and that public health be safeguarded. (AP Photo) 

Chinese human rights activist Cao Shunli died after falling critically ill in police detention in China

Officials in eastern China must abandon plans to demolish churches and crosses and stop their

Parishioners line up outside the Sanjiang church in Wenzhou hoping to save it from demolition by the Chinese Communist government Photo: Tom
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama delivers a speech at the Stanford Center at Peking University on March 22, 2014 in Beijing, China.

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama on her way to deliver a speech at the Stanford Center at Peking University on March 22, 2014 in Beijing, China Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Photo: Enthusiastic demonstrators are cheered by bystanders as they arrive at Tiananmen Square to show support for the student hunger strike, on May 18, 1989. (AP Photo/Sadayuki Mikami)

Photo: Pro-democracy protesters link arms to hold back angry crowds, preventing them from chasing a retreating group of soldiers near the Great Hall of the People, on June 3, 1989 in Beijing. Protesters were angered by an earlier attack upon students and citizens using tear gas and truncheons. People in the background stand atop buses used as a roadblock. (AP Photo/Mark Avary)
Photo: A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks headed east on Beijing’s Cangan Blvd. in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. Hundreds, possibly thousands of protesters were killed by the Chinese military on June 3 and 4, 1989, as tanks rolled into the square, crushing six weeks of unprecedented democracy protests in the heart of the Chinese capital. Dissidents and human rights advocates around the world will mark June 4, 2011 as the 22nd anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown.Jeff Widner / AP

The White House Wants To Turn The Internet Over the Russia and China

March 25, 2014


By L. Gordon Crovitz
The wall Street Journal

It’s been a good month for Vladimir Putin : He got Crimea and the Internet.

Gallows humor is not the only possible response to the Obama administration plan to give up U.S. control of the Internet to a still-to-be-determined collection of governments and international groups. Congress should instruct President Obama that if the Internet ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Authoritarian governments led by Russia and China long ago found ways to block access to the Internet for their citizens. Under the new Obama plan, these regimes could also block access to the Internet for Americans.

There is recent precedent: Authoritarian governments tried to block new Internet top-level domains beyond the familiar .com and .org and .net. Saudi Arabia sought to veto the addition of .gay as being “offensive.” It also tried to block .bible, .islam and .wine. Under U.S. control, the Saudis were denied their wishes. With some new post-U.S. system of governance, will .gay websites be removed from the Internet?

The plan announced on March 14 would have the U.S. give up control of the “root zone file” of the Internet and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann. This root of the Internet stores all the names and addresses for websites world-wide, while Icann controls Web addresses and domains. The U.S. has used this control to ensure that websites operate without political interference from any country and that anyone can start a website, organize on Facebook  or post on  Twitter without asking permission.

It’s easy to imagine a new Internet oversight body operating like the United Nations, with repressive governments taking turns silencing critics. China could get its wish to remove from the Internet as an affront to its sovereignty. Russia could force Twitter to remove posts by Ukrainian-Americans criticizing Vladimir Putin.

The plan announced by the Commerce Department set off enough alarm bells that officials felt obliged last week to issue a follow-up news release denying the U.S. is “abandoning the Internet” and pledging “nothing could be further from the truth.” But it still has no plan to safeguard the Web against authoritarian governments. Nor is there any reassurance in a letter to the editor in Monday’s Wall Street Journal from the head of Icann, Fadi Chehade. He says the Internet’s “billions of diverse stakeholders all deserve a voice in its governance,” and he remains on record saying that “all governments are welcome” in whatever the new governance process turns out to be.

Hearings on U.S. protection for the Internet were quickly called for the House starting in early April. One topic should be whether the executive branch of government has the unilateral authority to transfer control over Internet addresses and root zone management of domains.

Congress doubted that the president could do this on his own when the issue was considered in 2000. The General Accounting Office, now called the Government Accountability Office, concluded it was “uncertain” whether Congress has to pass a law. The Property Clause of the Constitution says Congress must pass legislation to effect a transfer of government property. Arguably the president could no more transfer the valuable control over the naming and domains of the Internet than he could give Alaska back to Russia.

Contacted by this columnist last week, a spokesman for the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration said the agency reviewed this legal issue and concluded the administration can act without Congress but refused to share a copy of the legal analysis. Congress should ask for a copy and do its own analysis.

Congress also could tell the Commerce Department not to carry out its plan. In 2012, both the Senate and House passed a unanimous resolution to keep the Internet “free from government control.” That happened as the Obama administration was being outfoxed by Russia and China, which hijacked the U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union to legitimize control over the Internet in their countries. Protecting the Internet may be the most bipartisan issue in Congress.

Meanwhile, at a meeting over the weekend in Singapore to plan a post-U.S. system, sources say Icann’s Mr. Chehade upset the “multistakeholders” in attendance by presenting a PowerPoint slide dictating a new structure that minimizes accountability for Icann. After pushback, Mr. Chehade withdrew his slide, but his intentions are clear.

The alternative to continued U.S. authority is control by an international body dominated by authoritarian regimes. In a law review article about Icann in 2000, “Wrong Turn in Cyberspace,” Michael Froomkin wrote that “It is hard to see how an undemocratic solution based on the international system in which a tyranny’s vote is as valid as a democracy’s vote would be a material improvement on Icann itself.”

Congress should quickly come to the same conclusion and act to save the Internet.

Freedom of speech is ‘universal’ right, Michelle Obama tells China

March 22, 2014

Human Rights in China: Amid a growing crackdown on Chinese dissidents, the US First Lady tells an audience in Beijing that the “questioning and criticism” of political leaders is crucial

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama delivers a speech at the Stanford Center at Peking University on March 22, 2014 in Beijing, China

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama delivers a speech at the Stanford Center at Peking University on March 22, 2014 in Beijing, China Photo: GETTY IMAGES

By Tom Phillips, Shanghai

Freedom of information, expression and belief should be considered “universal   rights”, Michelle Obama, the US first lady, told students in China on   Saturday.

Speaking at Peking University on the second full day of a weeklong,   bridge-building family tour of the country, Mrs Obama said: “It is so   important for information and ideas to flow freely over the internet and   through the media.”

“When it comes to expressing yourself freely, and worshipping as you   choose, and having open access to information – we believe those are   universal rights that are the birthright of every person on this planet,”   Mrs Obama told an audience of around 200 students.

“My husband and I are on the receiving end of plenty of questioning and   criticism from our media and our fellow citizens, and it’s not always easy.

“But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

Mrs Obama, who arrived in China on Thursday evening, avoided directly   criticising Beijing’s draconian control of the internet, media and religion.

Social media sites including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are blocked in   China and Xi Jinping, the president, has been waging a fierce war on dissent   since coming to power in November 2012.

Xu Zhiyong, a lawyer and activist behind a peaceful campaigning group called   the New Citizens’ Movement, was jailed for four years in January for “disrupting   public order.”

Earlier this month, Cao Shunli, a 52-year-old activist, died after falling   into a coma while in police custody. Ms Cao, who died of apparent organ   failure, had been taken into custody last September as she tried to fly out   of Beijing to a human rights workshop in Geneva.

Chinese human rights activist Cao Shunli died after falling critically ill in police detention in China

Campaigners also criticise China’s handling of religion, with non-official “underground”   churches banned and restrictions placed on freedom of worship, particularly   in regions such as Xinjiang, which is home to a large Muslim community.

China’s heavily controlled state media made no mention of Mrs Obama’s comments.

The US First Lady’s speech “focused on the importance of education and   cultural exchanges,” state broadcaster CCTV reported. “She said   China is currently the fifth most popular destination for American students   abroad.”

Students had given Mrs Obama “a warm welcome,” CCTV added.

Mrs Obama arrived in China on Thursday night and on Friday toured its capital   with Peng Liyuan, the first lady, and met Xi Jinping at the Diaoyutai State   Guesthouse.

Mrs Obama is scheduled to visit the Great Wall of China on Sunday before   travelling to the cities of Chengdu and Xi’an.

Meeting fans: The First Lady met with students at the Stanford University Center at Peking University in Beijing later on Saturday

Meeting fans: The First Lady met with students at the Stanford University Center at Peking University in Beijing later on Saturday

Avoiding controversy: Mrs Obama has tried to keep the trip apolitical, and when she has spoken out it is in favor of widely-accepted topics like the importance of studying aboadMrs Obama has tried to keep the trip apolitical

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Michelle Obama Tells Chinese Students at Peking University “Freedom of Expression is a Birthright”

March 22, 2014
By Esther Teo, China Correspondent

UNITED States First Lady Michelle Obama stepped out for her second full-day in Beijing stressing the importance of education – in particularly studying abroad – as well as encouraging young adults to embrace freedom of speech, which she said is a “birthright”.

She also noted the stake the US and China have in one another’s success.

At the Stanford Centre at Peking University (PKU) – a partnership between two of the most prestigious universities in the US and China respectively – on Saturday morning, Mrs Obama talked about the importance of freedom of speech and the importance of ideas flowing freely over the Internet and through the media.

“When it comes to expressing yourself freely, and worshipping as you choose, and having open access to information – we believe those are universal rights that are the birthright of every person on this planet,” she told an audience of about 200 US and Chinese students.

Meeting fans: The First Lady met with students at the Stanford University Center at Peking University in Beijing later on Saturday

Meeting fans: The First Lady met with students at the Stanford University Center at Peking University in Beijing later on Saturday

Avoiding controversy: Mrs Obama has tried to keep the trip apolitical, and when she has spoken out it is in favor of widely-accepted topics like the importance of studying aboad

Mrs Obama has tried to keep the trip apolitical

Read more:


In China, Michelle Obama Speaks Out for Free Speech

March 22, 2014

By Jane Perlez
The New York Times

BEIJING — On a visit that was supposed to be nonpolitical, Michelle Obama delivered an unmistakable message to the Chinese on Saturday, saying in a speech here that freedom of speech, particularly on the Internet and in the news media, provided the foundation for a vibrant society.

On the second day of a weeklong trip to China with her two daughters and her mother, Mrs. Obama spoke to an audience of Americans and Chinese at Peking University, and in the midst of an appeal for more American students to study abroad, she also talked of the value for people of hearing “all sides of every argument.”

“Time and again, we have seen that countries are stronger and more prosperous when the voices and opinions of all their citizens can be heard,” she said.

The United States, she said, respected the “uniqueness” of other cultures and societies. “But when it comes to expressing yourself freely, and worshiping as you choose, and having open access to information — we believe those are universal rights that are the birthright of every person on this planet.”

The forthright exposition of the American belief in freedom of speech came against a backdrop of broad censorship by the Chinese government of the Internet. The government polices the Internet to prevent the nation’s 500 million users from seeing antigovernment sentiment, and blocks a variety of foreign websites, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The authorities compel domestic Internet sites to censor themselves.

Criticism of China’s top leadership is quickly deleted and is considered particularly sensitive. Obliquely, Mrs. Obama drew attention to this by making a comparison with the situation she and President Obama face in the United States.

“My husband and I are on the receiving end of plenty of questioning and criticism from our media and our fellow citizens,” she said. “And it’s not always easy, but we wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

The White House has stressed that Mrs. Obama’s trip to China during the spring break of her daughters, Malia and Sasha, is intended to highlight the importance of education, and foreign exchanges in particular.

Mrs. Obama appeared at the Stanford University complex at Peking University, where she spoke to an audience of several hundred American students studying in China and some Chinese students who had studied in the United States. The president of Peking University, Wang Enge, welcomed her, and the new American ambassador to China, Max Baucus, who is a graduate of Stanford University and its law school, also spoke.

On Friday, Mrs. Obama visited the elite Second High School Attached to Beijing Normal University, where along with the Chinese student body, 30 American students study, most of whom are from private schools in the United States and pay $50,000 annually in tuition. One of the American students in the program came from the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, which Malia and Sasha attend.

But in her speech, Mrs. Obama said that study abroad should not be just the preserve of the rich. “Too many students never have this chance, and some that do are hesitant to take it,” she said. “They may feel like study abroad is only for wealthy students, or students from certain kinds of universities.”

Others ask how useful study in a foreign country would be to their lives, Mrs. Obama said. In reality, study abroad is vital for people who want to participate in the globalized world, she said.

During his visit to China in 2009, Mr. Obama announced a program, called 100,000 Strong, that was designed to send an increased number of American students to China.

But the effort struggled under the auspices of the Department of State and was recently transformed into a nonprofit foundation based at American University in Washington in an attempt to encourage more funding and attract more students.

About 200,000 Chinese students are currently enrolled in the United States, according to the State Department. About 20,000 American students are studying in China, the department says.

The president of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, Carola McGiffert, said recently that a lack of knowledge about China among students in the United States stopped some from considering China as an option for study abroad.

In an informal session with students after her speech, Mrs. Obama said that fear was often an inhibitor to studying abroad.

Life is about “not letting fear be your guide,” she told the students who participated in a videoconference between the Stanford University campus in California and the campus in Beijing.

Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, shows first lady Michelle Obama how to hold a writing brush as they visit a Chinese traditional calligraphy class in Beijing on Friday, March 21. The first lady is on <a href=''>an official visit</a> to expand relations between the United States and China. Click through the gallery to see her other international travels through the years.

Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, shows first lady Michelle Obama how to hold a writing brush as they visit a Chinese traditional calligraphy class in Beijing on Friday, March 21. The first lady is on an official visit to expand relations between the United States and China. Click through the gallery to see her other international travels through the years

Vietnam jails another prominent blogger: His activities “infringe upon the interests of the state”

March 21, 2014


Activities of the blogger  “infringe upon the interests of the state”

Mr Dao, centre, who was arrested last year, said his posts did not impact badly on society

A Hanoi court finds dissident Pham Viet Dao guilty of “abusing democratic freedoms” in the latest crackdown on dissent.

A Vietnamese court sentenced a dissident blogger to 15 months in prison for posting online criticism of the government, the latest case in an intensifying crackdown against dissent in the one-party communist country.

At a two-hour trial at the Hanoi People’s Court, Judge Ngo Tu Hoc said on Wednesday that Pham Viet Dao was guilty of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe the interests of the state” by posting dozens of articles that “distorted, vilified and smeared the senior leaders”.

Dao, 61, confessed to the court and apologised for the “erroneous” details in some of his posts, but said he did not do that on purpose.

“I don’t think that my articles have had bad impact on society,” said Dao, who refused a lawyer and defended himself at the trial.

‘Sincere confession’

“The defendant’s acts are dangerous to the society, causing anxiety among the public and reducing people’s trust in the leadership of the (Communist) Party and the state,” the judge said.

Hoc said the court handed down a light sentence because of Dao’s “sincere confession,” clean criminal record and contribution to the country.

Several Western diplomats and foreign reporters followed the court proceedings via a closed circuit television screen in a separate room.

Dao, a former Cultural Ministry official and member of the Vietnam Writers Association, was arrested at his Hanoi home last June. His membership to the Communist Party was suspended after his arrest.

Earlier this month, a court in the central city of Danang sentenced a well-known blogger, Truong Duy Nhat, to two years in jail on the same charges.

New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Tuesday calling for Dao’s “immediate and unconditional” release.

“The Vietnamese authorities are shaming themselves before domestic and international public opinion by staging yet another political trial of a peaceful critic,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch says that the number of people sentenced in political trials in Vietnam has increased every year since 2010, and that at least 63 people were imprisoned for peaceful political expression last year.


China: Crackdown Betrays Breadth of Beijing’s Challenges

March 19, 2014

By Stanley Lubman

Associated Press

The severity of China’s current crackdown on outspoken activists is an expression of the anxiety that has taken hold of the Party-state. Two recent criminal proceedings involving public protests illustrate the depth, but also the breadth, of that anxiety.

In one case in Beijing, Hu Jia, a long-time citizen rights activist, was subjected to a lengthy interrogation by police about his more than 200 Twitter comments, all of which expressed views they deemed to threaten “stability maintenance.” In the other case, in Guangdong, Wu Guijun, an elected “worker’s representative,” stands accused of organizing a protest by factory workers.

The Wall Street Journal

These two cases involve different kinds of protests and illustrate the severe limitations on freedom of expression.  In addition, use of social media to organize, and protests over environmental issues and unlawful land seizures continue to grow. At the same time, the Party-state struggles to contain them.

In the Beijing case, the police are holding in house arrest Hu Jia, a 40-year old activist since the late 1990s who had been imprisoned for three and a half years in 2008-2011 for “inciting subversion of state power and the socialist system.” Most recently Hu was interrogated by police who reportedly said that Hu had been “provoking and stirring up trouble” by posting comments on Twitter.

Last month, according to the South China Morning Post, police aggressively questioned Hu about comments he posted that included a call for a rally in Tiananmen to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the June 4th crackdown, an expression of support for the Dalai Lama, a reference to his link to a house-church, and his support for Xu Zhiyong — a veritable checklist of issues and conduct sure to arouse the interest of Party-state censors concerned about threats to “stability maintenance.” His trial should take place soon.

Hu’s support for Xu Zhiyong, who was convicted in January for “gathering crowds to disturb public order” and sentenced to four years in prison, likely causes Hu to be viewed as more of a threat than an ordinary offender against public order. Xu founded the New Citizens Movement, which was the target of an internal notice issued in June by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate that warned prosecutors “to beware of people who assembled and disturbed public order with the aim of subverting state power.”

The Guangdong case involved workers’ demonstrations in Shenzhen against refusal by a factory to pay “adequate and legally mandated” compensation for eliminating their jobs by relocating to a cheaper location. In May 2013 the workers, including Wu Guijun, marched toward a government office. As a result, Wu was been charged with “disturbing public order.” At the trial’s opening session in February, according to media reports, the judge announced that it had been cancelled because the prosecutor was unavailable. Fellow workers in the courtroom who had been waiting for three hours along with Wu and “dozens of labor activists” angrily marched to the court’s administrative office. The judge ultimately located the prosecutor and scheduled the first hearing in a larger courtroom.

When the hearing did open a week later, the prosecution argued that Wu had led the marching workers in singing patriotic songs, which proved that he had organized the May march.

The defendants in the two cases noted here embody some of challenges facing the Party-state.

The conduct of the workers and activists at the trial in Shenzhen illustrates the aggressiveness of the labor activists who work outside the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Party-controlled union that is the only one permitted to exist in China. The union is usually passive or invisible when workers take to the streets.

The labor activists’ prominent presence at both the May 2013 protest and the hearing that followed last month signal rising intensity in the concerns of some workers. According to the “China Labor Bulletin,” many worker protests last year were caused by “the closure, merger or relocation of factories in Guangdong.” At the same time, workers are increasingly able to organize protests thanks to the availability of cheap smartphones and rapid development of social media.

Recent notable labor disputes were a strike by more than 5,000 workers that “derailed” a proposed merger of a joint venture partially owned by Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., and a strike earlier this month by workers at an IBM plant in Shenzhen who protested a proposed transfer of a computer-server factory to Lenovo Group.

The Party-state’s struggle to quiet Chinese society will continue as forcefully as before, whether it is responding to human rights activists, environmental or workers’ demonstrations, or others using social media to organize protests. Each attempt to silence protest, however, may escalate the very behavior it is trying to suppress.

Stanley Lubman, a long-time specialist on Chinese law, is a Distinguished Lecturer in Residence at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. He is the author of “Bird in a Cage: Legal Reform in China After Mao” (Stanford University Press, 1999) and editor of “The Evolution of Law Reform in China: An Uncertain Path” (Elgar, 2012).

Crimea Votes as Russia Rapidly Building Up Its Deployed Combat Ready Armed Forces

March 16, 2014


A woman holds a Russian flag as she casts her ballot during the referendum on the status of Ukraine's Crimea region at a polling station in Bakhchisaray March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

A woman holds a Russian flag as she casts her ballot during the referendum on the status of Ukraine’s Crimea region at a polling station in Bakhchisaray March 16, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

By Mike Collett-White and Ronald Popeski


(Reuters) – Crimeans voted in a referendum on Sunday on whether to break away from Ukraine and join Russia, with Kiev accusing Moscow of rapidly building up its armed forces on the peninsula in “crude violation” of an international treaty.

Caught in an East-West crisis reminiscent of the Cold War, Ukrainian acting defense minister Ihor Tenyukh said Russian troop numbers in Crimea were now almost double the level agreed with Moscow, and Kiev’s forces were taking “appropriate measures” along the border with Russia.

Tenyukh dismissed any suggestion that a militarily and economically weakened Ukraine might give up in the face of the Russian power.

“Decisions will be taken depending on how events unfold. But let me say once again that this is our land and we will not be leaving it,” he told Interfax news agency.

Western countries say the vote, which is likely to favor union with Russia for a region which has a Russian-speaking majority, is illegal and being conducted at the barrel of a gun.

At the United Nations, 13 Security Council members voted for a draft resolution saying the result should not be recognized internationally, but Moscow exercised its veto while China abstained. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected the Western accusations, telling his U.S. counterpart John Kerry that the referendum complied with international law.

Both the West and Kiev have been powerless to stop the referendum. At a polling booth at a school in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital, dozens of people lined up outside to cast their ballots early.

“I have voted for Russia,” said Svetlana Vasilyeva, a veterinary nurse who is 27. “This is what we have been waiting for. We are one family and we want to live with our brothers.”

Last month’s fall of Moscow-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich following deadly protests in Kiev has aroused fears among some of the country’s native Russian-speakers.

“We want to leave Ukraine because Ukrainians told us that we are people of a lower kind. How can you stay in such a country?” said Vasilyeva.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) and close 12 hours later. Provisional results will be released late on Sunday with the final tally expected a day or two later.

Crimea’s 1.5 million voters have two options: union with Russia or giving their region, which is controlled by pro-Kremlin politicians, the broad right to determine its own path and choose relations with whom it wants – including Moscow.


Russia has the right to keep forces on the Black Sea peninsula, including at its naval base in the port of Sevastopol, under a treaty signed after Ukraine gained independence from the wreckage of the Soviet Union in 1991.

But Tenyukh accused Moscow of going far beyond an agreed limit on servicemen which he said was 12,500 for 2014. “Unfortunately, in a very short period of time, this 12,500 has grown to 22,000. This is a crude violation of the bilateral agreements and is proof that Russia has unlawfully brought its troops onto the territory of Crimea,” he said.

This figure had risen from 18,400 on Friday. “The Ukrainian armed forces are therefore taking appropriate measures along the southern borders,” he said.

Many Crimeans hope union with Russia will bring better pay and make them citizens of a country capable of asserting itself on the world stage. But others see the referendum as a land grab by the Kremlin from Ukraine, whose new rulers want to move the country towards the European Union and away from Russia’s sway.

Ethnic Tatars, Sunni Muslims who make up 12 percent of Crimea’s population, said they would boycott the vote despite promises by the authorities to give them financial aid and proper land rights.

“This is my land. This is the land of my ancestors. Who asked me if I want it or not? Who asked me?,” said Shevkaye Assanova, a Crimean Tatar in her 40s. “For the rest of my life I will be cursing those who brought these people here. I don’t recognize this at all. I curse all of them.”


Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified his stance on Crimea by saying he must protect people from “fascists” in Kiev who ousted Yanukovich following the uprising in which more than 100 people were killed.

Western powers, preparing economic sanctions against Moscow over Crimea, largely dismiss his characterization of the new authorities in Kiev as the successors of Nazi-allied Ukrainian forces which fought the Red Army in World War Two.

At the United Nations Russia vetoed on Saturday the draft resolution drawn up by the United States which called on “all states, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any alteration of the status of Crimea on the basis of this referendum”.

“This is a sad and remarkable moment,” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said after the vote. “Crimea is part of Ukraine today. It will be part of Ukraine tomorrow. It will be part of Ukraine next week,” she said.

Paris also tried to portray Moscow as isolated. “This annexation…goes beyond Ukraine, it concerns us all,” Gerard Araud, France’s U.N. ambassador, said in a statement. “This veto must be seen as a defeat only for Russia.”

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that Lavrov had told U.S. Secretary of State Kerry in a phone call the previous day that the referendum was legal.

“Lavrov reiterated that the Crimean referendum fully complies with international law and the United Nations Charter and the results should be the starting point in determining the future of the peninsula,” the ministry said in a statement.


Tenions over Crimea appear also to be spreading in cyberspace. Unidentified hackers brought down several public NATO websites with attacks on Saturday, the alliance said.

Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said on Twitter that the attacks, which began on Saturday evening, continued on Sunday, although most services had now been restored.

“It doesn’t impede our ability to command and control our forces. At no time was there any risk to our classified networks,” another NATO official said.

A group calling itself “cyber berkut” – named after riot police formally disbanded by the central powers in Kiev – said the attack had been carried out by patriotic Ukrainians angry over what they saw as NATO interference in their country.

The streets of Simferopol have been largely calm in the days leading up to the vote, although the heavy presence of armed men, many wearing black balaclavas, has created an unnerving atmosphere in the normally sleepy town.

On Saturday night, about 30 men in balaclavas with automatic weapons barged into the Hotel Moscow, a Soviet-era hotel where many Western reporters covering Sunday’s referendum are staying.

They said they had come to investigate an unspecified security alert and did not threaten anyone, but some witnesses saw it as a move to intimidate journalists.

Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov, whose election two weeks ago in a closed session of the regional parliament is not recognized by Kiev, does not officially acknowledge that Russian troops are in control of Crimea – a position also maintained by Moscow.

They say that thousands of unidentified armed men, visible across the region, belong to “self-defense” groups created to ensure stability.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn in Simferopol, Ron Popeski and Richard Balmforth in Kiev, Mirjam Donath at the United Nations, Adrian Croft in Brussels, Peter Apps in London; Writing by David Stamp)

Ukraine RussiaA pro-Russian soldier is back dropped by Russia’s flag while manning a machine-gun outside an Ukrainian military base in Perevalne, Ukraine. (AP Photo)

Moscow: Pro-Putin and Anti-Putin Rallies Fill the Streets as Crimea Referendum Nears — Many in Russia Applaud Putin’s Anti-Americanism

March 16, 2014


Protesters in Moscow carried Ukrainian and Russian flags at a rally on Saturday against recent Russia’s move on Crimea. Credit  Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

The New York Times

MOSCOW — There were two large rallies on Saturday in Moscow. One was a pro-government rally “in support of Crimea and against fascism,” led by a phalanx of husky men in identical crimson jackets, marching military-style in a sea of red. Some held signs reading “No Maidan in Moscow” and “Glory to Berkut,” references to Independence Square, the site of the Ukrainian protests in Kiev, and to the riot police who cracked down on the protesters.

The other was called a “March for Peace,” convened by the opposition to President Vladimir V. Putin. Holding paper doves aloft, they chanted “Putin Is Afraid of the Maidan” and a Ukrainian phrase that translates as “Putin, Get Out!” The police estimated that there were 3,000 people in this crowd, but it seemed many times larger, in the tens of thousands, filling a boulevard with bodies for many blocks. The split reaction here reflects domestic tensions. Mr. Putin, who was shaken by large antigovernment demonstrations in Moscow two years ago, is using the confrontation to consolidate the public behind his rule, tapping into the deep well of emotion about the Soviet Union’s suffering at the hands of Nazi Germany. The authorities have tried to mobilize support on federal television channels, and have muted independent voices on the Internet.

A rival procession was held in Moscow on Saturday to express support for Russia’s move on Crimea.  Credit Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

Last week, in the midst of the Crimean crisis and on the heels of the Sochi Olympics, Mr. Putin’s approval rating had increased to 71.6 percent, the highest point since he returned to the presidency in 2012, according to a poll released by the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion last week.

It is common for Russians — even liberal ones — to say that Crimea is Russian land to begin with, mistakenly transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. But some supporters who marched on Saturday saw Mr. Putin’s agenda as a far more sweeping one, which would see Russia reclaim lands it lost in the 20th century.

“It’s not just that Crimea should join Russia — we should restore the whole Soviet Union, and I think this what Putin wants,” said Sergei Prokopenko, 40, who said he worked occasionally at a warehouse.

On a stage in Revolution Square, the pro-Kremlin theater director and conservative agitator Sergei Y. Kurginyan stirred up the crowd, saying, “We must rally together and state that there will be no Maidan in Moscow.”

He passed on reports from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where two people were fatally shot Friday night during a raid on a house said to be a base for radical nationalists.

“The violence is escalating,” Mr. Kurginyan said. “We are getting more and more information. Once again blood has been shed. Once again there is violence, everywhere violence. I am appealing to people who really don’t like it when we speak of our ideology. We are not talking about ideology right now, my dear ones. I am talking about your civil rights.”

Across town, at the antiwar march, the turnout was higher than many expected, and some women wore flower garlands in their hair, like Ukrainian folk dancers. Opponents of intervention in Ukraine have found themselves isolated as the crisis has mounted, and several marchers acknowledged that differences over Crimea had split their families or social circles. But the large crowd — numbers that the Kremlin could not ignore — made the mood buoyant.

“With Crimea, it is obvious that, in my view, it was a historic mistake to make it part of Ukraine, but the way Russia is trying to get it back is a mistake two times bigger,” said Andrei A. Yegorshev, a journalist at a state radio station.

Elisabeth Mouravieff, 73, said she had joined the march in spite of her conviction that “Crimea is Russia.” She said Mr. Putin was being driven by his “imperial mood” and the sense that his own government could face a wave of protest like the one that toppled Ukraine’s president.

“I came because I couldn’t not come,” she said. “The atmosphere is darkening. It is troubling. It is very frightening that the authorities are provoking violence between Russians and Ukrainians. I also came because of my anger at the lies of the mass media.”

It has been a grim few weeks for Russian liberals, whose burst of influence during the antigovernment protests of 2011 and 2012 has melted away.

While the world’s attention is trained on Ukraine, the Russian authorities are cracking down on independent news outlets here, and scores of young journalists — a group that drove the protests — are facing unemployment. Several major cable and Internet providers have dropped the liberal-leaning news broadcaster Dozhd, a flagship project that began when Dmitri A. Medvedev was president, and its general director has announced that it will close within two months.

On Wednesday, the editor of a respected independent news site,, was abruptly replaced with a pro-government journalist after the site published an interview with a Ukrainian nationalist. Thirty-nine of the site’s 84 employees resigned in solidarity.

On Thursday, three opposition websites and a blog were blocked by the government’s communications watchdog, the first use of a new law that came into effect last month, which allows sites to be blocked without a court order. Ominously, several Internet providers also temporarily blocked access to the website of Ekho Moskvy, the radio station that has served as the primary gathering place for liberal intellectuals since the days of Boris N. Yeltsin in the 1990s.

Maria Baronova, an opposition activist who works at Dozhd, said that at some point it had all become too much for her.

“To be honest, I drank yesterday as if it was the last time,” she wrote on Twitter. “For the first time in my life, I drank not in the framework of fun, but simply so that I would not think.”

Alexandra Odynova contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on March 16, 2014, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: As Putin’s Popularity Soars, Voices of Opposition Are Being Drowned Out.


The New York Times

MOSCOW — As Russia and the United States drift toward a rupture over Crimea, the Stalinist writer Aleksandr A. Prokhanov feels that his moment has finally arrived.

“I am afraid that I am interested in a cold war with the West,” said Mr. Prokhanov, 76, in a lull between interviews on state-controlled television and radio. “I was very patient. I waited for 20 years. I did everything I could so that this war would begin. I worked day and night.”

Mr. Prokhanov is an attack dog whose career has risen, fallen and risen again with the fortunes of hard-liners in the Kremlin. And it is a measure of the conservative pivot that has taken place in Moscow in Vladimir V. Putin’s third presidential term that Mr. Prokhanov and a cadre of like-minded thinkers — a kind of “who’s who of conspiratorial anti-Americanism,” as one scholar put it — have found themselves thrust into the mainstream.

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