Archive for November, 2016

St Andrew’s Day: Who was the patron saint of Scotland and how is the day being celebrated today?

November 30, 2016


Today is St Andrew’s Day (or in Scottish Gaelic ‘Là Naomh Anndrais’), marking the country’s patron saint. It’s also an excuse for Scotland to celebrate a bank holiday.

Who was St Andrew?

St Andrew, according to Christianity’s teachings, was one of Jesus Christ’s apostles, the twelve followers chosen by him.

Crucifixion of St. Andrew, by Juan Correa de Vivar (1540 - 1545)
Crucifixion of St. Andrew, by Juan Correa de Vivar (1540 – 1545) CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREW’S SPECIAL COLLECTION

He was born in Bethsaida, in Galilee, now part of Israel. His remains were moved 300 years after his death to Constantinople, now Istanbul, by the Emperor Constantine.

He was revered in Scotland from around 1,000 AD but didn’t become its official patron saint until the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.

Like Jesus, Andrew died a martyr, and was crucified in Greece on an X-shaped cross in 60 AD, rather than the ‘T’ shape cross that Jesus was crucified on. This type of cross is also known as a saltire – the symbol that makes up the Scottish flag.

The city of St Andrew’s in Scotland

St Andrew’s links with Scotland come from the Pictish King Oengus I, who built a monastery in what is now the town of St Andrews – where the Scottish university now stands – after the relics of the saint were brought to the town in the eighth century.

But he was made the patron saint of Scotland after the king’s descendant, Oengus II, prayed to St. Andrew on the eve of a crucial battle against English warriors from Northumberland, around 20 miles east of Edinburgh.

Legend has it that, heavily outnumbered, Oengus II told St. Andrew that he would become the patron saint of Scotland if he were granted victory. On the day of the battle, clouds are said to have formed a saltire in the sky, and Oengus’s army of Picts and Scots were victorious.

St Andrew’s was a popular medieval pilgrimage site up until the 16th century – where the supposed remains of the saint including a tooth, kneecap, arm and finger bone were kept.

In 1870, the Archbishop of Amalfi sent an apparent piece of the saint’s shoulder blade to Scotland, where it has since been stored in St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. The other relics were destroyed in the Scottish Reformation.

The Saltire flag – a white cross on a blue background – is said to have come from this divine intervention and has been used to represent Scotland since 1385.

St. Andrew’s Day Bank holiday

Crucifixion of St. Andrew, by Juan Correa de Vivar (1540 – 1545) November 30, 60AD is supposedly the date that St. Andrew was crucified, which is why the patron saint’s day falls on this date each year, although it is the following Monday if a Saturday or Sunday.

In 2006 it was made a bank holiday in Scotland, and has traditionally been a day off for students of St. Andrews University.

While St. Andrew’s Day in Scotland and St. Patrick’s Day in Northern Ireland are bank holidays, St. George’s Day in England and St. David’s Day in Wales are not.

The day is usually marked with a celebration of Scottish culture, including dancing, food and music, and both the British Prime Minister and Scotland’s First Minister give St. Andrew’s Day messages.

St Andrew is not just the patron saint of Scotland

St Andrew is also the patron saint of Greece, Russia, Amalfi in Italy and Barbados where St Andrew’s Day is celebrated as the national day of Independence on the Caribbean island.

As the patron saint of Barbados, Saint Andrew is celebrated in a number of Bajan symbols including the cross formation of the Barbadian Coat of Arms, and the country’s national honours system which styles persons as Knights or Dames of St. Andrew.

St Andrew is also the patron saint of the Order of the Thistle, one of the highest ranks of chivalry in the world, second only to the Order of the Garter.

He also keeps busy as the patron saint of fishmongers, fishermen, women wanting to be mothers, singers, spinsters, maidens, sore throats and gout.

November 30th also holds significance in other countries. In parts of eastern and central Europe, including Romania, Russia, Austria, Germany and Poland, the date is associated with single girls’ future husbands.

In Romania, it is customary for young women to put 41 grains of wheat beneath their pillow before they go to sleep, and if they dream that someone is coming to steal their grains that means that they are going to get married next year.



German domestic spy agency denies security lapse after Islamist mole

November 30, 2016

Critics are calling for background checks to be beefed up. But Germany’s domestic intelligence agency says that the checks are fine and that the discovery of an Islamist employee in its ranks was an anomaly.

The head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Hans-Georg Maassen, said that the body maintained all security standards and had no way of knowing that a 51-year-old employee, hired last April, was a follower of the radical Salafist movement.

“We carried out a thorough background check in which we interviewed five references and looked at the entire spectrum [of information],” Maassen told reporters. “He was the father of a large family from a solid economic background who did good work. He apparently radicalized himself.”

According to news magazine “Der Spiegel,” the man, who was tasked by the BfV with observing the Salafist scene, had himself converted to Salafism in 2014 unbeknownst to the Office or even to his own family. He was uncovered after another BfV employee found him revealing confidential information on an Internet chat room and offering to help get a radical Islamist into BfV headquarters in Cologne, ostensibly for the purposes of a terror attack.

The 51-year-old, a German citizen who was born in Spain, was taken into custody on November 17, and the prosecutor’s office in Düsseldorf says he has given a partial confession. His job at the BfV was his first job in the intelligence sector.

How could Germany’s domestic intelligence agency employ an Islamist? And what if anything needs to change because of this case? The answers differ depending upon whom you ask.


Maassen says the Office did nothing wrong

The BfV and the interior ministry deny that the man did any real damage to Germany’s domestic security. And they say that the fact he was uncovered relatively quickly proves that established procedures are working.

“Of course, we’ll thoroughly go through this case to see what we can learn from it,” Maassen said. “In the course of our employment selection process, we’ve filtered out a whole series of people we think may be extremists and employees of foreign intelligence services.”

The BfV has had to fill almost 500 new positions this year. Back in February, the Office told German public broadcaster ARD that checks against a database had revealed two right-wing extremists, a radical leftist, an Islamist and an employee of the Russian intelligence service among the applicants for a higher-level job.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maziere of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) said the BfV had “performed well” in uncovering the Islamist. And a ministry representative offered reassurances that existing security vetting procedures were adequate.

“At the moment, we have no indications that there are fundamental structural problems,” interior minister spokesman Tobias Plate said in Berlin on Wednesday. “On the contrary, the office itself was involved in uncovering this person.”

Plate dismissed the idea that the suspect may have been just doing his job for the BfV – observing the Salafist scene – when he posted the messages in question on the chat room. And Plate also suggested that the “mole” was probably an anomaly.

“I can’t remember any other recent cases that would be comparable at all with this one,” Plate said. “It’s certainly a special case.”

The BfV says some 8,350 Salafists live in Germany

How could it have happened?

Representatives of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), junior coalition partners to the CDU, and Germany’s opposition don’t accept the depiction of the case as a one-off.

“The point is to know how the uncovered employee could have been hired in the first place despite background checks,” SPD domestic security expert Burkhard Lischka told the DPA news agency.


Opposition spokespeople were far harsher in their criticism.

“What disturbs me is that the suspect only came to our attention by accident,” the parliamentary vice-leader of the Green Party, Konstantin von Notz, told the “Handelsblatt” newspaper.

“The domestic intelligence service doesn’t have a security leak – it is a security leak,” the domestic policy spokeswoman of the Left Party, Ulla Jelpke, told the “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung” newspaper.

So how easy or difficult is it to get a job at the Office for the Protection of the Constitution?

The BfV has hired lots of new employees this year

Applicants for jobs at the BfV are subject to the highest level of background checks allowed under German law. Candidates are required to provide a broad spectrum of information about themselves and their immediate families, including any past trouble with the law and contact to foreign intelligence agencies and groups hostile to the German constitution.

The BfV checks not only the accuracy of this information but interviews references provided by the applicant and other people deemed to have knowledge of the candidate. The test is repeated after five years. According to the BfV homepage, job candidates should not have prior legal convictions and should live in “orderly economic conditions.”

Applicants are encouraged to show “discretion” in discussing their applications with others. The review process takes “several months.”

The Düsseldorf prosecutor’s office continues to investigate the case of the Islamic mole. Only when that process is concluded will the BfV, the interior ministry and Germany’s political parties be able to determine whether background checks at the country’s domestic intelligence service truly are rigorous enough.


Singapore military troop carriers left off cargo manifest

November 30, 2016

Importing unmanifested cargo is a violation of Hong Kong’s Import and Export Ordinance — Amid diplomatic row and Hong Kong customs investigation, claims emerge the shipment breached other local laws

By Clifford Lo and Phila Siu
South China Morning Post

Wednesday, November 30, 2016, 11:24 p.m.

A shipment of Singaporean armoured troop carriers impounded by local authorities last week may have broken more local laws than initially thought.

The Post understands the nine Terrex armoured infantry carriers and components found in 12 containers en route from Taiwan to Singapore without appropriate permits, were also not “specifically” declared in the cargo manifest.

Importing unmanifested cargo is a violation of Hong Kong’s Import and Export Ordinance and carries a maximum penalty of a seven-year jail term and HK$2 million fine, according to a source with the knowledge of the matter.

The source said the shipping company involved had a duty to declare the type of goods on board its vessel, and that “the case will be handled in accordance with the laws”.

It comes as Hong Kong Customs investigates whether the shipping company APL, the cargo’s consignee or its consigner was responsible for failing to attain the required permit. APL was hired by Singapore Armed Forces to deliver the vehicles back to Singapore after they were used for training in Taiwan.

Under the city’s Import and Export Ordinance, a licence is required for the import, export, re-export or transshipment of strategic commodities. The maximum penalty for failing to obtain a licence is an unlimited fine and seven years imprisonment.

Singapore’s Ministry for Defence on Friday last week said APL was required to “comply with all regulations including the declaration of transported equipment in the ship’s cargo manifest and for obtaining the necessary permits required to transit through ports”.

Taiwan is an inseparable part of China. We resolutely oppose any nation to have official contact and military connection with Taiwan.

On Wednesday, the shipping company said: “APL continues to extend its full cooperation to the relevant Hong Kong authorities and work with the various stakeholders. We are unable to provide details of the ongoing discussion.”

The saga erupted when the vehicles and components were confiscated by Hong Kong Customs at a Kwai Chung container terminal on Wednesday last week. The incident quickly intensified diplomatic tensions between China and Singapore.

FactWire news agency reported the cargo vessel had previously docked in the mainland port of Xiamen, and that mainland agents had tipped off Hong Kong customs about the vehicles.

China’s foreign ministry on Monday lodged a diplomatic protest aimed at Singapore over the saga, demanding abidance to the “one-China” principle. Observers said the protest was a warning to both Singapore and Taiwan, as Singapore had been carrying out military exercises on the self-ruled island – a practice that has long angered Beijing.

 The nine eight-wheeled Singapore-made Terrex infantry carrier vehicles seized in Hong Kong. Photo: AP

In response to the diplomatic protest, Singapore reassured Beijing it “will not deviate” from the one-China principle.

On Wednesday, Yang Yujun, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defence, said: “Taiwan is an inseparable part of China. We resolutely oppose any nation to have official contact and military connection with Taiwan.”

Hong Kong’s customs department on Wednesday remained tight-lipped on the investigation into the shipment.

“The case is under investigation and no further information is available,” the department said.

The department refused to say how many similar cases had been detected, or how it handled seized military equipment previously.

Additional reporting Catherine Wong

Philippines: Thousands express dismay over ‘revision’ of history — “Ferdinand Marcos was no hero”

November 30, 2016
Protesters converge at the People Power Monument in Quezon City on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016 from afternoon till midnight to oppose the burial of late President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Robertzon Ramirez/Twitter

MANILA, Philippines – Protesters of mostly young people occupied the People Power Monument in Quezon City on Wednesday decrying government’s attempt to revise history in allowing the burial of dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes’ Cemetery.

Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s insistence that Marcos was not buried as a hero, protesters opposed the move as violating democratic principles and symbols by honoring the long-dead strongman.

Organizers estimated the crowd at the monument alone at 30,000 at around 8:45 p.m., while the Quezon City police reported a conservative count of 3,000. Other unofficial estimates also reached 50,000.

Former Sen. Roberto Tanada, a human rights lawyer, urged Duterte to retract his order to have Marcos laid to rest among heroes.

“Nananawagan ako sa Marcos family. Gusto natin mag-move on o magkaisa pero paano magkakaroon ng closure kung ganyan ang ginagawa ninyo,” Tanada said, speaking before the crowd.

Maria Serena Diokno, who resigned from her post as the chair of the National Historical Commission on Tuesday, said people should not allow Martial Law to return. Marcos’ martial law is considered among the darkest periods of history when thousands who opposed the authoritarian leader were killed or tortured.

Diokno said she has talked to historians and academics to help mend educational gaps on the period.

“They are ready to go around schools and offices to talk about Martial Law,” Diokno said at the rally.

Other demonstrations, meanwhile, were also staged at various sites such as at Plaza Miranda in Manila and Plaza Independencia in Cebu City against Marcos’ burial earlier during the day, a nationwide holiday commemorating the birth of 19th century revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio. – Reports from Jonathan de Santos and Patricia Lourdes Viray


Founder of China’s citizen news site taken from his home during police raid as crackdown continues

November 30, 2016
30 November 2016 13:34
By  Catherine Lai
Hong Kong Free Press

The founder of a Chinese citizen news site has been detained after police searched his home. Huang Qi is the third well-known rights defence figure in China to disappear or be detained in a fortnight, after the disappearances of lawyer Jiang Tianyong and citizen journalist Liu Feiyue, who activists believe to be in police custody.

Police in Sichuan burst into the home of the 64 Tianwang founder Huang, searching it and detaining him on Monday night, a local activist told US-backed Radio Free Asia (RFA). They had a search warrant, she said.

huang qi

Huang Qi. Photo: RFA.

News of his disappearance was posted on Twitter by Pu Fei, a volunteer at the 64 Tianwang site, but the tweet was deleted and Pu was unable to be contacted since then, according to information posted by Hong Kong-based rights watch website Weiquanwang. A call made to Pu appeared to suggest that his phone was turned off.

See also: Interview: Prize-winning Chinese citizen journalism website still going strong despite suppression

Huang’s mother told RFA that the police took photos and looked through Huang’s possessions.

According to the two witnesses, officers from Mianyang and Neijiang – areas hit by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake – were present. Huang was jailed in November 2011 after he investigated allegations that poor construction contributed to the deaths of schoolchildren in the disaster.

Huang qi

Huang standing in his house after his detention in October. File photo: Supplied to RFA by neighbour.

Huang was recently detained during a major meeting of Communist Party elite in October. Photos showed that his home had been searched, with items scattered on the floor. His computer was also taken by authorities.

HKFP’s calls to Huang Qi’s mobile phone went unanswered.

Tianwang is an independent news site that posts articles and information about human rights incidents in China, including detentions by police, forced demolitions, petitioner activism and demonstrations. It recently received the 2016 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Prize. Nine citizen journalists who have contributed to the site are currently detained, and five are on bail, according to Tianwang.

On Wednesday, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a network of Chinese and international human rights NGOs, released a statement urging the Chinese government to release Huang, lawyer Jiang Tianyong and citizen journalist Liu Feiyue.

jiang tianyong liu feiyue

Jiang Tianyong, Liu Feiyue. Photos:

Jiang Tianyong is a disbarred lawyer who recently worked to publicise China’s crackdown on lawyers. He has not been heard from since last Monday. Liu Feiyue, the founder of a rights watch website, was reportedly taken by police last Thursday. A family member said he was being criminally detained for inciting subversion of state power, but the family has not received any formal notification from police.

“From information CHRD has received, police are believed to be holding the men in unknown locations, raising fears that they are at risk of torture,” CHRD said.

“The detention and disappearance in quick succession of these well-known leading figures of China’s rights defense movement further signal the escalation of President Xi Jinping’s relentless crackdown on civil society.”



Chinese Human Rights Defenders Calls on China To Release Human Rights Lawyers, Rights Defenders and Citizen Journalists

November 30, 2016

China Must Release Jiang Tianyong, Liu Feiyue & Huang Qi, Honor Commitment Made at UN to Protect Rights

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders—November 29, 2016) – CHRD urges the Chinese government to release three prominent civil society leaders—human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), and rights defenders and citizen journalists Liu Feiyue (刘飞跃) and Huang Qi (黄琦)—and notify families of their whereabouts as well as any criminal accusations against them, and allow their lawyers to visit them. From information CHRD has received, police are believed to be holding the men in unknown locations, raising fears that they are at risk of torture. The detention and disappearance in quick succession of these well-known leading figures of China’s rights defense movement further signal the escalation of President Xi Jinping’s relentless crackdown on civil society.

Lawyer Jiang Tianyong has been out of contact since the evening of November 21. Liu Feiyue is reportedly under criminal detention on suspicion of “subversion of state power” after police in Hubei took him into custody on November 17. Huang Qi was seized by Sichuan police on November 28.

Jiang Tianyong, a leader of the China Human Rights Lawyers Group (中国人权律师团) and an outspoken supporter of detained rights lawyers from the “709 Crackdown,” has been disappeared since he was to board a train to Beijing from Changsha in Hunan Province. Jiang had been in Changsha to meet with Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), wife of arrested human rights lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳), and Xie’s defense lawyers. They attempted to visit Xie Yang at Changsha City Detention Center but authorities refused the request. On November 23, one of Jiang’s family members reported his disappearance to the Tongbolu Branch of the Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau in Henan. Although Jiang is a registered resident in Zhengzhou, authorities there refused to investigate his disappearance, claiming that “jurisdictional constraints” prevented them from doing so because Jiang was travelling to Beijing when he went out of contact. Police in Beijing and Changsha have refused requests from his family and supporters to release surveillance video of the Changsha South Train Station and the train that Jiang was supposed to board. In an open letter, prominent Chinese lawyers have called for Jiang’s release.

The detentions of Liu Feiyue and Huang Qi, who head up grassroots human rights monitoring and advocacy groups, have sent chills through China’s beleaguered NGO community. Liu Feiyue, the Hubei-based founder and director of the NGO Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch (民生观察), is under criminal detention on suspicion of “subversion of state power,” according to his family, who was told this development by a policeman at the Suizhou Public Security Bureau on November 18. Liu’s family still has not received any official detention notice, however, and Liu’s whereabouts remain unknown. Liu had apparently sent out a text message to other activists on November 17, saying that national security officers had taken him to a “mountain village,” in a reference to his previous frequent “forced travels” and “soft detentions” during politically sensitive periods. Police also searched Liu’s home and confiscated computers, printed materials, and other personal items. Liu faces a possible life sentence if convicted of “subversion” (Article 105(1) Criminal Law), a crime in the category of “endangering national security.”

Huang Qi, the Sichuan-based founder and director of 64 Tianwang Human Rights Center, was taken away from his home on the night of November 28 by approximately 15 police officers. 64 Tianwang volunteer Pu Fei () is also reportedly out of contact after sending out messages about Huang’s detention.

Local Chinese rights advocacy NGOs have borne the brunt of Xi Jinping government’s aggressive campaigns aimed at suppressing civil society. Since 2013, Chinese authorities have intensified systematic suppression of free and peaceful expression, assembly, and association, leveraging laws and regulations to curtail these rights and escalate criminal prosecution of those who exercise them. This year, the government enacted the new Charity Law, on September 1, and passed the Overseas NGO Management Law, which takes effect on January 1, 2017. Both laws give police more powers to persecute NGO activists for “illegal” activities for raising and accepting funding online or from outside China. Several UN special experts have urged China to repeal the law on overseas NGOs, expressing concerns that it can be used to “suppress…dissenting views and opinions in the country.” On November 28, China promulgated guidelines for implementing the Overseas NGO Management Law.

Since Xi Jinping took power, there have been many examples of state persecution of NGO staff members and suppression of independent advocacy groups. In Guangdong, four individuals from the Panyu Workers Center were recently tried and convicted on concocted charges—director Zeng Feiyang (曾飞洋) and staff Meng Han (孟晗), Tang Jian (汤健), and Ms. Zhu Xiaomei (朱小梅). Meng received a 21-month jail term in early November, while the other three received suspended sentences in September. In January 2016, an activist who founded the charity group Handa Social Service Center in 2009 and raised funding to support education in the Liangshan Yi Minority region, was detained for mishandling donations. Since 2014, police have investigated and effectively shut down many domestic NGOs, including Panyu, that work to promote a broad range of human rights, often focusing on their funding sources. Among other groups that have been shuttered are the anti-discrimination group Yirenping, the social policy research and advocacy think tank Transition Institute, disability rights group Zhongyixing, labor rights NGO Nanfeiyan Social Worker Center, and women’s rights organizations Weizhiming Women’s Center and Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center.

Notably, the rights cases involving Jiang, Liu, and Qi are the first major ones since China’s recent re-election to another three-year term on the UN Human Rights Council. Authorities may have waited until after the HRC election—and when much of the Western world had entered the holiday season—to take these actions. Though hundreds of lawyers, NGO activists and leaders, and citizen journalists have been detained, disappeared, or issued stern warnings since 2013, these three cases highlight the hollowness of the Chinese government’s pledges on “promoting and protecting human rights” made when China put up its bid for HRC re-election. China’s campaign to silence dissent and suppress civil society has grossly breached its HRC member obligations, which require it to “promot[e] universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.” CHRD had warned of serious setbacks to HRC’s mission and guiding principles before China’s re-election to the HRC, based on the declining state of China’s human rights situation that has been documented during the succession of crackdowns on civil society under Xi Jinping.

The disappearance of lawyer Jiang Tianyong and detentions of activists Liu Feiyue and Huang Qi underscore the tremendous risks facing leaders of rights advocacy groups under President Xi Jinping.

The disappearance of lawyer Jiang Tianyong and detentions of activists Liu Feiyue and Huang Qi underscore the tremendous risks facing leaders of rights advocacy groups under President Xi Jinping.

Background on Detainees

Jiang Tianyong, 45, has defended or supported many high-profile human rights defenders, including rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) and legal advocate Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚). Judicial officials disbarred Jiang from practicing law in 2009 due to his involvement in such cases. Since then, Jiang has taken an active role in organizing Chinese human rights lawyers to provide legal counsel to victims of rights abuses and criticizing authorities’ abuses of legal rights. Authorities have tortured, disappeared, and arbitrarily detained Jiang on several occasions. Police detained Jiang in March 2014 after he and three other lawyers went to investigate a “black jail” in Jiansanjiang City in Heilongjiang where Falun Gong practitioners were allegedly being held; Jiang was beaten in police custody and suffered eight broken ribs. In May 2012, police seized Jiang when he was on his way to visit Chen Guangcheng in a Beijing hospital, detained him for nine hours, and beat Jiang so badly that he suffered hearing loss. In addition, police forcibly disappeared Jiang for two months in the spring of 2011, following online calls in China to hold “Jasmine Rallies” just as pro-democracy movements spread across the Middle East and North Africa.

Liu Feiyue, 46, has often been harassed, beaten, and detained by police, especially during “sensitive” political periods, since he founded Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch in 2006. The group’s website has reported rights abuses and published interviews with victims, including unpaid teachers, rural children who have dropped out of school, migrant workers, and forced home evictees. The group has documented hundreds of cases of forced commitment of activists and dissidents to psychiatric institutions. Liu’s most recent detention was in October 2016, before the 6th Plenum meeting of the Chinese Communist Party; police kept Liu at a guest house, tortured him, and threatened him with more punishment if he continued his advocacy work. Police also detained Liu this past August as part of “stability maintenance” operations prior to the G20 Summit in Hangzhou.

Huang Qi, 53, established the first known rights monitoring website in China in 1998, disseminating reports about people who had been trafficked and disappeared. The website evolved to report on broader human rights violations and complaints against the government. The Sichuan-based Huang has been detained and imprisoned several times for his work. He received a five-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” in 2003, but was released early and resumed his advocacy. Police detained him again in 2008 after he met with families of children who died in schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake. Authorities sent him to prison for three years for “illegal possession of state secrets” the following year. Since his release in 2011, Huang has continued to document human rights violations and faced harassment and detention from authorities around “sensitive” periods, most recently during the 6thPlenum meeting of the CCP this past October.



3 Chinese Rights Activists Disappear in Apparent State Crackdown

HONG KONG — Three prominent Chinese rights activists appear to have been detained in recent weeks by the police, part of a continuing crackdown on groups operating outside the umbrella of the state, advocacy groups say.

The three men, Jiang Tianyong, Huang Qi and Liu Feiyue, all disappeared within days of each other in November, each in a different province. The police have charged only Mr. Liu with an offense. Rights groups say he was detained on Nov. 17 or 18 in the central province of Hubei on suspicion of subverting state power, which can carry a sentence of life in prison.

Mr. Jiang, a disbarred lawyer who had famous clients, including the rights defender Chen Guangcheng, was last heard from on Nov. 21 when he was about to board a Beijing-bound train in Changsha, the capital of the south-central province of Hunan. His wife, Jin Bianling, who lives in California, said by telephone that he had not been heard from since.

“I hope the government could at least tell us, his family, where he is and what crimes he has committed,” Ms. Jin said. “At least we should know his whereabouts.”


Jiang Tianyong in 2012. Credit Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

Mr. Huang, who, like Mr. Liu, headed a legal rights group, was taken by the police from his home in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan on Monday night, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group that works out of the United States. Pu Fei, a volunteer in Mr. Huang’s organization, is also missing, according to reports by several human rights groups.

Their arrests echo the widespread detentions of rights defenders in July 2015, part of a crackdown on civil society under President Xi Jinping, who has spearheaded a drive to stamp out forces outside the Communist Party’s control out of fear that they threatened its survival.

Several of those people, mostly lawyers who specialized in defending dissidents as well as ordinary people such as victims of a 2008 tainted baby formula scandal, were given harsh sentences earlier this year. One, Zhou Shifeng, who headed a Beijing law firm that took on such cases, was given a seven-year sentence, also on a charge of subverting state power.

Mr. Jiang’s disappearance may be related to those arrests, because several of the rights defenders arrested last year still await trial, and he was active in supporting their families, his lawyer, Chen Jinxue, said by telephone. Mr. Jiang was visiting the wife of Xie Yang, one of the detained lawyers, and was trying to arrange a visit with Mr. Xie when he disappeared, Mr. Chen said.

Two of the men had something else in common. Mr. Huang and Mr. Liu headed rights organizations that have come under increasing scrutiny, and their detentions may be related to the pending implementation of a law on nongovernmental organizations that puts new restrictions on foreign groups operating in China. Such groups will be required to register with the Ministry of Public Security, and the police will have the right to scrutinize their operations, including financing, at any time. They must also find a Chinese partner. The law also makes Chinese groups that receive funding from outside the country more vulnerable.

The disappearances of Mr. Liu, who leads Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, and Mr. Huang, who runs the 64 Tianwang Human Rights Center, may be a prelude to the law’s implementation.

“This may show the mind-set of the authorities as they come close to implementing the NGO law,” William Nee, a researcher for Amnesty International who is based in Hong Kong, said by telephone.

The mobile phones of Mr. Jiang, Mr. Liu and Mr. Huang were either turned off or appeared to not be working. A police officer in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, said that Mr. Huang had been arrested in Chengdu by officers from the nearby city of Mianyang. The police in Suizhou, Mr. Liu’s hometown, said the city government was handling Mr. Liu’s case but denied any further knowledge. The police in railway stations in Changsha and Beijing, as well as in Mr. Jiang’s hometown in central China, had no information on his whereabouts.

Mr. Chen, Mr. Jiang’s lawyer, said that his client had been moving from place to place in and around Beijing for three years, trying to avoid arrest. He had been detained for months in 2011, amid an earlier crackdown that came in the wake of the movements that swept authoritarian leaders in Tunisia and Egypt from power. China feared the so-called Jasmine Revolution would come to China as well.

Mr. Jiang was detained that year for two months, telling rights groups of his abuse at the hands of his interrogators, according to an account of his life on the website of China Change, a group based in the United States.

“If, as is strongly likely, this was an act carried out by state agents, then this would be an enforced disappearance, which is a crime under international law,” Mr. Nee of Amnesty International said. “Jiang Tianyong seems to be placed outside the protection of the law, which makes him at very vulnerable to torture and other human rights violations.”


German employed in domestic intelligence agency makes pro-Islamic State remarks — Posed a concrete danger to the security

November 30, 2016



Latest update : 2016-11-30

A German citizen employed by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has been arrested on accusations that he made Islamist declarations on the internet and revealed internal agency material, the agency said on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the Bundesverfassungsschutz (BfV) declined to provide details on the man’s position at the agency or say when he joined. He also declined to comment on a report in Die Welt newspaper that the 51-year-old had planned to explode a bomb at the agency’s central office in Cologne.

“There is no evidence to date that there is a concrete danger to the security of the BfV or its employees.”

“The man is accused of making Islamist statements on the Internet using a false name and of revealing internal agency material in Internet chatrooms,” he said.

The suspected mole also offered to share sensitive data about the BfV which could have endangered the agency’s work, the spokesman said, without elaborating.

Der Spiegel magazine reported on its website that the agency first became aware of the man’s activities about four weeks ago.

The spokesman said the suspect had not previously attracted attention, adding: “The man behaved inconspicuously during his employment process, training and in his area of responsibility.”

German authorities have ramped up their surveillance of potential militant Islamist groups and individuals after two attacks claimed by the Islamic State group in July.

The BfV estimates there are about 40,000 Islamists in Germany, including 9,200 ultra-conservative Islamists known as Salafists, Hans-Georg Maassen, who leads the agency, told Reuters in an interview earlier this month.

“We remain a target of Islamic terrorism and we have to assume that Islamic State or other terrorist organisations will carry out an attack in Germany if they can,” he said at the time.

Police have arrested several suspected Islamic State sympathisers in recent weeks, including a 20-year-old Syrian refugee who had tried to cross into Denmark with potential bomb-making materials.


Vietnam expert warns of easy access Chinese loans

November 30, 2016



UPDATED : 11/30/2016

Chinese built urban rail project in Vietnam. Credit Tuoi Tre

It is easy to access Chinese infrastructure loans, but the real cost is actually high for borrowers, once all factors are carefully considered, an economic expert has warned.

Loans provided by China are associated with several consequences, which negatively impact recipients, said Dr. Pham Sy Thanh, director of the Chinese Economic Studies Program (VCES), while speaking at a seminar held on Tuesday by the Vietnam Institute for Economic and Policy Research (VEPR).

China has provided loans worth a total of US$116.4 billion to countries around the world over the last few years, as many developing countries are attracted to such a rich source of credit, according to a report by VCES, managed by the VEPR.

However, Dr. Thanh said that while Chinese loans may be easy to access, as the lender sets manageable conditions for credit, they are in fact costly for borrowers.

Under the relaxed conditions, Chinese loans can result in environmental incidents and corruption, which is the real cost of the financial aid, he elaborated.

Dr. Thanh also warned of the other ‘characteristics’ of Chinese loans, being “where there are Chinese grants, there are Chinese workers.”

He pointed to several Chinese-funded projects in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, where thousands of low-skilled Chinese workers came to work in the borrowing countries.

This is another real cost of Chinese-granted loans, Thanh said, as local workforces lose jobs to China on their home soil.

“China has a policy of giving loans in exchange for [the rights to exploit] the natural resources and mineral reserves of recipient countries, as evidenced in Venezuela, Angola and several other African nations,” Dr. Thanh said.

“This is a huge threat to developing nations if they continue to rely too heavily on Chinese money.”

Speaking at the seminar, Pham Chi Lan, a seasoned economic expert, supported the claims raised by Dr. Thanh, warning that the government should not rely on foreign loans and forget to provide opportunity to domestic business.

Sharing the view, Dr. Thanh said that before deciding to borrow from China, the government should carefully consider not only the need for the loan, but also the factors mentioned above.

Thanh said due process should be applied to planned projects like a north-to-south expressway, which has raised the debate on whether it should accept Chinese funding.

“If this project is divided into distinct investment stages, we should not jump into a decision to use Chinese credit,” he pressed.


U.S. Effort to Help India Build Up Navy Hits Snag

November 30, 2016

Setbacks for New Delhi’s first homemade aircraft carrier slow efforts to face China on high seas

Officials launched the hull of the INS Vikrant at the Cochin Shipyard in Kochi in 2013.
Officials launched the hull of the INS Vikrant at the Cochin Shipyard in Kochi in 2013. PHOTO: MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Updated Nov. 30, 2016 6:46 a.m. ET

NEW DELHI—When top American naval engineers recently inspected India’s first locally made aircraft carrier they expected to find a near battle-ready ship set to help counter China’s growing sway in the Indian Ocean.

Instead, they discovered the carrier wouldn’t be operational for up to a decade and other shortcomings: no small missile system to defend itself, a limited ability to launch sorties and no defined strategy for how to use the ship in combat. The findings alarmed U.S. officials hoping to enlist India as a bulwark against China, people close to the meeting said.

“China’s navy will be the biggest in the world soon, and they’re definitely eyeing the Indian Ocean with ports planned in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh,” said retired Admiral Arun Prakash, the former commander of India’s navy. “The Indian navy is concerned about this.”

The February carrier inspection, in the port of Kochi, formed part of U.S. plans to share aircraft carrier technology with India. Indian naval officials followed up with a tour of an American shipbuilding yard in Virginia and strategy briefings at the Pentagon in September, the people close to the meetings said.

The U.S. and India are drawing closer politically and militarily. The two have participated in joint naval exercises with Japan. The U.S. has agreed to sell New Delhi everything from attack helicopters to artillery. Washington has approved proposals by Lockheed Martinand Boeing Co. to make advanced jet fighters in India. And in August, the two countries signed a military logistics-sharing accord.

The emerging relationship has reshaped Asia’s geopolitical terrain, riling China, which has issued diplomatic complaints over the joint exercises, and sometimes sidelining Russia, long India’s largest supplier of military hardware.

Both Indian and American officials say they hope cooperation will grow under President-elect Donald Trump, who has signaled a tougher approach toward China. After the U.S. election, the American Ambassador to India said the ties forged with India under President Barack Obama were “irreversible.”

The centerpiece of the military cooperation are the aircraft carriers.

“Of all the U.S.’s efforts to cooperate with India’s military, the aircraft carrier project is the one with the biggest potential payout and could make the biggest difference to the regional balance of power,” said Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former U.S. adviser in New Delhi.

But U.S. concerns are growing about India’s military strategy. Experts worry New Delhi’s insistence on building complex military gear largely from scratch, a legacy of its period of nonalignment, has led to severe delays in modernizing its carriers, jet fighters and nuclear submarines and limited its ability to fight.

A Indian Defense Ministry spokesman declined to comment beyond saying that its aircraft carriers were “still under progress.” A Navy spokesman declined to comment. Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar recently reiterated a commitment to indigenous manufacturing, citing concerns that foreign supply of arms and ammunition could be cut off in a time of war. “I think self-dependence is very important,” he said.

China, meanwhile, is rapidly expanding its military forces. It launched its first aircraft carrier in 2012 and is building two more. Chinese state-owned companies have invested in strategic ports circling the Indian Ocean in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Pakistan, that have resupplied its naval vessels. And China is now building its first overseas military outpost in Djibouti.

Chinese officials have rejected assertions that they are pursuing military objectives in the Indian Ocean, saying submarines resupplying in Sri Lanka were heading to the Gulf of Aden on antipiracy missions.

India, for its part, pledged funding last year for a new port in Iran where India’s own ships could potentially resupply for Indian Ocean missions. And it is seeking to match China’s naval force by adding two Indian-built carriers to the Russian one it now operates.

The first homemade Indian carrier, the INS Vikrant, has fallen short of expectations. An Indian state audit, released in July, found serious faults in its design and construction, from gear boxes to jet launching systems and air conditioning units.

The shipyard building the carrier, which has already cost $3 billion, “had no previous experience of warship construction” and is five years behind schedule, the audit said. India’s military sticks by its 2018 deadline.

Other experts said the ship’s hull was built before the navy had decided on some of the weapons systems, likely hampering its eventual performance. India’s homemade Tejas jet fighters, which are slated to fly from the Vikrant alongside squadrons of Russian jets, are also struggling to take off and land with an adequate payload on a simulated flight deck where they are being tested, people familiar with its testing said.

The upshot, these experts say: the carrier’s defensive flaws make it unlikely to able to operate in important theaters like the Persian Gulf or off the eastern coast of Africa, outside of the protective range of India’s land-based air force.

Still, the U.S. Navy plans to step up cooperation, pinning its hopes on India’s second homemade carrier, which promises to be far larger and contain more advanced technology. While carriers are losing their relevancy with the proliferation of cheap antiship missiles and advanced attack submarines, they are still likely to remain at the core of most major navies for some decades.

Write to Daniel Stacey at

Goldman Sachs Says Trump’s Presidency Will Benefit Stocks in Almost Every Sector

November 30, 2016


November 30, 2016

After years of slowing earnings growth and little in the way of excitement for many Wall Street analysts, many are now hopeful that President-elect Donald Trump will finally make things interesting.

When collating data for the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Analyst Index — a proprietary measure of growth across different sectors of the S&P 500 — the firm included a question this month on what the election of Donald Trump will mean for the industries covered by those surveyed. Turns out, they are rather optimistic.

“This month, we asked analysts to comment on how the results of the U.S. election will affect companies in their respective sectors,” the team led by Avisha Thakkar writes in the new note. “While their responses suggest that there is still uncertainty about the sector-level impact, the majority of sectors are anticipating favorable effects,” they say, adding that expectations of lower tax rates and economic stimulus are among key reasons for the favorable outlook.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Goldman certainly isn’t the first to hail the potential benefits of a Trump presidency. Dubravko Lakos-Bujas and Marko Kolanovic, quantitative analysts at JPMorgan Chase and Co., also wrote that many of Trump’s policies would be “pro-growth,” even while uncertainty about specifics remains high.

They wrote this week that if the campaign promises that have the potential to stimulate growth get implemented, the S&P 500 could see as much as $20 in additional earnings-per-share growth over the next few years.

Still, “it is difficult to overstate just how wide the range of possible policy outcomes is currently,” they said. “While majority of President-elect Trump’s policies are pro-growth for equities, parts of his more populist rhetoric could significantly disrupt the economy,” they add, pointing to the promise of stricter trade policies. The strategists’ skepticism that all the former real-estate mogul’s campaign promises will go through means they stop short of incorporating the effects into their base-case earnings forecasts.

Of course there’s no suggestion that all industries will benefit alike: Goldman’s analysts expect some to miss out, and some even to suffer under Trump. Some respondents said they expected the election outcome to weigh negatively on their sectors; among those were autos, aerospace, clean energy, and agribusiness. “Concerns regarding the outlook for business activity stem from potentially more restrictive trade policy, notably for clean energy and agricultural industries, and higher inflationary pressures,” according to Thakkar and team.

While many of the Goldman analysts surveyed are optimistic, the firm’s Chief U.S. Equity Strategist David Kostin also sounded a note of caution. In a separate report, his team moot the possibility that the “hope” that has enveloped markets since the surprise election result could fade within months of the 45th president’s inauguration.

“Fear is likely to pervade during second half and the S&P 500 will end 2017 at 2,300,” according to Kostin et al. While that would be 5 percent above where we are trading today, it would also mark a decline of nearly 5 percent from the 2,400 they expect the S&P 500 to be trading at during the first half of the year.