Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Hong Kong activist jailed over Umbrella Movement protest

March 30, 2017


© AFP/File | Benny Tai (L) is co-founder of Occupy Central, one of the groups behind the 2014 Umbrella Movement rallies
HONG KONG (AFP) – A Hong Kong democracy activist was jailed Thursday over Umbrella Movement mass protests while nine more campaigners face charges, as fears grow that freedoms are under threat in the semi-autonomous city.

The cases come days after pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam was selected as city leader by a committee skewed towards the mainland camp.

They also precede an expected visit by China’s president Xi Jinping in July to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong back to China by Britain in 1997.

Activist Alvin Cheng, 28, who has in the past advocated the idea of Hong Kong’s independence from China, was sentenced to three months in prison for criminal contempt of court.

The charge related to defying an injunction order for activists to clear a sprawling protest camp in the commercial area of Mong Kong in November 2014 during the Umbrella Movement rallies, which called for fully free leadership elections but failed to win concessions from Beijing.

Mong Kok saw some of the most violent clashes during the demonstrations and some activists refused to leave the site despite the order from authorities.

Judge Andrew Chan said Cheng had shown “little remorse” and also chastised him for being late to hearings, and playing with his mobile phone.

Another protester, Au Yuk-kwan, was fined HK$10,000 ($1,287), also for defying the clearance injunction, and given a suspended one-month jail sentence.

Separately Thursday, nine other campaigners accused of causing a public nuisance or inciting others to do so during the 2014 rallies appeared at magistrates’ court, in a case they have criticised as political persecution.

The group, ranging from 22 to 73-years-old and including students, professors and lawmakers, were charged one day pro-Beijing Lam won the leadership.

They could face up to seven years in prison.

Their case was adjourned to May 25 after a brief hearing, during which the defence requested a High Court jury trial so that the public could participate in the decision.

They have yet to enter a plea.

– ‘Sustained attack’ –

Rival protesters from the pro-democracy and pro-China camps faced off outside the court where the nine activists’ case was being heard, chanting at each other.

Some pro-China supporters slapped a picture of democracy campaigner Benny Tai with a pink plastic slipper, mimicking a local custom practised by some where a shoe is used to beat an image of an enemy.

Speaking outside court, Tai told reporters the activists would not give up on the fight for democracy in Hong Kong.

“I believe our society is steeped with the spirit of civil disobedience,” said Tai, co-founder of Occupy Central, one of the groups behind the Umbrella Movement rallies.

“We won’t give up until Hong Kong has real democracy and real universal suffrage,” he added.

Rights group Amnesty International condemned the charges, saying the case showed the city’s freedom of expression and right to peaceful assembly was “under a sustained attack”.

Activist Ken Tsang started a five-week jail term earlier this month for assaulting police during the 2014 protests.

Tsang was himself attacked the same night by seven police officers who were jailed for two years in February for assault causing actual bodily harm.

New leader Lam has promised to try to unify divided Hong Kong, but opponents said the new crackdown immediately undermined that pledge.

Sunday’s vote was dismissed as a sham by democracy campaigners who say Lam will be no different from unpopular current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying.




Hong Kong protest leaders appear in court smiling after surprise summons

March 30, 2017


Thu Mar 30, 2017 | 2:03am EDT

Nine leaders of Hong Kong’s 2014 democracy protests appeared in court on Thursday after their surprise summons, charged with inciting the street occupation that paralyzed parts of the city for months in what some expect to be a long legal battle.

The nine were charged on Monday, just a day after a new Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, was chosen as the city’s next leader, seen by many as a worrying sign after she had vowed to heal divisions in the Chinese-ruled city and unite society.

The protest leaders, including the “Occupy Central trio” of Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, entered the magistrates’ court smiling and shaking hands with a few dozen supporters, some holding yellow umbrellas, the symbol of the 2014 civil disobedience movement.

The “Occupy Central trio” each face charges including conspiracy to commit public nuisance and inciting others to commit public nuisance.

Six others, including two legislators and two former student protest leaders, were also charged with crimes related to public nuisance.

The nine told the court they understood the charges, but the hearing was largely procedural and didn’t require them to enter pleas.

The case was adjourned until May 25.

Veteran pro-democracy politician and barrister Martin Lee, representing five of the defendants, requested the case be transferred to the high court instead of the district court, so that the nine could be tried by a jury.

“After all, the allegations are of a public nature,” Lee said.

The judge says it was up to the prosecution to decide which court tries the case.

Outside the court, about a dozen pro-China protesters jeered at the protest leaders, cursing them in colorful Cantonese to get stabbed, while slapping photos of them with flip-flops.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of seven years, Tai said, adding the activists might plead guilty, in the spirit of civil disobedience.

The former British colony, governed under a “one country, two systems” formula, was promised a high degree of autonomy and the right to select its chief executive when it was handed back to Communist Chinese rule in 1997.

Twenty years later, only 1,200 people on an “election committee” stacked with Beijing loyalists voted Lam into power.

(Reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by James Pomfret and Nick Macfie)




Walesa slams Poland’s populist ‘dictatorship’

March 29, 2017


© AFP/File | Former Polish president and Nobel Peace laureate Lech Walesa, seen in 2016, said powerful right-wing politician Jaroslaw Kaczynski “wants to eliminate everything that disturbs him — the constitutional court, the courts, parliament”
BERLIN (AFP) –  Poland’s freedom icon Lech Walesa on Wednesday laid into the powerful boss of the governing right-wing party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, asking if he was seeking to turn the country into “a dictatorship”.


Walesa, a Nobel peace laureate and former president, has been highly critical of Kaczynski and his Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Since winning power in October 2015, the populist PiS administration has pushed through a string of overhauls that led to mass protests at home and an EU threat of sanctions over rule of law violations.

In an interview with German weekly Die Zeit, Walesa accused Kaczynski of going down an “undemocratic path”.

“He wants to eliminate everything that disturbs him — the constitutional court, the courts, parliament,” said Walesa.

“The big question is: does he want dictatorship?” Walesa asked, adding that he “did not have an answer to the question at the moment”.

The former unionist said that for him, “as a revolutionary, the question is whether our democracies are still able to withstand such populists”.

He also called for a “sort of court that immediately detects lies spouted by populists and says ‘You’re lying! You swindler! You’re a demagogue and not a politician!’.”

Shipyard electrician Walesa won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for leading Solidarity, the Soviet bloc’s only free trade union.

He became Poland’s first democratically elected president after negotiating a bloodless end to communism for the country in 1989.


Chris Christie takes on role in Trump’s fight against opioids — “I am pro-life and that means we believe in the sanctity of human life.” — “Everyone has a right to the help that they need.”

March 29, 2017


The Hill

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Chris Christie. Getty Images

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will take on a role in President Trump’s White House to combat the country’s opioid epidemic, ABC News reported, citing White House officials.

A draft order, obtained by Politico, talks about forming a commission to make recommendations related to treatment and law connected to opioid addiction.

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The president often talked about tackling the country’s opioid epidemic during his campaign.

Christie was a strong supporter of Trump after dropping his own presidential bid last year. He headed Trump’s transition team for some time before being ousted from that role shortly after Trump’s victory and replaced with Vice President Mike Pence.


“My brother Fred was a great guy. He had everything. I mean, the most handsome guy, and then he got hooked — and there was nothing, there was nothing we could do about it.”

— Donald Trump


He has been long rumored for a job in the Trump administration and said last year that he turned down several offers to serve in the White House.

During an interview earlier this year, the New Jersey governor said he doesn’t expect to be asked to serve in the Trump administration.

“I have absolutely no intention, nor any understanding, that I will be asked to be in the administration in the years to come,” Christie said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“My view is, I have got a job to do as governor, and then my intention is to go off to the private sector and to help support my family.”

The president told The Wall Street Journal during a past interview that “at some point, we’re going to do something with Chris.”

Last month, the New Jersey governor dined with the president at the White House, where they discussed the country’s opioid epidemic.

Christie last month signed a series of bills related to the crisis, including one requiring state-regulated insurance plans to cover treatment for opioid addiction.



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Chris Christie. AP Photo

Chris Christie appeared Wednesday morning, March 29, 2017, to talk about his new role working for President Trump in the effort to find solutions for America’s opioid epidemic. Christie said he believes in the worth of every human being and the sanctity of human life — that every human being has some spark of God within. He said this means he is pro-life and we, as a people, should not turn our backs on the addicted, the aged or anyone else.


Hospital patient's hands folded in lap, close-up

“We cannot leave the elderly behind.”




Military base-building destroys coral reefs in the South China Sea

March 28, 2017


26 March 2017 / Analysis by Greg Asner
Greg Asner, a global ecologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, writes about his recent field survey in the Spratly Islands.
Sea turtle in a coral garden in the Spratly Islands. Photo by Greg Asner.

As I reached the surface, I could hardly believe my eyes. The black shadow of the vessel turned, revealing its distinct cigar-shaped profile. Seeing a submarine at sea with a scuba tank on your back is like pricking yourself on a needle lost in a very big haystack. But the South China Sea is not your average haystack, and nothing seems to be lost out in its vast expanse.

The South China Sea stretches from the coast of mainland China to the shores of Borneo, Vietnam, and Philippines. The southern part is a huge blue water world dotted with remote atolls and islands known as the Spratly Islands, named after whaler Richard Spratly who ‘discovered’ them in 1843. The Spratlys have many other names in the languages of nations that encircle the South China Sea, an expression of the long-standing strain between multiple claimants of the region. Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam each claim a portion of the Spratly archipelago, and China claims all of it.

Fig 1. The Spratly Islands are located in the southern portion of the South China Sea.
Figure 1: The Spratly Islands are located in the southern portion of the South China Sea.

The region has also become a hotbed for modern naval activity, owing to critical commercial shipping through its waters, and the oil that underlies its seabed. The U.S. routinely navigates the South China Sea as a demonstration of its naval power, said to ensure right-of-passage, and which China openly views as a threat. And as a result, military base and outpost building continues at a feverish and ecologically destructive pace. Whole coral reef atolls have been dredged to form hard land for military complexes and aircraft runways.

As a global ecologist and conservation scientist, I have long been interested in the Spratlys as a biodiversity hotspot. With its purported 600 coral and 6000 fish species, I had wondered what this ecoregion looks like underwater, and more recently, what the frenzied building of military bases might mean for its sea life. I wondered too if coral reefs of the Spratlys had been impacted by recent hot water events that cause coral bleaching, like that which has devastated the Great Barrier Reef.

There isn’t nearly enough scientific literature on the ecology of the Spratlys, but it has been shown that the atolls are important sources of coral larvae for that part of the South China Sea. Each atoll is a habitat for connected layers of lifeforms ranging from corals and invertebrates to huge schools of hammerhead sharks and bottlenose dolphins. Each layer relies on the presence and health of the next layer, and the coral reefs form a critical core for the regional ecosystem as a whole

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In March 2016, Camilo Mora and colleagues published a report on military base building across the Spratlys. In the same month, I was working on the northern tip of Borneo, east of the Spratlys, and I decided to expand our mapping efforts into the archipelago. I wanted to better understand what is being lost with each military base conversion of a Spratly atoll. By May 2016, I got a chance to visit one of the atolls in the southeast corner of the archipelago.

Known as Swallow Reef, or Pulau Layang Layang by the Malaysian government that administers it, the atoll is an amoeba-shaped ring of reef that drops off more than 3000 meters into deep ocean (Fig 2). In one corner of the atoll lies a small Royal Malaysian navy outpost, manned with a few patrol vessels. Alongside the outpost is a place where diehard divers can spend time exploring some of the most unique and endangered coral reef ecosystems on Earth. Moving down in the water column at Swallow Reef is like slicing through a psychedelic layer cake that would impress Willy Wonka lovers. The outer reef is replete with millions and millions of colorful specks of life, hard and soft corals, schools of jacks, batfish, barracuda, and more, each contributing to an ecosystem patrolled by giant mantas and sharks. Picture what you think a perfect coral reef ecosystem might look like, well before the global degradation of reefs that started with the industrial revolution, and that will put you at Swallow Reef.

Swallow Reef atoll is administered by the Malaysian government, and houses a small navy base and diving facility (top image). A view of the atoll from the runway on Swallow Reef, as a tropical storm approaches in 2016 (bottom image)
Figure 2: Swallow Reef atoll is administered by the Malaysian government, and houses a small navy base and diving facility. Courtesy of Planet (top image). A view of the atoll from the runway on Swallow Reef, as a tropical storm approaches in 2016 (bottom image)

My initial visit to Swallow Reef yielded thousands of photographs and video. It also sparked the idea to combine rapid underwater surveys with a new class of satellite imaging that might give us a fast-track way to assess coral reefs on more atolls than we could possibly visit in the water. To do this, I turned to my colleagues at, formerly known as Planet Labs. They operate the world’s largest constellation of small orbiting satellites that can image Earth on a daily basis at about 3 to 5 meter spatial resolution. As one of Planet’s science Ambassadors, I collaborate with the company to apply their satellite data to new environmental challenges, so the Spratlys were a perfect fit.

Planet’s constellation of ‘Dove’ satellites can give us a daily viewing of the South China Sea, which is critical since the region is naturally very cloudy. By selecting cloud-free images that were available shortly before and after my initial visit to Swallow Reef, my collaborators Robin Martin from Carnegie, Joe Mascaro from Planet, and I were able to align the satellite images with our near-realtime understanding of reef composition and condition. Martin and I returned to Swallow Reef in July to complete an intensive series of additional underwater surveys, which when combined with the Planet Dove data in the field, helped us to determine that we can easily map the extent of coral reef. We were also able to map some of the deeper reefs. Our overall mapping accuracy ultimately exceeded 90 percent.

From the Swallow Reef pilot study, we extended the mapping approach to all of the atolls currently occupied by China, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam – the four countries most present throughout the region. We compared the proportion of coral reef on occupied atolls to unoccupied ones, and found up to 70 percent reduction in coral reef cover on those with military bases (Asner et al. 2017). In other words, military base and outpost building has destroyed huge expanses of coral reef, which means that millions of its colorful lifeforms have been wiped off the planet.

Figure 3. Proportion of shallow coral reef cover on unoccupied versus occupied atolls in the Spratly Islands, South China Sea, organized by current occupying nation.
Figure 3. Proportion of shallow coral reef cover on unoccupied versus occupied atolls in the Spratly Islands, South China Sea, organized by current occupying nation.

Shockingly, the vast majority of this loss has taken place in just the past three years. Yet promising is the fact that there are still a hundred or so reefs with relatively little human impact, so conservation and management ought to have a chance to make a difference before it is too late. Also promising is the fact that recent coral bleaching events do not seem to have had as large an impact in the South China Sea as we have seen on the Great Barrier Reef. I experienced very little bleaching during our survey dives at Swallow Reef. As Professor John McManus, University of Miami, has long emphasized based on his work in the region, a promising pathway forward to protecting the remaining coral reefs of the South China Sea rests in the development of an international peace park agreement between nations. Based on our recent experience with Planet Dove satellites and diving, time is of the essence to get a park-style accord accomplished.

School of barracuda on a Spratly Island atoll. Photo by Greg Asner.

Notes and References

For more photos of reef inhabitants of the South China Sea, go to

Asner, G., Martin, R. & Mascaro, J. Coral reef atoll assessment in the South China Sea using Planet Dove satellites. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, 1-9, doi:10.1002/res2.42 (2017).

Mora, C., Caldwell, I. R., Birkeland, C. & McManus, J. W. Dredging in the Spratly Islands: Gaining Land but Losing Reefs. PLoS Biol 14, e1002422 (2016).



 (Contains links to several previous articles on the South China Sea)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

China Drifts Into a U.S. Vacuum in Asia — “They are really alarmed about Trump.”

March 28, 2017

Beijing builds its influence in Asia by default, not design, as Trump retreats

A staff member prepares for an annual gathering last week of Asia’s elite in Boao on the Chinese island of Hainan.

A staff member prepares for an annual gathering last week of Asia’s elite in Boao on the Chinese island of Hainan. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS

BOAO, China—For more than half a century, Washington has set the economic agenda for the Asia-Pacific, where global wealth, technology and military power are concentrating.

Today, increasingly, Beijing does.

That’s not because its economic model is so widely admired; Deng Xiaoping’s “open door” to global trade and investment is creaking shut under current President Xi Jinping, a hard-line nationalist.

Nor does the country’s political system, brutally focused on self-preservation, have much appeal.

China isn’t even well liked. Domestic repression and trade mercantilism combine these days with a prickly assertiveness overseas. A recent opinion poll in South Korea, the latest target of Beijing’s economic bullying, shows the country has even less affection for its close neighbor than Japan, its historical archenemy.

Rather, China’s advance is being enabled by a factor that few countries in Asia could have foreseen, not even China itself: an American retreat.

With no obvious alternatives, Beijing is filling a vacuum that is rapidly expanding in the early days of the Trump presidency.

But while China dominates its region with the sheer size of its economy, it struggles to lead—or inspire.

Years in the making, the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership was the core of the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia, the product of compromises hammered out in capitals from Tokyo to Canberra, an ambitious—perhaps the last—U.S. effort to shape the destiny of a region that stands at the crossroads of every global trend from fashion to “fintech” and clean energy.

In repudiating that deal, President Donald Trump has empowered China.

The new U.S. administration, says Goh Chok Tong, the former Singapore prime minister, “has taken a step backward.”

At an annual gathering of Asian power brokers on China’s tropical Hainan Island last week, Mr. Goh, one of the region’s most respected elder statesmen, posed an anxious question: “Who will step into the shoes of the U.S. to make sure that we have free trade?”

It is hard for Chinese politicians to sound credible when they proclaim the virtues of globalization—the free flow of ideas, technologies and cultures across borders—from the battlements of the “Great Firewall,” the most extensive barrier in all of cyberspace.

Instead of a U.S.-inspired free-trade deal focused on the digital economy, intellectual property, the environment and labor standards—what Hillary Clinton called the “gold standard,” before turning against it as presidential candidate—China is pushing a lower-grade alternative.

Yet, despite the shortcomings of this incremental effort, known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Asian economies are aligning around it because there’s no better deal on the table.

Neighbors are skeptical that China can build consensus across the region. “Leadership takes humility, humor and flexibility,” says Thomas Lembong, the chairman of the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board, a government agency that seeks to attract foreign investors to the country.

In Mr. Lembong’s view, Asia is headed into a more anarchic future dominated by leaders with strong mandates like India’s Narendra Modi or Japan’s Shinzo Abe. It will be a case of “everybody negotiating with everybody else,” he says. “Some will take the reform route; others will do the reverse and turn protectionist and regressive.”

For now, the main danger is that Mr. Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership will morph into Mr. Trump’s Trans-Pacific trade war.

Mr. Trump has threatened to impose 45% import tariffs on Chinese imports. If he triggers such an action, the effects will ricochet around the entire Asia-Pacific manufacturing supply chain.

A common view in Asia is that the success that the U.S. did so much to encourage is now feeding a backlash.

Having adopted Washington’s economic prescriptions for growth—lower tariff barriers, expansion of market forces and investment in infrastructure —the region has become a lightning rod for the populist resentments of an America still grappling with the effects of the 2008 financial crisis.

The White House chief strategist Steve Bannon laments that “the globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia.”

“The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over,” he told the Hollywood Reporter.

On the one hand, this kind of rhetoric scares the Chinese leadership. “There is deep anxiety,” says Fred Hu, chairman of Primavera Capital Group, a China-based global investment firm, who has advised the Chinese government on financial reform. “They are really alarmed about Trump.”

The angst is shared in a region that feels unmoored as it steadily drifts into Beijing’s orbit, as much by default as by design.

Write to Andrew Browne at


Leaders of 2014 protest in Hong Kong to face charges — Freedom of expression, right to peaceful assembly “under a sustained attack” in Hong Kong

March 28, 2017


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Occupy Central founders (from left) Chan Kin Man, Benny Tai and Chu Yiu Ming kicking off the movement in Hong Kong on Aug 31, 2014.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG • Police have cracked down on Hong Kong democracy activists, saying they would be charged over the Umbrella Movement mass protest, a day after a pro-Beijing candidate was chosen as the city’s new leader.

The move yesterday provoked anger and disbelief among democrats, and heightened political tension in the Chinese-ruled city.

Former chief secretary Carrie Lam was on Sunday chosen by a 1,200-person committee to lead the city. She pledged in her victory speech to bridge political divisions that have hindered policymaking and legislative work.

 Carrie Lam met Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Monday morning. Photo: Handout

Yet, less than 24 hours later, several students and academics who took part in the 2014 pro-democracy movement, also known as Occupy Central, said they received phone calls from the police informing them that they faced criminal charges.

Rights group Amnesty International said the police charges showed that the city’s freedom of expression and right to peaceful assembly were “under a sustained attack”.

All nine activists reported to Wan Chai police station last night, with around 200 supporters gathering outside.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said she received a call from the police yesterday morning, telling her she would be charged with causing a public nuisance, with a maximum sentence of seven years.

“They said it was related to the ‘illegal occupation’ of 2014,” she said, describing it as a “death kiss” from incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, who will hand over the reins to Mrs Lam on July 1.

Ms Chan said she was arrested at the end of the protests, but had never been charged.

The police did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Asked by reporters about the timing, Mrs Lam said she could not intervene with prosecutions carried out by the administration of Mr Leung, who protesters say ordered the firing of tear gas on them in 2014.

“I made it very clear that I want to unite society and bridge the divide that has been causing us concern, but all these actions should not compromise the rule of law in Hong Kong and also the independent prosecution process that I have just mentioned,” said Mrs Lam.

Mrs Lam met Mr Leung earlier yesterday. They shook hands and expressed confidence in a “smooth and effective” leadership transition.

The next few months will be critical for them, with Chinese President Xi Jinping expected to pay a visit on July 1 to celebrate Hong Kong’s 20th anniversary of the handover from British rule, with large protests expected.


Hungary ready to begin detaining asylum-seekers in shipping-container camps

March 28, 2017

Every asylum seeker in Hungary, except for young children, will be housed in shipping container camps along the border. The camps have been condemned by rights groups.

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Hungary was due to begin detaining asylum-seekers in shipping-container camps on its southern border with Serbia on Tuesday.

Asylum-seekers entering Hungary as well as those already in the country will be confined in camps while their applications are processed.

A statement by the interior ministry said the country’s prison service installed 324 shipping container homes at two camps.

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“The border protection agencies are fully prepared for the entry into force of the reinforced legal border closure on March 28,” said a statement by the interior ministry.

“The purpose of the restrictions is to prevent migrants with an unclear status from moving freely around the territory of the country and the European Union, and to thereby reduce the security risk of migration,” the statement said.

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Refugees in Belgrade

Only unaccompanied children under the age of 14 were exempted from mandatory detention in the border camps.

Detainees would receive access to beds, bedding, personal hygiene packages, lockers, continuous hot water, toilets, mass media and telecommunication equipment and religious rooms, according to the statement.

They would receive three meals a day (five meals a day for children under the age of 14) and fruit and dairy products for expectant mothers, mothers with young children and children under the age of 14 years, according to the statement.

The United Nations and rights groups such as Amnesty International condemned Hungary for failing to meet Hungary’s international obligations to asylum-seekers when it passed a law earlier this month that led to the camps’ development.

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Hungary’s prime minister says tough border policies are justified given fears of Turkey reneging on a deal to stop the flow of asylum seekers

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who took a hard-line anti-immigration stance, said the bill was in response to recent terror attacks in Europe carried out by migrants.

Hungary once detained all asylum applicants, but ended the practice in 2013 under pressure from Brussels, the UN refugee agency and the European Court of Human Rights.

The UNHCR said systematic detention would “have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered”.

Refugee rights group the Hungarian Helsinki Committee said 400 asylum-seekers housed in the country’s internal camp network faced relocation to the border camps.

A second “smart fence” complete with night cameras, heat and movement sensors, and multilingual megaphones warning against crossing the barrier was also under construction, with completion scheduled by May.

aw/ (AFP)

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Belgrade refugee camp — Three indoor showers are provided in Belgrade’s Refugee Aid Miksaliste center, but priority’s given to those with confirmed cases of scabies or body lice

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German official accuses Turkey of ‘intolerable’ spying

March 28, 2017


BERLIN (AFP) – A German state minister on Tuesday accused Turkey of “unacceptable” spying on alleged followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt last year.

“It is notable with what intensity and ruthlessness the people living abroad are being investigated,” said Boris Pistorius, interior minister of the northern German state of Boris Pistorius.

“It’s intolerable and unacceptable,” he said at a press conference.

Ankara had asked Berlin to help spy on about 300 alleged Gulen supporters, Pistorius said, adding that the list was handed to Germany’s spy service, which turned it over to state governments.

But Pistorius’s state decided instead to inform the more than 10 targets, including a school and at least two companies, fearing people could suffer “retaliation” if they travelled to Turkey while unaware they were on a watch list.

Turkish authorities were acting with “something close to paranoia,” he said, adding that “all Gulen supporters are assumed to be terrorists and enemies of the state even though there is not the tiniest scrap of evidence.”

“Until today, we have no evidence whatsoever that Gulen supporters have violated any rules in any way.”

– Unconvinced –

Although US-based cleric Gulen, 75, has always denied charges that he was involved in the failed coup last July to overthrow Erdogan, Ankara has cracked down hard on his followers.

More than 41,000 people in Turkey have been arrested over suspected links to Gulen’s movement, and 100,000 fired or suspended from their jobs. Many of them are teachers, police, magistrates and journalists.

In February, German police raided the homes of four Turkish Muslim preachers suspected of spying on alleged Gulen supporters for Erdogan’s government.

Erdogan has in turn accused Germany of harbouring Kurdish and other “terrorists”, claiming that Berlin is refusing to hand over alleged suspects.

Germany’s foreign intelligence chief Bruno Kahl also raised heckles in Turkey last week when he said he was unconvinced Gulen was behind the failed coup of July 15.

Ankara had repeatedly tried to convince Berlin that Gulen, who lives in a secluded compound in Pennsylvania, was behind the coup, “but they have not succeeded”, Kahl told Der Spiegel magazine.

Kahl said that the putsch was launched by a “part of the military” that expected to be targeted in an ongoing government purge.

The latest German accusations came as ties are already badly strained over a wide range of issues surrounding human rights, particularly after the failed coup.

Berlin has emerged as a strident critic of Ankara’s post-coup crackdown, and is also urging Turkey to release a correspondent for the German daily Die Welt, who is jailed on terror charges.

Ankara has been riled by German authorities’ refusal to allow some Turkish ministers to campaign in the country for a “yes” vote ahead of the April 16 referendum on giving Erdogan the powers of an executive presidency.

China: Severe Challenges to Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in China Remain — Yet Secret Video of a Women’s Rights Demonstration Emerges

March 28, 2017

When China’s Feminists Came to Washington

The Maoist slogan rings true: “Women hold up half the sky.”

See also:

Chinese feminists

Domestic violence awareness campaign. Li Maizi (left) was subsequently arrested and detained for over a month, for attempting to campaign against sexual harassment, along with four other women’s rights activists. Photo source: ‘Free Chinese Feminists’ page

By Peter Hilton, Global Correspondent for Safeworld

The status of women in China is one with a mixed and contentious history with a variety of events interwoven to create an inconsistent image of China as both attempting to be progressive in many respects, whilst simultaneously the government equally seeks to repress and control feminist elements it feels are inconvenient or adverse to its arguably patriarchal interests.

There are a number of contextual examples which demonstrate this discrepancy in the status of women throughout China, and whilst there has been a great deal of progress made in some elements of the popular sphere, others have been brutally repressed by a government dominated by male influence.

This article seeks to highlight the extreme differences between progress made and the inequalities women in China still face every day in order to determine just how far the feminist movement within the country has come.

Maoism, Gender Equality, and Contradictions

There is a long history to China’s women’s rights movement beginning with the fall of the traditional imperialist political structure and the rise of Mao Zedong. The communists believed that by enabling and enforcing gender equality, women would be able to more aptly assist the growing movement, and to help develop the society they as an institution idealised.

Mao Zedong’s famously published collection of speeches entitled ‘the little red book’ offers a glimpse into the People’s Republic’s public policy in relation to women, as Mao himself is quoted as saying ‘Women hold up half the sky’ and more overtly:

In order to build a great socialist society, it is of the utmost importance to arouse the broad masses of women to join in productive activity. Men and women must receive equal pay for equal work in production. Genuine equality between the sexes can only be realised in the process of the socialist transformation of society as a whole’.

However, many within the feminist movement within China were quick to realise that the polemic often did not reflect reality, with accusations that the political elite had not actively taken action to ensure the equality of women. In more recent years, the new leadership of the party under Xi Jinping appear to have taken more proactive steps towards ensuring equality, with new legislation passed which defines and prevents sexual harassment within China, whilst China also had its first ever successful legal claim for discrimination based on gender in 2013.

However again, there are huge gulfs between the public representation of feminism in China and the sad reality of the obstacles faced by both the feminist movement and regular women on a day-to-day basis.

Women’s Rights Activists Charged with ‘Picking Quarrels’

As previously mentioned, the new leadership of Xi Jinping introduced legislation to prevent sexual harassment in 2006, which was heralded by many as a positive step in Chinese women’s rights. However, there a number of incidents which sharply contradict the positive image presented by the Communist party, beginning with the detention of five Chinese feminists for a period of 37 days throughout April and March.

The women had been aiming to place stickers on buses highlighting the daily harassment women face on public transport; they were instead arrested by authorities on the charge of ‘picking quarrels’ (which may be loosely interpreted as a charge to prevent forms of protest the state considers inconvenient).

The Prevalence of Sexual Harassment on Public Transport

The issue of sexual harassment on China’s overcrowded public transport system is well known; during my own time working in Beijing in 2013, a number of friends faced sexual harassment whilst on public transport including several female colleagues being groped whilst another faced an elderly man openly masturbating in front of her – whilst no one in the carriage appeared to bat an eyelid. When she later asked Beijing locals about the incident she was told that older men were allowed to take part in this kind of activity as they are senile and it was just the way things were.

Shocking though such incidents are, there appears to be a lack of public outcry, and although the five feminists protesting such harassment were released without charge, the fact they were detained at all speaks volumes about the state’s refusal to instigate change.

And in the Workplace

The issue of harassment extends far beyond that of public transport and is an engrained part of being a woman in China’s workforce, particularly in more industrialised districts.

A survey prepared by a Chinese NGO focussed on women’s rights in the workplace found a huge number of issues ranging from women being given inadequate access to sanitary products during menstruation to receiving pornographic messages from co-workers – or even directly being sexually propositioned. This survey highlights an endemic issue within China’s female workforce as over 70% of those surveyed said they had faced some form of harassment with a shocking 15% stating they had previously left a job because of sexual harassment.

Ineffective Enforcement of Legislation

This clearly shows that China’s attempts to remedy the issue and the enforcement of preventative legislation has been completely ineffective in curbing harassment in the work place. The report related to the survey claims that ‘One of the most common expectations of the women interviewed was for the police to take more effective measures and impose more appropriate punishments on the perpetrators of sexual harassment.’

Another common hope was that: “Government officials will pay greater attention to the matter”’; this clearly illustrates the desire of women in China to see greater state intervention in issues of women’s rights and to help with enforcement of existing policies. This is again reflected by the reports finding that no women out of those surveyed went to their employer for assistance in the matter with the vast majority either turning to family for assistance or simply trying to deal with the issue themselves.

Without increased education and support on these issues of harassment, women are unable to find the help they need and continue to face abuse both in public and in the workplace.

Violence in the Home – a ‘Family Matter’

Though the Chinese government has made efforts to stem the harassment within the workplace there has been far less done to prevent violence which occurs within the home.

China has only recently begun drafting legislation to prevent domestic violence which is truly shocking, considering the proliferation of abuse faced by women from their husbands. Surveys indicate that 25% to 40% of women in China have faced some form of domestic violence, whilst there is evidence to suggest that proportions are much higher in rural areas.

Though the new legislation is coming in to effect (after an extremely hard fought campaign to see it implemented), there is a deeper sociological issue within China which will have to be addressed to see the violence end. There are currently no women’s shelters in Beijing to protect women facing abuse, whilst the police are often reluctant to help viewing the abuse as a ‘family matter’.

Further to this, there are no means of escape from violent domestic situations for women as violence is still not recognised as a viable reason for divorce within Chinese law.

Hopefully, the new legislation will have some impact but without addressing public perceptions and attitudes to the issue, many women will continue to face violence behind closed doors.

Institutionalised Issues – Property Ownership

In addition to more blatant forms of harassment, there are also a number of less overt, more institutionalised challenges facing women which are deeply engrained within China’s socioeconomic structure. One huge issue facing women is that of property; there a number of issues relating to women’s position on the property ladder and these differ between urban and rural areas.

In more rural areas – though women may own property, they are often unable to obtain it in the first place, due to an inbuilt practice of patriarchal primogeniture whereby the eldest son will always inherit land. Though this is not the official government policy, this is the way it works in practice for many; however, the theoretical allocation of property by the Chinese state poses its own issues for women.

The current system is allegedly that the state owns all land and allocates it to households for farming purposes; however, this means that for a woman to own land it is contingent on her being part of a ‘household’ which in China is often a male-dominated entity with either a father or husband at the head, making true land ownership for women all the more difficult. In urban areas the issue is generally that single women are ‘priced out’ of the market, with studies showing men earn 8% more than women in the same job, but equally showing a drastically higher proportion of women can be found in lower paying careers.

With property prices skyrocketing in China as demand increases ever higher, it can be almost guaranteed that women will be unable to purchase property without significant help from male counterparts.

Systemic Gender Bias – Unwanted Daughters

There is a far more prevalent and taboo issue within China which is universally known of yet not often discussed: this is the issue of child gender bias.

Following Chairman Mao’s instigation of the one-child policy following the great famine, it became apparent that male babies were immensely favoured, with horror stories emerging of parents abandoning or even killing baby girls in favour of trying again for a son. Orphanages quickly filled with unwanted girls whilst boys came to represent a significantly higher percentage of the population leading to serious concerns over China’s demographic stability.

At present, the ratio is roughly 100 girls to every 117 boys, which the state is seeking to remedy by firstly amending the one-child policy to allow only-child parents to have two children, and now offering rewards such as furniture and even cash payments to families who have a number of girl children.

The government also banned sex determination procedures in the 1980s to stop abortions specifically due to gender, and has recently begun a crackdown on smugglers importing blood samples necessary to complete the tests. Although all of this action by the government is good, it only addresses the arguably cosmetic issue of the number of abortions, rather than addressing the principal issue of systemic gender bias towards men.

Foot Binding Ban Finally Enforced Only Six Years Ago

In spite of the large number of issues facing women in China, there have been a number of promising developments for the women’s rights movement.

In addition to the new legislation on domestic violence and harassment (which although in need of serious reform and enforcement, is still promising) there have also been a number of other changes.

Six years ago, a century-old law was finally enforced and the final factory selling lotus shoes (primarily used in the practice of foot binding) was shut down by state police, thus finally ending the practice in China. Foot binding is a practice conceptually and intrinsically opposed to the empowerment of women, representing a physical manifestation of traditional patriarchal values. In essence, women’s feet were bound in a manner causing severe disfigurement to demonstrate higher social ranking and that they had no need to work.

The practice of foot binding was outlawed in 1911 but remained prolific – particularly in rural areas, and although in modern times the practice has all but died out, it is concerning that it is only within the last decade that Chinese authorities acted to close down the manufacturers of the shoes used in the practice.

China, Feminism, and the Social Media

The proliferation of social media has seen an increase in women becoming more outspoken on issues of feminism, and a recent campaign launched on Weibo saw women showing their unshaved armpits to highlight issues of beauty standards and women’s rights to choose how they treat their own bodies.

This has unfortunately been contrasted by the ‘belly button challenge’ which also originated on Weibo, and saw women challenge one another to become skinnier in order to touch their own belly buttons whilst reaching around their back. There are also questions about the efficacy of Weibo as a platform for free speech and feminism when it is so heavily monitored by the state, and access to other forms of social media is tightly controlled.

However, feminism is becoming a more prominent issue with popular demonstrations ever more common, particularly surrounding World Women’s Day which is widely celebrated in China.

Patriarchal Attitudes

To conclude, there are still a huge number of systemic issues within China’s political and social roots which must be addressed before serious progress can be made.

Though there has been growth in popular feminism over the past few decades, it has faced numerous setbacks, including the unwillingness of the patriarchal state government to implement change without serious pressure to do so, and an equivalent unwillingness to enforce new laws once they are put into force.

Overall, the movement will be slow but as it continues to gather momentum, hopefully, a greater change in society’s attitudes towards women and use of social media platforms will coincide with improved state cooperation.


Postcard From China: Secret Video of a Women’s Rights Demonstration

Times Insider delivers behind-the-scenes insights from The New York Times. In our Postcards series, Times reporters share on-the-ground observations about the places where they live.

BEIJING — The video says so much: a lone demonstration, shot under conditions of secrecy, to mark International Women’s Day in China.

Made with a sense of both fun and history, it shows a group of contemporary Chinese women dressed in the traditional gowns of female students in 1924, the first year the day was marked in China, the participants say.

It also says much that, 93 years later, the video and the demonstration had to take place on March 6, two days before the official event, to protect the women from the risk of detention.

In China, we’re always ahead — 12 or 13 hours ahead of New York, to be precise. So a request from editors for contributions to a global story about women’s day on the day itself promised to be a rush job.

The rush wasn’t the problem. Reporting is often last minute. The real problem was that I hadn’t heard of anything, and for good reason.


Chinese feminists gathered at their secret demonstration on March 6. Credit Tai Feng

Feminist activism blossomed here as recently as 2015, but today it is in a deep freeze, placed there by a Communist Party government that says it supports women’s rights yet is determined to enact a patriarchal, Confucian-inspired vision of “harmony” that is intolerant of dissent.

Second, reporting in China isn’t quite like reporting anywhere else in the world, though two of its hallmarks — opacity and control — exist elsewhere, too. Here, you need deep contacts and good language skills — including the ability to read Chinese — to penetrate a society where so much happens in secret. Patience, subtlety, and the humility to know that you can’t always get what you want immediately, help.

China has the most extensive and sophisticated internet censorship system in the world. It focuses not on the expression of discontent but on quashing every sign of collective action that could produce social mobilization, researchers at Harvard University say.

And with the high-profile detentions in 2015 of several feminists on the eve of International Women’s Day that year for their plans to distribute leaflets on public transportation warning about gropers, the authorities signaled that they see feminism as a force for collective action. The movement taps widespread anger at enduring abuse and discrimination.