Posts Tagged ‘pro-democracy’

Thai activists plan more protests ahead of coup anniversary in May

February 17, 2018

Reuters

BANGKOK (Reuters) – A group of pro-democracy activists in Thailand said on Saturday that it plans to hold more public protests, despite threat of arrests, to demand the military government not to delay a general election scheduled for November this year.

The junta has promised and postponed elections several times since it came to power following a coup in 2014, with the latest date being set for November.

But a change to the election law by the military-appointed legislature last month means that the election will likely be pushed back to early 2019. That sparked a series of small anti-junta, pro-election protests that is gaining momentum in recent weeks with gathering taking place in Bangkok, Chiang Mai in the north, and Khon Kaen in northeastern Thailand.

Activists from the Democracy Restoration Group (DRG) says they now want to hold a series of pro-election demonstrations starting this Sunday in northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima, followed by a protest in Bangkok next Saturday.

Thai anti-government protesters scuffle with a police during a protest in Bangkok on Saturday, February 10, 2018. (AFP)

The activists also announced plans to hold further protests on March 10 and 24 as well as on every Saturday in May, leading to a large gathering that will take place over several days, from May 19-22, marking the four-year anniversary of the 2014 coup.

“We will make May the month for all Thais to think about election and think about how our country should move forward,” Rangsiman Rome, a pro-democracy activist, told reporters at a news conference on Saturday.

Junta spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree told Reuters that the government is not concerned by the planned protests and will rely on the police to maintain peace and order.

“If the protest disturbs others than it will be up to the police to respond according to the law,” Winthai said.

Earlier this week, the junta lodged a lawsuit against seven DRG activists for inciting unrest and 43 protesters for illegal gathering after last Saturday pro-election protest by hundreds of people at Democracy Monument in Bangkok.

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Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong jailed over protest

January 17, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File / by Elaine YU | Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, 21, became the face of the 2014 Umbrella Movement calling for greater democracy in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AFP) – 

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong was jailed for the second time Wednesday for his role in mass pro-democracy protests as concern grows that prison terms for young campaigners are shutting down debate in the semi-autonomous city as Beijing increases control.

Wong, 21, who became the face of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, was handed a three-month sentence on a contempt charge for obstructing clearance of a major protest encampment, to which he had pleaded guilty.

He was already on bail pending an appeal over a six-month sentence for another protest-related offence.

Judge Andrew Chan described Wong’s involvement in obstructing the clearance in 2014 as “deep and extensive” in his written judgement.

“He played a leading role on that day,” he added. “The only appropriate punishment for Mr Wong is immediate imprisonment.”

Fellow activist Raphael Wong was jailed for four months and 15 days over the same incident.

Chan denied both bail but defence lawyers pushed for him to reconsider his decision and were granted a further hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile both activists were taken into custody by security guards.

“Our determination to fight for democracy will not change!” Raphael Wong shouted as he was led away.

Fourteen other defendants including leading activist Lester Shum were given suspended sentences on contempt charges.

Campaigners fear that the raft of cases against activists and the jail terms handed down to democracy leaders are discouraging young people from expressing their views and exercising their right to peaceful protest.

Freedom of speech and demonstration is protected by the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

– ‘No regrets’ –

Ahead of the hearing, Joshua Wong — who became the teenage face of the Umbrella Movement — said he had “no regrets” about his involvement.

“They can lock up our bodies but they can’t lock up our minds,” he told reporters.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside the High Court, chanting: “Civil disobedience, no fear!” and “I’m a Hong Konger, I want universal suffrage!”

They were countered by a small group of pro-Beijing protesters waving the national flag of China and supporting Hong Kong’s department of justice. They displayed a banner calling the activists “mobsters” and saying they must “pay the price” in jail.

The Umbrella Movement was an unprecedented rebuke to Beijing as tens of thousands of protesters brought parts of the city to a standstill demanding fully free leadership elections to replace a system where the chief executive is selected by a pro-Beijing committee.

They failed to win concessions and since then leading activists have been charged over their involvement.

Beijing has been further incensed by the emergence of some activists calling for independence for Hong Kong since the failure of the Umbrella Movement to win reform.

Wong’s party Demosisto wants self-determination for the city.

Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” deal since 1997, when Britain handed the territory back to China.

The agreement allows citizens rights unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and a partially directly elected parliament, as well as an independent judiciary, but there are concerns those liberties are being eroded.

Wong was jailed for six months in August on unlawful assembly charges for involvement in the storming of a fenced-off government forecourt known as Civic Square in September 2014, which sparked the wider Umbrella Movement rallies.

Wong and fellow campaigners Nathan Law and Alex Chow were originally given non-custodial sentences by a lower court over that incident, but after the government’s intervention they were jailed by the Court of Appeal.

The government’s move was seen as further evidence of Beijing’s growing influence over Hong Kong.

Their appeal against their sentences is currently being considered by Hong Kong’s top court.

by Elaine YU
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Joshua Wong and fellow Occupy Hong Kong student leaders made to wait as top court reserves judgment on jail terms appeal

January 16, 2018

Lawyers for Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang claimed their sentences were too harsh

By Chris Lau and Jasmine Siu

Couth China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 8:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 6:00pm

Three Hong Kong student pro-democracy leaders – including Joshua Wong Chi-fung – were on Tuesday awaiting their fates after their lawyers made a last-ditch effort against jail terms imposed on them last year over their actions in the run-up to the 2014 Occupy protests.

The lawyers earlier that day told the city’s top court that lower appeal judges had erred in interpreting matters of fact rather than points of law, and in weighing the trio’s political motives.

The Court of Final Appeal reserved judgment after hearing the ultimate appeal lodged by Wong, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang against their sentences, which were handed down to replace earlier non-custodial sentences after a government appeal.

Their bail was extended to the date of judgment.

The appeal, which touched upon whether motives such as civil disobedience should be taken into account in sentencing, is expected to set a legal precedent in a city increasingly split by divided political views.

If the five top justices – Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Toa-li, and justices Roberto Ribeiro, Joseph Fok, Tang Kwok-ching and Leonard Hoffmann – rule against them, the trio would have to return to prison immediately to serve the rest of their sentences.

Writing on his Facebook page ahead of Tuesday’s decision, Chow said: “Whether justice will be done will be revealed [on Tuesday] … with the whole city and world watching.”

The three were convicted in 2016 over their role in the storming of a forecourt of the government complex on September 26, 2014, two days before the civil disobedience movement began. While Wong, 21, and Chow, 27, were found guilty of taking part in an illegal assembly, Law, 24, was convicted of inciting others.

All were originally given either a community service order or suspended sentence by a lower court. But prosecutors, deeming the sentence too light, took them back to court in a controversial move to ask the Court of Appeal to jail them.

Wong, Law and Chow were subsequently jailed for six, eight and seven months respectively, with the court issuing new sentencing guidelines for unlawful assembly.

Five months on, their lawyers argued on Tuesday that the Court of Appeal had overstepped boundaries of what it is entitled to do and, in Wong’s case, neglected that he was a minor at the time of the crime when considering his punishment.

His counsel Philip Dykes SC said the Court of Appeal may not alter the trial magistrate’s finding of facts when prosecutors had had the chance to correct them earlier.

Law’s counsel Robert Pang Yiu-hung SC, on the other hand, said the new sentencing practice may have “a chilling effect” on political participation among younger Hongkongers, citing the University of Hong Kong’s recent student union elections, which did not receive any nominations, as possible evidence of such a chill.

“Reports in the press suggest students simply don’t want to get involved,” he added.

But Lord Justice Hoffman noted: “The Court of Appeal is entitled to say, ‘You’ve got to be more careful’, and to make sure of that point by saying, ‘In the future you’ll get a higher sentence.’”

Ma, the chief justice, added: “We’re talking about violent unrest here, not the right to demonstrate.”

Still Ma also observed there was “quite a big jump” from a community service order to a six-month jail term.

Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin SC replied that it was not unprecedented for unlawful assembly convictions to result in imprisonment.

But being fully appreciative of the jump, Leung later added: “Your Lordship may substitute a sentence which would enable the applicants immediate release.”

Given the trio had already been remanded 69 to 83 days in prison and assuming that all of them are entitled to remission, Leung noted that they have all served close to or more than 50 per cent of their respective jail terms.

On the issue of civil disobedience, Edwin Choy argued for Chow that it can be a powerful mitigating factor when the acts involved were not very violent and were motivated by just causes that promote a pluralistic and tolerant society.

“Civil disobedience is always relevant unless you overstepped the mark,” the chief justice replied. “The query in each case is what ‘overstepping the mark’ means.”

Outside court, a hopeful Law said: “We expect a positive result. Hopefully the court will adopt our lawyers’ arguments.”

But Wong added: “It’s hard for me to be overly optimistic since I have to face another case tomorrow at High Court.”

 A pro-democracy protester steps on defaced portraits of local politicians at the government headquarters in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

Wong is expected to be sentenced on Wednesday over a separate case, in which he admitted to contempt of court for obstructing a court-ordered clearance of a major Occupy protest site.

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-crime/article/2128374/jailed-hong-kong-student-leaders-appeal-jail-terms

Is Hong Kong Really Part of China?

January 2, 2018

By

HONG KONG — One could say that long before 1997, the year that Britain handed Hong Kong back to China, the leaders of the city’s major pro-democracy parties had come to a tacit understanding with the Chinese government. The pan-dems, as these politicians are known here, would support the absorption of Hong Kong into a greater, unified Chinese state on the understanding that in time Beijing would grant Hong Kong genuine electoral democracy. That, at least, seemed to be the intention driving Hong Kong’s foundational legal text, the Basic Law.

Twenty years later, the Chinese government, apparently bolstered by its newfound wealth and might, seems to have reneged on these terms. Yet some pan-dem leaders — mostly those associated with the Democratic Party — have clung to their old position. Whether out of genuine patriotism or fear of reprisals from Beijing, they continue to support the view that China is Hong Kong’s rightful sovereign.

But is it? Other pro-democracy advocates, both forward-looking young people and older members of the intelligentsia, don’t think so — and are pointing to history as evidence.

Last month, during a forum at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, several academics discussed their research on Hong Kong’s relationship to the Chinese mainland. Comparing British colonial rule in Hong Kong (relatively enlightened, especially after World War II) to China’s proxy rule since 1997 (increasingly heavy-handed), these scholars lent credence to the unorthodox yet increasingly popular view that Hong Kong is faring no better politically — and in some ways may even be doing worse — than it was under the British. Conclusion: It would probably be better off on its own.

Tsui Sing-Yun, a physician-turned-historian, recently published (in Hong Kong and Taiwan only) a 456-page book entitled “The City-state of Anguish: The Origin and History of the Hong Kong People,” which argues that Hong Kong and China have few commonalities and different destinies. Hong Kongers, he says, are racially, culturally and linguistically distinct from the Han majority of northern China. And having been ruled from 1842 to 1997 by neither China’s Republicans nor its Communists but by the British, they have developed a separate religious, legal and political identity.

Such positions are provocative and, of course, highly controversial. “Hong Kong is not China” has become a favorite slogan of separatists here. And as this sentiment grows, the Chinese government and its local supporters repeat again and again that Hong Kong has been part of Chinese territory since ancient times.

Yet the historical record suggests a vastly different interpretation.

According to multiple ancient texts — notably “Huai Nan Zhi” (淮南子) and “Shi Ji” (史記) — Hong Kong was part of a much larger southern region, known today as Lingnan, that was first annexed to the Middle Kingdom through a series of brutal military conquests led by the infamous first emperor of the Qin dynasty, in the years 221-210 B.C. Ge Jianxiong, an historian at Fudan University, in Shanghai, has called these conquests unjustified wars of colonial subjugation waged by the Han people from central China against the non-Han peoples on its periphery.

Similar conquests were undertaken subsequently, culminating in Emperor Qianlong’s Ten Perfect Military Campaigns, which he completed in the late 18th century, at the zenith of the Qing dynasty. Yet for 2,000-plus years, Lingnan, except for a few of its urban areas, could not be effectively ruled by the Middle Kingdom authorities in their faraway capitals to the north. Instead, the region was mostly governed according to local customs by tribal chiefs whom the central authorities had vetted — an arrangement that looks like a prototype for both Britain’s rule of Hong Kong and the “one country, two systems” formula that governs the city’s relations with the mainland today.

Which is to say: However much China denounces Western countries’ colonial legacy, it, too, has a long past as an imperialist power, and Hong Kong’s life in the Chinese empire began as a spoil of bloody conquests, as a colony. The year of the handover from Britain, 1997, marked at least the third time that the city was subjected to the sovereignty of a central kingdom of China.

And Hong Kongers know colonialism when they see it.

Government leaders in both Beijing and Hong Kong, as well as the more clever Communist sympathizers here, are aware of this perception problem. It is one reason, for example, they want to revise the Chinese-history curriculum in Hong Kong schools in order to bring it in line with that on the mainland.

But doubling down on political brainwashing this way is unlikely to serve their cause. It was an attempt to promote this so-called patriotic education in Hong Kong in 2012 that sparked the student protest movement Scholarism, which later became part of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, which in turn helped spawn new political parties that today advocate varying degrees of self-determination.

Beijing’s recent efforts to get the Hong Kong government to punish expressions of disrespect for the Chinese national anthem also seem to be backfiring. In one school commencement ceremony after another, newly minted graduates have flouted the hymn, even at the risk of jeopardizing their job prospects in a market increasingly dominated by firms from the mainland. Scorn for the Chinese Communist Party is extending to symbols of the Chinese state.

Yet even as the political schism deepens between Beijing and Hong Kong separatists, the traditional pan-dems seem to be losing their power to mobilize protests. What would once have been hot-button issues now draw only thin crowds into the streets. When throughout the fall, a self-described “concerned group” backed by the major pan-dem parties called for various marches to oppose a plan to enforce Chinese immigration law at a new train terminal in Hong Kong, only a few hundred people participated.

This disconnect reveals a rift within the pro-democracy camp. All democrats here essentially hate the authoritarian Chinese government, its bullying and its meddling with Hong Kong’s autonomy. But they disagree over the nature of their own Chinese heritage, and Hong Kong’s.

According to a recent poll by the University of Hong Kong that asked local residents if they identified as “Hong Kongers,” “Hong Kongers in China,” “Chinese in Hong Kong” or “Chinese,” nearly 70 percent of respondents aged 18-29 called themselves “Hong Kongers.” Just 0.3 percent called themselves “Chinese” — by far the lowest such figure since the poll was first conducted, in August 1997. For all age groups combined, almost 68 percent of respondents identified as “Hong Kongers” or “Hong Kongers in China,” compared with less than 31 percent who identified as “Chinese” or “Chinese in Hong Kong.” In mid-2008, more respondents had identified as the latter than the former. More and more Hong Kongers seem to feel less and less Chinese.

The sociologist Chan Kin-man, a founder of Occupy Central — the precursor to the Umbrella Movement — told an interviewer this summer that if Chinese nationalism ever required him to “suppress the quest for democracy and freedom” for Hong Kong, he would “without hesitation commit treason.” By an honest reading of the city’s history, he would be blameless.

After tough year, Hong Kong democracy protesters sound warning to China on New Year’s day — “I‘m not feeling positive. I think things will get worse.”

January 1, 2018

HONG KONG (Reuters) – After a year that saw democracy advocates in Hong Kong jailed and ousted from public office, thousands marched through the streets of Hong Kong on New Year’s Day to warn China not to meddle further in the city’s affairs and undermine its autonomy.

Over the past year, Hong Kong, a former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, has experienced what critics and pro-democracy activists describe as an intensifying assault on its autonomy by China’s Communist Party leaders.

This is despite Beijing’s promises to grant the city wide-ranging freedoms including an independent judiciary, under a so-called “one country, two systems” framework.

Besides the controversial jailing of several prominent young activists for unlawful assembly over the massive 2014 “Occupy” pro-democracy protests, authorities also ejected six pro-democracy lawmakers from the legislature for failing to take proper oaths of office.

The city’s reputation as one of Asia’s most robust legal jurisdictions has also come under a cloud amidst accusations of a politicization of certain legal cases.

 Image result for Joshua wong, photos
FILE Photo — Joshua Wong

The protesters, who included many middle-aged and elderly citizens, held up banners and chanted the march’s main theme to “Protect Hong Kong” during a walk of several kilometers to the city’s government headquarters.

Others decried an unprecedented move by China’s parliament last week that said part of a high-speed railway station being built in Hong Kong would be regarded as mainland territory governed by mainland laws.

“We are here to tell the government that we will not give up,” said Joshua Wong, one of the democracy activists jailed last year, but who is now out on bail pending an appeal.

“We have encountered many difficulties last year, including some of us being sued and jailed, but we will stand with Hong Kong people. We will fight for the rule of law, fight for Hong Kong, fight for the future, fight for the next generations.”

Two protesters who dressed up as People’s Liberation Army soldiers said they were concerned about the reach of China’s security apparatus. Others called for full democracy as the only lasting means to safeguard the city’s way of life.

The organizers of the march said some 10,000 people had showed up. Police, however, put the figure at 6,200.

The demonstration was largely peaceful, though some protesters who tried to later gather in a forecourt of the government’s headquarters skirmished briefly with security guards.

The so-called “Civic Square” was where the 2014 pro-democracy protests first kicked off when a group of protesters stormed over a fence and faced off with local police.

Despite the defiance on show, some said they feared Hong Kong would continue to be squeezed by Beijing.

“Everyone’s doing what they can,” said Andy Lau who was among the marchers. “If we have the right to demonstrate then we should. But I‘m not feeling positive. I think things will get worse.”

The Hong Kong government, in a statement, said it “fully respects the right of Hong Kong people to take part in processions and their freedom of expression”.

China’s leader Xi Jinping has said that while Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy under “one country, two systems”, Beijing still holds supreme authority over the city and won’t tolerate any challenge to its authority.

Additional reporting by Chermaine Lee; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Adrian Croft

Introducing Force 47, Vietnam’s New Weapon Against Online Dissent

December 31, 2017

The country’s new cyber unit is tasked with finding and rebutting government critics on Facebook and other platforms

People check their phones at a bus stop in Hanoi in August. The Vietnamese government has been increasing its efforts to rein in the internet.Photo: Nguyen Huy Kham/Reuters
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HANOI—On Christmas Day, Vietnam’s army unveiled its latest answer to the question of how to police the internet: a new, 10,000-strong cyber unit to trawl the web and counter any “wrongful opinions” about the communist state’s government.

Vietnamese leaders have wrestled with the web for years, nervous about the chaos they say the internet can unleash. The country’s president this summer warned that rumors and innuendo could weaken the foundations of the state.

Yet tens of thousands of small businesses rely on Facebook and other social-media platforms to reach their customers. Lobby groups warn that restricting access to the internet could damage one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, which the government says grew 6.8% this year, the fastest pace in a decade.

“As many forces and countries are talking about a real war in cyberspace, [Vietnam] should also stand ready to fight against wrongful views in every second, minute and hour,” Gen. Nguyen Trong Nghia said Monday as he announced the new program, according to state media.

The Force 47 cyber unit, tasked with rebutting government critics on Facebook and other platforms, adds another layer to Hanoi’s efforts to rein in the internet.

In recent months, the country has increased the penalties for anyone using Facebook as a platform to attack the government. In November, a young blogger was given a seven-year prison sentence for “spreading propaganda against the state,” while a well-known environmentalist, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, was handed a 10-year sentence on the same charges in June.

Amnesty International says Vietnam is holding at least 80 political prisoners. Internet security firms Volexity and FireEye says hackers allegedly aligned with Hanoi have installed malware on antigovernment websites to track who visits them.

Vietnam’s government previously has denied involvement in cyberattacks.

The country’s dissidents worry that more measures are coming.

Over glasses of draft pilsner and bowls of peanuts at a Hanoi bar, Nguyen Anh Tuyen, a translator and well-known blogger, described how the government is growing anxious over the spread of what he calls microprotests, organized through social media. These range from campaigns to stop Hanoi’s city government cutting down trees to demonstrations against China’s expansion into waters also claimed by Vietnam.

“The government worries that one day all these different protests will come together in one campaign against them,” noted Mr. Tuyen, who says he is regularly tailed by police and closely monitored.

In December, Hanoi suspended a new toll booth on a small local road in Cai Lay, deep in the south of the country, after truck drivers and other motorists used Facebook to organize protests.

Government officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Vietnamese blogger and environmentalist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, pictured above at court in Nha Trang on Nov. 30, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for ‘spreading propaganda against the state.’ Photo: Vietnam News Agency/AFP/Getty Images

Vietnam has instructed businesses to boycott Facebook and Google’s YouTube as part of government efforts to encourage the companies to respond more quickly to its requests to remove critical content. A new draft law requiring firms such as Facebook and YouTube to set up representative offices and provide expensive new server systems in-country would make it easier for the state to pressure social-media platforms.

Vietnam’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Asia Internet Coalition, which includes Facebook and Google as members, have criticized the draft law. They say it could undermine local businesses, which have profited from the boom in social media here in recent years.

Google, which said it has a global policy of complying with local laws, referred to the Asia Internet Coalition’s position. Facebook didn’t respond to requests for comment.

While Vietnam’s methods might be crude, internet policy experts say, they reflect moves under way elsewhere to tether the free-information ethos that characterized the early days of the web. Thailand has threatened to block Facebook if it doesn’t remove sensitive images of its new king, while China famously operates an extensive firewall. Facebook has been blocked there since 2009, replaced by homegrown social-media networks that authorities can more easily control.

“Governments are becoming much more aware that they have the leverage to control content that they don’t like on the internet, and they are pushing their authority,” said Daphne Keller at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. “The era when people thought the internet was ungovernable is past, or is rapidly passing.”

Mai Khoi, a dissident musician known as the ‘Lady Gaga’ of Vietnam, has urged big tech companies to ‘protect the only space where people in Vietnam can speak freely.’ Above, she is seen speaking from a window of her home in Hanoi on Nov. 11.Photo: JENNY VAUGHAN/AFP/Getty Images

One problem for internet companies is finding enough people to assess government requests to remove information, people familiar with the situation say. YouTube recently blocked a clip from the Charlie Chaplin film “The Great Dictator,” which featured a strongly pro-democracy, antimilitary tone, at the request of Thailand’s military government. It later reversed course after determining the video didn’t violate any local laws.

As pressure mounts, Vietnamese activists are urging big tech companies to stand firm against what say are attempts to limit free speech and contain critics.

“We need you to guarantee that you will protect the only space where people in Vietnam can speak freely,” said Do Nguyen Mai Khoi, a singer and outspoken government critic. “You have a social responsibility to do this.”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/introducing-force-47-vietnams-new-weapon-against-online-dissent-1514721606

Tens of Thousands March to Defend Hong Kong’s Rule of Law Against “Authoritarian Rule”

October 1, 2017

HONG KONG — Tens of thousands marched in China-ruled Hong Kong on Sunday in an “anti authoritarian rule” march that called for the resignation of the city’s top legal official over the recent jailing of young democracy activists.

The march, an annual fixture over the past few years on China’s October 1 National Day, comes at a time of nascent disillusionment with Hong Kong’s once vaunted judiciary.

“Without democracy, how can we have the rule of law,” the crowds yelled as they marched through sporadic downpours, from a muddy pitch to the city’s harbour-front government headquarters.

Organisers estimated about 40,000 people joined the march.

Image result for hong kong, protest, october 1, 2017, photos

Activists hold banners and placards as they take part in an annual protest march on China’s national day in Hong Kong on October 1, 2017. (Photo | AFP)

Many protesters, some clad in black, expressed dismay with Hong Kong’s Secretary of Justice, Rimsky Yuen, who Reuters reported had over-ruled several other senior public prosecutors to seek jail terms for three prominent democrats: Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow.

“We believe he (Yuen) has been the key orchestrator in destroying Hong Kong’s justice,” said Avery Ng, one of the organisers of the rally that drew a coalition of some 50 civil and political groups.

Around one hundred Hong Kong activists are now facing possible jail terms for various acts of mostly democratic advocacy including the “Umbrella Revolution” in late 2014 that saw tens of thousands of people block major roads for 79 days in a push for universal suffrage.

RULE OF LAW

While the October 1 march is a regular annual fixture, this was the first time the rule of law has been scrutinised like this, with the judiciary — a legacy of the British Common Law system — long considered one of the best in Asia and a cornerstone of Hong Kong’s economic success.

“It’s like mainland (Chinese) laws have intruded into Hong Kong,” said Alex Ha, a teacher of classical guitar, who was walking alone in the crowd.

Pro-democracy activists take part in a protest on China’s National Day in Hong Kong, China October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index last week downgraded Hong Kong’s judicial independence ranking by five spots to number 13 in the world.

In response, however, Yuen stressed at the time that Hong Kong’s judiciary remained strong and independent.

“We cannot rely on subjective perceptions, we have to look at the facts,” he told reporters.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that Beijing would grant the city a high degree of autonomy and an independent judiciary under a so-called “one country, two systems” arrangement.

But over two decades of Chinese rule, differences have deepened between Communist Party leaders in Beijing and a younger generation of democracy advocates, some of whom are now calling for the financial hub to eventually split from China.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam spoke of a need for unity during a speech to assembled dignitaries at a National Day reception to mark the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China by the Communists.

“As long as we capitalise on our strengths, stay focused, seize the opportunities before us and stand united, I am sure that Hong Kong can reach even greater heights,” she said.

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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New wave of leaders step into breach for jailed Hong Kong democracy activists

September 8, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Aaron TAM | Hong Kong democracy activists Agnes Chow and Lester Shum are among the young leaders to have stepped into the breach left by jailed opposition figures

HONG KONG (AFP) – The jailing of Hong Kong’s best-known democracy activists has pushed a new wave of young leaders to take the helm as they seek to keep the movement’s message alive.Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, who carved out international reputations with their campaigning, were both sent to prison last month in what rights groups slammed as politically motivated prosecutions.

Alongside fellow activist Alex Chow, they are serving sentences of between six and eight months for their roles in a protest that triggered mass Umbrella Movement rallies in 2014 calling for democratic reforms.

The jailings were a blow to the pro-democracy movement and seen as more evidence that Beijing is tightening its grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong.

But they also breathed new life into a campaign that had been struggling for momentum since the 2014 rallies failed to win concessions.

Tens of thousands took to the streets to protest the jail terms last month, and activists who have long been at the right hand of Wong and Law are now stepping into the spotlight.

“We should try to do more, not only for them but also for our city and to show the government and the Chinese regime that we are not going to be scared,” Agnes Chow, 20, a close friend of the jailed activists, told AFP.

Chow addressed the crowds at last month’s protest over the sentences and has regularly spoken to the media since her friends were imprisoned.

If a by-election for the Hong Kong legislature is held early next year — after her 21st birthday in December — she would be old enough to run for Law’s vacated seat, and has not ruled that out.

Law was one of four pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified from parliament in July for inserting protests into their oaths of office.

Chow is already a seasoned activist — she was one of the core members of Wong’s Scholarism group, which organised huge rallies in 2012 forcing the government to shelve a proposal to introduce compulsory patriotic “national education” into schools.

She was also one of the best-known faces of the Umbrella Movement, regularly taking to the stage to address protesters, and is a member of Wong and Law’s political party Demosisto.

Chow said the government was using the jail terms to scare people away from social movements.

“It is important for us to learn how to overcome fear in order to fight for our own basic human rights and freedom and democracy,” she said.

– Turning point –

Chow and fellow Demosisto member Derek Lam said the democratic movement now needed to improve its connections at the grassroots level to build a stronger base.

Lam, 24, who made an emotive speech outside the jail where Chow and Law are being held and is one of Demosisto’s most recognisable leaders, said the party ranks had swelled in the past two months.

“Young people are all trying to find a way to change Hong Kong,” he added.

But Lam also faces charges over an anti-China demonstration last year and believes there will soon “only be a few people left” to lead the cause.

Activist Lester Shum said those who are free to continue campaigning should put pessimism aside.

Shum, 24, also a prominent student leader during the Umbrella Movement, has been at the forefront of recent protests over the jailings.

He said the imprisonment of Wong, Law and Chow was a turning point for the democratic movement.

“They have been facing their situation with a very calm and determined attitude,” he told AFP.

“I think this will somehow encourage pro-democratic Hong Kong people,” said Shum, who is assistant to popular pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu.

Shum is facing contempt of court charges relating to the clearance of one of the Umbrella Movement protest sites. Visibly thinner than when he first came on the scene, he said there had been an emotional toll.

“One of the worst things for me has already happened,” he said, referring to the imprisonment of his girlfriend Willis Ho.

She was one of 13 activists recently jailed for charging the Legislative Council building in 2014 in protest over re-development plans for rural areas.

But he remains optimistic about the city’s campaign for democracy and vowed to fight on.

“If we could stand up against their agenda, stand up against the challenges given to us by them, I think Hong Kong people will not be defeated easily.”

by Aaron TAM

Yemen: Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi fighters appear to have re-joined — Nobody knows their next move — But warned “beware of these snakes”

September 6, 2017

DUBAI — Yemen’s ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh appears to have patched up a violent rift with his allies in the armed Houthi movement, but the drama has left friends and foe alike wondering anew at the wily political survivor’s next move.

Forming a surprise alliance with the Houthis when they seized the capital Sanaa in 2014, Saleh’s army loyalists and Houthi fighters have together weathered thousands of air strikes by a Saudi-led military coalition in 2 1/2 years of war.

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Yemen’s ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh

Fearing the Houthis are a proxy for their arch-foe Iran, the mostly Gulf Arab alliance seeks to help the internationally recognized government push up from a base in Yemen’s south toward Sanaa. Saleh’s guile has been key to resisting the push.

For 34 years Saleh ruled over one of the world’s most heavily armed and tribal societies with expertly balanced doses of largesse and force. He battled the Houthis for a decade in office before he befriended them when out of power.

Cornered by pro-democracy “Arab Spring” protests, Saleh wore a cryptic smile when signing his resignation in a televised ceremony in 2012. Then as now, few could discern his intentions.

But his desire to preserve by any means necessary his influence and that of his family – many of whom occupy top military positions – seems beyond doubt. His influence has outlived that of other Arab leaders left dead or deposed by uprisings and civil wars since 2011.

As the conflict has wrought a humanitarian crisis, weeks of mutual sniping about responsibility for economic woes in northern Yemeni lands that they together rule peaked with a deadly gun battle between Houthi and Saleh supporters last week.

Leaders from Saleh’s former ruling party and the Houthis met and pronounced the split healed.

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Though they pledged to focus on the war effort against Yemen’s internationally recognized government that is backed by the Saudi-led coalition, the tensions suggest Saleh is seeking to stake out his own political strategy as exhaustion sets in on all sides.

“Saleh wants to capitalize on popular opposition to both the Houthis and the government, positioning himself as an alternative,” said Adam Baron, a Yemen expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

The war has killed at least 10,000 people, displaced 2 million from their homes, led to widespread hunger and a cholera epidemic which has left 2,000 people dead. Militias and Yemen’s powerful Al Qaeda branch have gained ground in the chaos.

Any total breakdown within the alliance between Saleh and the Houthis would be bloody and pit scores of local leaders, tribesmen and army units cultivated by Saleh for decades against others loyal to the fighters.

BEWARE

Saleh appeared eager to avoid that showdown in an interview which aired on Monday on Yemen Today, a TV channel he owns.

“There is no crisis or disagreement at all except in the imaginations of trouble-makers and sowers of discord at home and abroad,” he said.

But the ex-leader, at times referring to himself in the third person, said that “imbalances” remained in the alliance, suggesting not all wounds had been salved.

Analysts say he remains annoyed at the continued existence of a Houthi “revolutionary committee” which ruled alone before its alliance was formalized with Saleh’s General People’s Congress party in a “governing council” where they shared power.

Anxiety also flares over appointments of local officials and control over financial policy – both former GPC prerogatives.

Beyond local squabbles, the good relations Saleh enjoyed with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during his presidency raise Houthi fears of a grand double cross.

Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali, lives under house arrest in the UAE where he once served as ambassador before it joined its ally Saudi Arabia to make war on the Houthi-Saleh alliance.

A powerful former military chief whom his father appeared to be grooming to succeed him, Ahmed Ali and the passing of Saleh power to the next generation may figure into his calculus.

“He certainly wants to secure a place for his family in any post-war order … the Houthis are very paranoid that Saleh may cut a deal with Saudi Arabia and the UAE that will leave them out to dry,” Baron of ECFR added.

Saleh has denied seeking to advance his son’s political career or any backroom dealing with their enemies.

To salvage their alliance, the Houthis will need to convince Saleh that despite their violent history, they make for stronger allies than some GPC members – like Saleh’s successor, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi – who turned on him in the past.

“I say to President Saleh, out of sincerity and love, beware of these snakes,” Houthi official Hamid Rizq wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

“They are the ones who pushed you to fight wars against the honorable and loyal people in your society then abandoned you and called you are a thief and a criminal.”

(editing by Peter Graff)

China’s Rights Crackdown Is Called ‘Most Severe’ Since Tiananmen Square

September 6, 2017

GENEVA — China is systematically undermining international human rights groups in a bid to silence critics of its crackdown on such rights at home, a watchdog organization said on Tuesday. The group also faulted the United Nations for failing to prevent the effort, and at times being complicit in it.

“China’s crackdown on human rights activists is the most severe since the Tiananmen Square democracy movement 25 years ago,” Kenneth Roth, the director of the agency, Human Rights Watch, said in Geneva on Tuesday at the introduction of a report that he described as an international “wake-up call.” “What’s less appreciated is the lengths to which China goes to prevent criticism of that record of oppression by people outside China, particularly those at the United Nations.”

“The stakes are not simply human rights for the one-sixth of the world’s population who live in China,” Mr. Roth added, “but also the survival and effectiveness of the U.N. human rights system for everyone around the globe.”

The report highlights China’s measures to prevent activists from leaving the country to attend meetings at the United Nations, its harassment of those who do manage to attend and the risk of reprisals when they return or if they interact with United Nations investigators inside or outside China.

The report also noted barriers placed by Chinese officials to visits by United Nations human rights officials. Beijing has not allowed a visit by the agency’s High Commissioner for human rights since 2005, and continues to delay 15 requests for visits by special rapporteurs working on political and civil rights issues.

China allowed visits by four rapporteurs since 2005 on issues like poverty, debt and the status of women. But it carefully choreographed those visits, and contacts not sanctioned by the state posed risks to those involved. The United Nations has expressed concern that the detention of Jiang Tianyong, a prominent human rights lawyer, resulted from a 2016 meeting in Beijing with the United Nations special rapporteur on poverty, Philip Alston. Mr. Jiang disappeared for several months and was later charged with subversion.

The report also documents China’s diplomacy in the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, where the country aligns with an informal collection of states, including Algeria, Cuba, Egypt and Venezuela, that discretely coordinate their positions to deflect scrutiny of their records and consistently challenge the council’s ability to look into accusations of abuse in other states without their consent.

“It’s becoming a mutual defense society among dictators in which everybody understands the need to deflect criticism of you today because they may criticize us tomorrow,” Mr. Roth said. “And China is an active, willing partner in that effort.”

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