Posts Tagged ‘dissidents’

Interpol headed by Chinese police official, human rights defenders fearsome

April 20, 2017

meng-hongwei.jpg
Meng Hongwei takes charge of Interpol

‘Old’ but underreported news is that Meng Hongwei – a top Chinese police official – has been elected president of Interpol, which worries some human rights NGOs. The Independent had an article on 10 November 2016.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has waged a four-year campaign against corruption, which includes a push to return former officials and other suspects who fled abroad. China filed a list of 100 of its most-wanted suspects with Interpol in April 2014, about one third of which have since been repatriated. The country’s police and judicial systems have been routinely criticised for abuses, including eliciting confessions under torture and the disappearance and detention without charges of political dissidents and their family members.  Many Western nations have been reluctant to sign extradition treaties with China or return suspects wanted for non-violent crimes.

Given those circumstances, Mr Meng’s election is an “alarming prospect“, said Maya Wang, Hong Kong-based researcher at Human Rights Watch. “While we think it’s important to fight corruption, the campaign has been politicised and undermines judicial independence,” Ms Wang added. Mr Meng’s election “will probably embolden and encourage abuses in the system,” she said, citing recent reports of close Chinese ally Russia’s use of Interpol to attack President Vladimir Putin’s political opponents.

This is extraordinarily worrying given China’s longstanding practice of trying to use Interpol to arrest dissidents and refugees abroad,” Nicholas Bequelin, east Asia director at Amnesty International wrote on Twitter.

Recently, 5 April 2017, Wei Jingsheng, a well-known human rights defender in exile, said while visiting Lyon (the HQ of Interpol) that the election of Meng Hongwei as chief of the global police organisation could give Beijing new leverage over its critics. “The Chinese government’s message to all political opponents like me or party officials who have fled the country is: ‘Wherever you are, the international police work with us and we will find you’,” “That’s frightening,” he said, adding that Meng “is still vice-minister of public security in China. He has led the secret police.”

While Interpol’s charter officially bars it from undertaking “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character,” critics say some governments, primarily Russia and Iran, have abused the system to harass and detain opponents of their regime.

Sources:

Chinese state official named head of Interpol, raising fears for political opponents | The Independent

http://www.france24.com/en/20170405-china-dissident-sees-threat-new-interpol-chief

China’s new foreign NGO law bound to make things worse for ‘sensitive’ human rights defenders

April 8, 2015

Maya Wang (twitter @wang_maya), a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, published on 8 April 2105 an interesting post under the title “China’s new foreign NGO law will help silence critics“.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Willem Velthoven.

Some years back I participated in an interesting meeting with Chinese academics in Beijing about exactly this issue of the status of NGOs in China. The meeting resulted in a book ‘NGOs in China and Europe’ (exceptionally also published in Chinese!) edited by Yuwen Li and published by Ashgate in 2011 (ISBN: 978-1-4094-1959-4). Although almost all participants agreed that the current regime for establishing associations is too cumbersome and too heavy-handed for Chinese civil society to flourish, the Government made clear that its main concern remained with what Maya calls ‘sensitive’ NGOs. Those working on issue that are even faintly related to human rights or smack of possible activism, especially when funded from abroad, are seen as a danger and should be subject tot maximum control. That seems to be born out by the draft of the long-awaited ‘Foreign NGOs Administration Law’, likely to be adopted this year and of which Human Rights Watch obtained a copy.

As Maya states, it has never been easy to run an independent organisation in China. The risks of being arbitrarily shut down or harassed are high, as shown by the arrest on 8 March of five women’s rights activists and a 24 March raid on an NGO that supports their work in Beijing. But the absence of a national law governing NGOs, coupled with differences in attitudes towards NGOs by regional leaders, have afforded some leeway for those with creative strategies. It has been common for ‘sensitive’ NGOs to register as a business to bypass the wary eyes of the state, or not register at all. And over the years, some international funding to these organisations in China has been tolerated.

 

Especially ‘sensitive’ NGOs have been unable to access domestic funding sources because they are not legally registered as a nonprofit and anyway those who did want to fund would receive official harassment. The new Foreign NGOs Administration Law is bound to end the funding lifeline that allowed more outspoken NGOs to operate.

The draft law is likely to significantly tighten the Government’s control over civil society says Maya: “If approved, the Ministry of Public Security (not the Ministry of Civil Affairs) will now have the power to supervise and approve registration of foreign NGOs. That ‘supervision’ can entail entering the premises of the foreign NGO at any point, questioning its staff, and copying or seizing any document, all tactics more commonly reserved for a criminal investigation. Foreign NGOs will have to submit for approval annual work plans and funding allocations, and will be prohibited from engaging in a range of peaceful activities, from raising funds or accepting donations in-country to recruiting volunteers or trying to recruit members ‘directly or indirectly.’” Violations of these prescriptions mean that an NGO’s representative in China would be liable to punishments, including a 15-day detention.

“The draft law is another step towards the Chinese Government’s ‘differentiated management’ model of NGOs, in which domestic groups working on issues approved by the state, such as charities for people with disabilities, can register easily and are considered for increased state funding and support.  But those engaged on rights or lobbying are stifled. The draft explicitly prohibits activities that ‘endanger…national security, unity and solidarity’ or that ‘go against China’s social morality’. These are vague terms, but ones frequently used to silence peaceful government critics and activists.”

China’s new foreign NGO law will help silence critics.

Russian human rights defender Andrei Mironov meets his death in Ukraine

May 27, 2014

Picture taken May 25 shows the domestic and foreign passports of Russian rights defender Andrei Mironov, who was reportedly killed with Italian journalist, Andrea Rocchelli, near the eastern Ukrainian town of Slavyansk. AFP

(Picture taken May 25 shows the domestic and foreign passports of Russian rights defender Andrei Mironov, reportedly killed near Ukrainian town of Slavyansk. AFP POOL-/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

“It’s hard for me to believe that Andrei Mironov is dead” writes  Olivia Ward, Foreign Affairs Reporter of the Toronto Star on 25 May 2014. Indeed a terrible shock. I met him for the first time in 2004 when he accompanied the MEA Laureate Lida Yusupova of Memorial to the ceremony in Geneva. According to an Agence France- Presse report from Slavyansk, Ukraine, the veteran Russian human rights defender and sometime war zone fixer, used up the last of his nine lives on Sunday. He was acting as a translator for Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli, who was also killed. According to a French photographer who escaped with leg wounds, the two men were hit by shrapnel from mortar shells as government troops and pro-Russian separatists continued to battle for territory in eastern Ukraine.

Olivia Ward describes Andrei as a “slight, self-effacing man of 60, with a puckish sense of humour, he belied his frail appearance with an iron will to do good in the world. In 1986, that got him a year in a Soviet labour camp as an “anti Soviet dissident” – a time he used to channel his talent for languages, including French and Italian. Nor did he let up on government abuses after the fall of the Soviet Union. As a human rights campaigner linked with the venerable rights organization Memorial , he snapped at the heels of Boris Yeltsin’s and Vladimir Putin’s governments, especially during the two bloody wars when Russian troops battled Chechen separatist fighters…..“You don’t understand,” he rasped. “I have to go and witness what is happening. If I don’t, who will?

Andrei dodged so many bullets in his decades of battling impunity that it is hard to believe he is gone. It would be harder still if the truth were buried along with him” concludes Olivia Ward, who covered the former Soviet Union as bureau chief and correspondent from 1992 to 2002. For the full story see:  Death in Ukraine: bitter end for Russian human rights hero | Toronto Star.

 

 

Zbigniew Romaszewski, Polish Human Rights Defender remembered by Aryeh Neier

March 31, 2014

On the Human Rights Watch website, 29 March 2014, Aryeh Neier, remembers fondly Zbigniew Zbyszek Romaszewski, a physicist, who in 1979 volunteered to lead an underground Helsinki Committee in Poland under the just concluded Helsinki Accords. Romaszewski died in Warsaw on 13 February 2014 at the age of 74.

When martial law was imposed in December 1981, some 30,000 people were arrested and imprisoned. Romaszewski and his wife Zosia were among them. Some time after the imposition of martial law, we learned that the Polish Helsinki Committee had found a way to continue to operate secretly.  They managed to smuggle highly detailed reports to Helsinki Watch.  Their first report, produced under the difficult conditions of search, seizure and secrecy, was 182 pages long. Helsinki Watch published it in English translation under the title “Prologue to Gdansk.” They were a leading source of information on human rights practices in Poland in that period. In March 1984 – after we had no person-to-person contact with anyone in Poland for more than two years – I traveled to Warsaw.  Before I left, I learned that Amnesty International had designated  Zbigniew Romaszewski a prisoner of conscience. Arriving in Poland, I hoped to see Zosia Romaszewska, who had recently been released from prison.  Her husband was still in prison.  I could not say for sure that I would see her because it was not possible to make advance appointments.  All I could do was to turn up at people’s apartments and hope that I would find them there. During my visit to Warsaw I met many persons who had been imprisoned, and also family members of those still imprisoned, who had been entirely cut off from such contacts.  This included Zosia who I was able to spend several hours with. I was able to publish a number of articles in the US on the vitality of the Solidarity movement.  During a visit to Warsaw in 1985, my colleague Ken Roth spent time with both Zbigniew, who by then had been released from prison, and Zosia.  They graciously spent many hours with him.  In this difficult period, when the country was still recovering after the imposition of martial law, Zbigniew and Zosia were the key source of information on the struggling dissident movement which remained very much alive despite the Soviet-backed General Wojciech Jaruzelski’s efforts to crush it. Later on, I got to know Zbigniew Romaszewski and, a couple of times, brought him to conferences in other parts of the world to speak about how a human rights movement could cope with a repressive regime. He became a Senator in Poland and Chairman of the Polish Senate Human Rights and Rule of Law Committee. The organization he founded, now the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland, is going very strong. The last time I visited Warsaw – about a year-and-a-half ago – its legal staff included 23 lawyers.  It is in the forefront of human rights advocacy in Europe.

via Remembering Zbigniew Romaszewski, Polish Human Rights Pioneer | Human Rights Watch.

Radio Prague: interesting interview with People In Need Director Simon Panek

March 28, 2014

Since its foundation in the early 1990s, Prague-based People in Need [Člověk v tísni] has become one of the biggest NGOs in Central Europe. Founding member Šimon Pánek has for many years been the organisation’s director, and Ian Willoughby of Radio Prague did an lengthy interview with him on 24 March 2014. The conversation touched on targeting of aid, politics, international perception and plans for the future. It has become a most interesting interview that shows how in two decades a NGO in Central Europe can develop into a serious and mature organisation, still mostly local but with international potential. The transcript of the interview follows below:

I first asked Pánek what for him had been its standout projects of the last 20 years-plus “What was important was one of the very first projects, SOS Sarajevo, a big fund-raising campaign in the Czech Republic and relatively massive humanitarian aid into the besieged city of Sarajevo during the war. That was a formative period for us, for sure.

“The second important period I regard as when we were approached by students from Belarus and Cuban immigrants in the second half of the 1990s with a simple question: did you forget that we are not free yet?

“They said, you got your freedom, you got rid of the Communist regime, but we still have Lukashenko, we still have Castro – it’s a bit unfair to forget that we are in a bad situation.

Šimon Pánek, photo: Štěpánka Budková

(Šimon Pánek, photo: Štěpánka Budková)

“At that time we basically established the second department of People in Need, dealing with human rights, or supporting human rights defenders.

“The third pillar was established again at the end of the 1990s when in the North Bohemian city of Ústí nad Labem the mayor started to build a wall between a Roma settlement and the majority…”

This was the notorious Matiční Street.

“Yes, Matiční Street. And we were shamed. We were sitting around the table – I still remember the day – and one of my colleagues said, if we are able to operate in Chechnya, if we are able to do illegal work and support dissidents in Cuba, Burma, Belarus, we should be able to try to do at least something in such a shameful situation in our own country.

“So we started with social work at that time, and now we are running 10 offices around the Czech Republic with almost 200 employees working in 60 localities, dealing with social exclusion and all other connected things.”

Could we get back to the political activities of People in Need? You were saying that you support the opposition in countries like Cuba, Burma – do you have a kind of neo-conservative approach, where you’re trying to in a sense export democracy to these countries? Neoconservativism has been largely discredited politically, I would say.

“Yes, I absolutely agree that the word democracy was discredited, mainly through the Bush era.

“The push for more democracy with a really very simple approach – the more money I pour on the one side, the more democracy will appear the other – we never shared. We’ve never tried to push or export things.

“What we do is we try to support the people who are there in their activities, their interests.

“We do basically the same thing that same things that were done from Sweden, Britain, France, Germany – to a certain extent from the US as well, but mainly from European countries – during communism for [Czechoslovak] writers, intellectuals, dissidents.

“And I think to say ‘opposition’, it means we are supporting the political opposition – in the vast majority of situations that’s not true. We are supporting student groups that want to discuss the economy…”

But they want regime change.

“Some of them. Or regime improvement. They want to get freedom to travel, they want free access to the internet.

“Of course from the point of view of dictatorships or authoritarian regimes we are breaking some of their laws. But is the law legitimate if it deprives people of free access to the internet in the 21st century? I don’t think so.

“We are basically helping people to get very basic things that you and I can have here on any corner.

“What’s important is that if any change is going to happen and to be sustainable, it’s the destiny of the people there. If they can’t read books by Václav Havel or about the economy, or get access to the internet or even publish what they write, I think it’s unfair.

“We are basically helping them to overcome the obstacles and oppression which, in our opinion, illegitimate, undemocratic regimes are imposing on their own people.”

You mentioned Václav Havel. He was a great supporter of People in Need and of you personally – at one point he said that you could follow him as president some day. What did his backing mean to People in Need, especially internationally in terms of creating your profile?

Václav Havel, photo: Filip Jandourek

Václav Havel, photo: Filip Jandourek

“Well, of course it was very important to have a person like Václav Havel here. We did not cooperate directly as much as it might appear – it was more of a convergence of the same principles, values and ideas.

“On the other hand, in some cases yes, we were carrying messages from Václav Havel to people in Burma, Cuba, East Timor, Chechnya.

“It was very important for the people to hear that we are coming from the Czech Republic and that Václav Havel is sending his greetings, whatever.

“Because his life was kind of a fairy tale for people living in unfree countries. And a big hope that if a powerless writer can win over a very strong regime, sooner or later freedom will come even to their countries.

“Internationally, yes it helped, probably. On the other hand, I think 20 years of work without any major mistakes or problems, high credibility among people, a few tens of thousands of stable supporters, I mean financial supporters which we have in the Czech Republic – these are important factors as well, of course.”

There are so many crises around the world and there are always fresh ones it seems – how do you decide which ones to target with aid?

“It’s a very good question, but of course it brings us back to the ultimate question – does this really make sense?

“We try to sit around the table and estimate critically if we are able to really make some change, if it’s reasonable in terms of the size of the crisis and in terms of the resources and capacities which we are able to generate here in the Czech Republic.

“If not, we often cooperate with our colleagues from Alliance 2015, which is eight organisations from Europe.

“If we are able to get together a few hundred thousand euros for a crisis, if it’s in one of the countries where the partner organisations are working, we just channel the money through them. Because there is no sense in spending the money on extra offices, cars, flight tickets.

“What we really don’t want to have is more flags on the map. Often less is more. To be focused and to really be able to achieve more and to go deeper in addressing the needs of the people and the causes of the crisis is more important than how many countries we are active in.”

Does the fact that People in Need comes from the Czech Republic influence how you are seen in different parts of the world?

“Absolutely. Coming from a small Central and Eastern European country has some advantages, but also some disadvantages. The disadvantages are that we really had to work hard to get on the mental map of big institutional international donors.

“The advantage is that we are not seen as having any other agenda. Still people coming from the US and strong Western European countries are… seen with greater suspicion.

“We come from a very small state without imperial ambitions, without really big influence. Basically people welcome us and I think they tend to trust us more quickly than NGOs coming from very strong countries with support from very strong governments.”

How would you like to see People in Need develop into the future?

“The last 20 years were interesting in one regard – we never made any plan as to how big we wanted People in Need to be, or how much money we wanted to turn over every year.

“We were always responding to needs which came from outside, humanitarian needs or the big floods in the Czech Republic, or issues connected with social exclusion, mainly of Roma people.

“It’s slightly changing, because we are too big to just respond. We are discussing more and more some new fields.

“The staff is getting older, including us in the management, which is probably good for the stability of the organisation.

“What I’ve seen during the last few years and what I think is extremely interesting and extremely important is that we are kind of materialising into systemic objectives our experience and cumulative knowledge from concrete work with beneficiaries in humanitarian development, social work, education.

“So while continuing with direct work we are more and more dealing with governments, inter-governmental bodies, coming with different suggestions, procedures.

“We are trying in different fields, like debt issues among the socially weak part of the population in the Czech Republic, to bring in education, some system improvements.

“This is a new ambition – not just to help people do concrete things which are making some change, but trying to address the causes, not just the symptoms but the causes of different problems.

“This is mainly in the Czech Republic, because you can hardly address the causes of the wars in Africa from our level. But in the Czech Republic our systemic work, policy work often, is more and more important. We are basically trying to improve how the state, how the system works.” 

Radio Prague – Work with human rights activists abroad like Western support for dissidents under communism, says PiN chief Pánek.

Xu Zhiyong’s Closing Statement to the Court: a remarkable document

January 24, 2014

This is the full text of Xu Zhiyong’s closing statement to the Court on January 22, 2014, at the end of his trial in China. According to his lawyer, he had only been able to read “about 10 minutes of it before the presiding judge stopped him, saying it was irrelevant to the case.” For historical reason the full text of his long statement (translated by a group of volunteers) “For Freedom, Justice and Love” follows below: Read the rest of this entry »

Political arrests in Cuba in 2013 numbered again over 5,000

January 9, 2014

Camilo Ganga – pseudonym of a journalist living in Havana – reported that independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation [CCDHRN] recorded 5,301 politically-motivated arrests in [the first 11 months of] 2013 in Cuba. A slight fall on 2012 !!!   Read the rest of this entry »

China continues harsh line on dissent but one jailed HRD smuggles out video

August 11, 2013

Reuters reports that China has arrested an activist on a charge of subversion and the latest sign that the authorities are hardening their stance toward dissent. Yang Lin, 45, Read the rest of this entry »

FIDH urges UN Human Rights Council to condemn Vietnam over jailing of dozens of cyber-dissidents

March 10, 2013

On 10 January 2013 I posted something on the largest ever trial of internet dissidents in Viet Nam. On 8 March this issue was continued in the UN:

We call upon the Council to press Vietnam to put an end to this repression,” said Vo Van Ai, speaking on behalf of Vietnamese campaigners and the International Federation of Human Rights. In a speech to the UN body  he said a total of 32 bloggers and other cyber-dissidents were behind bars in Vietnam, either sentenced or awaiting trial. They face prison terms of up to 16 years.

logo FIDH_seul

Such repression does not serve to protect national security, as the Vietnamese authorities claim, but to stifle the voices of an emerging civil society speaking out on corruption, power abuse, the plight of dispossessed peasants and farmers, human rights and democratic reforms,” he said. He condemned Vietnam’s use of Ordinance 44, a 2002 ruling which authorises the detention of suspected national security offenders without due process of the law and which is increasingly deployed against bloggers, sometimes in psychiatric hospitals.

Fellow-campaigner Penelope Faulker, with the French-based group Work Together for Human Rights, noted that after a 2009 United Nations review (UPR), Hanoi had pledged to uphold freedom of information. “However, in the past year alone, scores of bloggers, online journalists and human rights defenders in Vietnam have been harassed, intimated, subjected to police abuse, or condemned to extremely harsh prison sentences simply for expressing their peaceful views on the Internet,” she told the Council. The southeast Asian country has been branded an “enemy of the Internet” by freedom of expression watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

via: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/03/08/human-rights-activists-push-u-n-for-action-over-vietnams-treatment-of-cyber-protesters/

Bangladesh has restrictive environment for HRDs ahead of the 2013 elections concludes Observatory mission

December 7, 2012

Bangladesh is not always high on the agenda of the international human community, so it is interesting to read the preliminary findings of the report below:

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture OMCT, expresses concerns about the restrictive environment for human rights defenders in Bangladesh, after it completed a fact-finding mission in the country on November 22, 2012.

With the existing polarised political context and increasing tensions ahead of the upcoming 2013 general elections, human rights defenders are put at further risk of human rights violations”, the mission concludes. “While laws have become a tool used by the State to hinder the work of and suppress dissident voices through judicial harassment, a lack of proper judicial safeguards and remedies has allowed for the culture of impunity to continue”.

via Bangladesh: Restrictive environment for human rights defenders ahead of the 2013 elections – Preliminary findings of a fact-finding mission / December 7, 2012 / Urgent Interventions / Human rights defenders / OMCT.