Posts Tagged ‘South China Morning Post’

Being a Woman Human Rights Defender in Thailand is risky

February 10, 2020

Thai land rights activist Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, working in the fields in Ban Haeng village. Photo: Lam Le
Thai land rights activist Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, working in the fields in Ban Haeng village. Photo: Lam Le

Growing up, cassava farmer Nittaya Muangklang did not think she would ever become an activist – let alone that she would lead a group of land rights defenders in the first-ever bid to challenge Thailand’s government and its “take back the forests” policy at the Supreme Court. “We did encroach on the national park, but as poor farmers, we should be eligible for exemption,” said Muangklang, who is fighting eviction, imprisonment and fines. Faced with what farmers and rights groups perceive as increasing judicial harassment, more women living in rural areas have joined the fight for land rights in Thailand – amid the spectre of intimidation and the threat of jail time or even being killed for their activism. The appeal court last year sentenced Muangklang and 13 other land rights defenders from Ban Sap Wai village in Thailand’s northeast to up to four years in prison, and ordered them to pay fines of between 40,000 and 1.6 million baht (between US$1,300 and US$52,000) for encroaching on and damaging land in Sai Thong National Park. The court said the farmers failed to prove they had occupied the land before the park was established in 1992. Muangklang, out on bail since last August, said her family had not applied for a land certificate when they moved to Ban Sap Wai in 1986 because they never thought it necessary until the day they faced eviction.

..Thai NGOs estimate that at least 8,000 households have been threatened with eviction since 2015. Meanwhile, Thailand’s ruling junta has in the past five years given away around 999 hectares of forest conservation land as concessions to large corporations, including cement and mining companies, according to Land Watch Thai. Muangklang’s case caught the attention of United Nations special rapporteurs, who last August expressed their concern that Thailand was misusing the forest reclamation policy. In a letter to the government, the UN said Muangklang’s prosecution “appears to be a result of her work as a community leader”, and pointed out that the eviction of the Ban Sap Wai farmers might violate their human rights. The Thai government has yet to respond to the UN’s request to justify its prosecution of the farmers. Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment did not respond to This Week in Asia’s request for comment.

Being a female advocate for land rights in Thailand is a dangerous calling. In 2012, female activists Montha Chukaew and Pranee Boonnak were brutally killed. Since 2014, 225 female human rights defenders from Thailand’s rural areas have been subjected to judicial harassment, according to NGO Protection International, which estimates that 70 per cent of these activists are land rights defenders accused of encroaching on national parks and other lands. However, their work is often overlooked and underappreciated…Even when efforts are made to enshrine women’s rights, as is the case with gender equality in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a 17-section blueprint on achieving a sustainable future by 2030 – on-the-ground implementation when it comes to female land rights defenders tends to be lacking. “There’s a challenge there because many times states are not really connecting a human rights-based approach with [the SDGs’] development approach,” said Dubravka Simonovic, UN special rapporteur on violence against women. Thai human rights activist Matcha Phorn-in, who works with marginalised communities, agrees. “When the government is the key actor, [SDGs won’t work for] many people who oppose the government because of violations of human rights,” she said, explaining that this meant a lack of indicators and data to assess how female land rights defenders were being affected….On top of this, Phorn-in fears that millions of people could be affected, now that officials involved in the forest reclamation policy have search-and-destroy powers they can use without first needing court orders.

Protection International’s Somwong explained that with the labour involved in household and family-care duties, female activists were essentially “doing double work” while also facing the risk of sexual harassment. Consequently, rights groups have been calling for gender-sensitive support for these activists. “When you’re not protecting women, you’re not protecting the family, the community, or the movement,” Somwong said. Nine of the prosecuted Ban Sap Wai farmers are women.

…..

…Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, said it was her habit of questioning authority that led her to activism. She contended that the local authorities and the Kiew Lueng Company, which oversees the project, had not been transparent with local villagers on the environmental and economic impact of the mine. As a result, she and members of the conservation group have faced more than a dozen defamation lawsuits from the mining company as well as the local government. The project was put on hold in 2015 after the group counter-sued. The company got a mining permit in 2015 but has not been able to move forward since then due to the lawsuits. Jo has paid a steep price for her perseverance. She lost her job at the local school, another job as assistant to the village chief, and suffered two miscarriages due to the stress of activism, which also took its toll on her marriage and saw her divorce her husband. At 36, Jo’s main sources of income are farming and being an administrator of a Facebook group. But she has found a different family. Of the Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group’s 1,400 members, 70 per cent are women. …….

Early last year, Ban Haeng villagers received a note that the government was planning to annex the forest the community had been relying on as a source of livelihood, and turn it into a national park. The villagers have submitted a letter of objection, stating that people are living in the area. Jo is positive that no one will get evicted. Unlike the Ban Sap Wai case, she said, the people of Ban Haeng had clear proof of the village’s history – a namesake temple that dates back to 1851….

https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health-environment/article/3048456/thailands-female-land-rights-defenders-activism

Today: Tiananmen Square 30 years ago was ‘correct’ but singing about it still not allowed

June 4, 2019

As many news outlets report today it is 30 years ago that China cracked down on Tiananmen Square. China tries mostly to forget about it and make others forget it about it too. Still, it recenty came out to defend it as the “correct policy”. “That incident was a political turbulence and the central government took measures to stop the turbulence which is a correct policy” Defence minister Wi Fenghe Wei told a regional security forum in Singapore. “The 30 years have proven that China has undergone major changes,” he said, adding that because of the government’s action at that time “China has enjoyed stability and development“. On the other hand Wu Qian, a spokesman for the defence ministry, decried the use of the word “suppression” to describe the crackdown.

But it does cover Chinese rock musician Li Zhi, who has been outspoken and sung songs about social issues including the Tiananmen Square crackdown, and has not been seen for three months. The South China Morning Post of 2 June has a detailed piece on what happened to this singer: His upcoming tour has been cancelled and his social media accounts taken down. Then his music was removed from all of China’s major streaming sites – as if his career had never existed at all. “Now this square is my grave,” Li sang. “Everything is just a dream.”

The disappearance of Li, the musician, has left fans searching for answers. On February 20, the official Weibo social media account for the 40-year-old’s concert tour posted a photograph of its team in front of a truck about to embark on scheduled performances in Sichuan province in China’s southwest. Just two days later, however, the account posted an image of a hand wearing what appeared to be a hospital wrist band and the words: “Very sorry.” The next post, published the same day, announced without explanation that the tour was cancelled and that ticket purchasers would shortly receive a refund. Fans flooded the comment section with wishes for a speedy recovery.

But the suggestion that a health issue was behind the cancellations was later thrown into doubt. A statement published in April by Sichuan’s culture department said it had “urgently halted” concert plans for a “well-known singer with improper conduct” who was previously slated for 23 performances – the same number of concerts which Li had scheduled in the province. It said 18,000 tickets were fully refunded.

..Li’s presence on the Chinese internet was completely erased. An April 21 central government directive ordered all websites to delete any audio or video content relating to five of Li’s songs, according to China Digital Times, an organisation that publishes leaked censorship instructions. The authenticity of the directive could not be independently verified.

“There’s pretty much a consensus” among those working in the industry that Li’s disappearance from public view is due to the sensitive anniversary, said a music industry professional who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of government retribution. “He did a number of songs that were considered politically risky, making references to June 4, 1989, and so he’s been out of the picture,” the industry professional said.

Li’s current whereabouts could not be confirmed. His company and record label did not respond to repeated interview requests. Li’s songs alluding to the Tiananmen Square protests – The Square, The Spring of 1990 and The Goddess, in honour of the Goddess of Democracy that students erected – were part of his earlier works. In recent years, the bespectacled singer has avoided making public political statements, focusing more on promoting his performances. In 2015, state-run China Daily newspaper published a profile of Li, describing him as a performer who easily sells out concerts. After years of working as an independent artist, he signed last autumn with Taihe Music Group, a major Chinese record label. Fans who knew Li as a largely apolitical entertainer expressed bewilderment online about his disappearance. Others made veiled references to China’s internet censorship. On Zhihu, a question-and-answer website similar to Quora, one user wrote that people posed questions every day about what might have happened to Li, but these posts always disappeared the next morning “as if nothing had happened at all”.

Another user said: “I don’t dare to say it, nor do I dare to ask.” A fan who has been sharing Li’s music on his personal account spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared his employers would punish him for discussing the subject. “Everyone knows the reason for Li Zhi’s disappearance,” the fan said. “But I’m sorry, I can’t tell you, because I follow China’s laws and also hope that Li Zhi can return.” Quoting one of Li’s lyrics, the fan added: “The world will be all right.” Fans continue to circulate videos of Li’s performances online. His complete discography has been uploaded onto file-sharing websites, with back-up links in case the original ones are shuttered. Some users shared tribute art, including a black T-shirt with the words “improper conduct”. A few years ago, in a performance in Taiwan, Li bounced around on stage, strumming his guitar and repeating a chorus in apparent tribute to the spirit of Chinese propaganda.

Foreign companies are not immune. Apple Music has removed from its Chinese streaming service a song by Hong Kong singer Jacky Cheung Hok-yau that references the Tiananmen crackdown. Tat Ming Pair, a Hong Kong duo, have been deleted entirely from the app. They released a song this month called Remembering is a Crime in memory of the protests.

Music by Tat Ming Pair – Anthony Wong Yiu-ming (left) and Tats Lau Yi-tat – has been deleted from the Apple Music app. Photo: K.Y. Cheng
Music by Tat Ming Pair – Anthony Wong Yiu-ming (left) and Tats Lau Yi-tat – has been deleted from the Apple Music app. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Wikipedia also announced this month that the online encyclopaedia is no longer accessible in China. While the Chinese-language version has been blocked since 2015, most other languages could previously be viewed, Wikipedia said.

The Human Rights Foundation publised this video about China’s Million Person Muslim Prison Camps:

For the 25th anniversary see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/13/25-years-tiananmen-celebrated-with-over-100-detentions/

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/31/on-4-june-streets-around-chinese-embassy-to-be-renamed-tiananmen-square/

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/china-says-tiananmen-square-crackdown-1989-correct-policy-093500064.html

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3012782/outspoken-folk-rock-singer-li-zhi-disappears-china-tightens

YouTube human rights news channel ‘Just Asia’ deserves more viewers

May 8, 2019

As founding video producer of Just Asia, Amila Sampath, 30, gathers film clips and news snippets from around the region. His sources include activists, lawyers and NGOs, and the show, uploaded on Fridays, is anchored by university student volunteers. Sampath has produced more than 250 episodes of Just Asia, but getting audiences to take an interest in the protection and well-being of fellow human beings has not been easy. He is disappointed the show is not more widely viewed. “It is difficult to get people to watch human rights stories,” Sampath says. “They’re not music videos, but I just have to keep trying.”

Sampath’s aim is to broadcast regional human rights abuses to a global audience. Photo: Dickson Lee
Sampath’s aim is to broadcast regional human rights abuses to a global audience. Photo: Dickson Lee 

Just Asia he puts together with a skeletal crew comprising himself as producer, cameraman and director, and colleague Meryam Dabhoiwala, who writes the scripts and edits. Their studio is a simple office in Ho Man Tin, Kowloon, with a green screen background. Each week he compiles five regional stories and enlists the help of university students to shoot the episodes and edit the videos.

Hong Kong student volunteer Alexandra Leung presents an episode of Just Asia, a weekly human rights news programme on YouTube produced by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.

Hong Kong student volunteer Alexandra Leung presents an episode of Just Asia, a weekly human rights news programme on YouTube produced by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.

One volunteer is Alexandra Leung Chui-yan, 22, who will be graduating from the School of Communication at Hong Kong Baptist University this month. On August 17, 2017, Leung was in Barcelona, walking along La Rambla boulevard, when a car ploughed into a crowd. The terrorist attack killed 13 people and injured more than 130, including Leung. In the ensuing chaos she was trampled, resulting in a broken toe and fractured knees. Leung has since undergone surgery, but is still not completely healed. A few months after the incident she began volunteering for Just Asia as a trainee, learning how to read the news in front of a camera and how to pronounce Southeast Asian names.

Find out more about Just Asia at www.alrc.asia/justasia or www.humanrights.asia

How ‘China fear’ affects companies: Leica tries to disclaim an ad that features the Tank Man

April 21, 2019

A promotional video that presents several vignettes of photojournalists documenting violence and conflict around the world became a controversy not just between the company Leica and China but also between two companies.  A recurring scene features a photographer who captured the famous image of a civilian blocking a column of tanks the day after the Chinese military’s deadly crackdown of protesters in June 1989. As the photographer’s shutter closes to capture the historic shot of the “Tank Man”, as the still-unidentified person is known, the screen transitions to a dedication to “those who lend their eyes to make us see”, before Leica’s distinctive red logo appears.

Following a public uproar in China and censorship of the brand on social media, Leica Cameras AG said on Thursday it had neither commissioned nor authorised the five-minute video – entitled The Hunt – that depicted photojournalists covering Beijing’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy activists in 1989. Yet despite Leica’s efforts to disavow the video, F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, the ad company that represents the German firm in Brazil and which produced the film, said on Friday that it was “developed together” with its client’s representatives in Brazil. F/Nazca “would never [harm] its huge reputation by creating, producing and airing a work without the proper approval of its client”, spokeswoman Carolina Aranha said in an interview on Friday. The agency was “immensely proud” of the video, which was released earlier this week, and was confident it had “delivered a remarkable piece”, she said. Leica did not immediately respond to requests for comment on F/Nazca’s statement when contacted outside business hours…

Airing just weeks before the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, the video came at a highly sensitive time for Beijing, which routinely quells any mention in China of the events of June 4. But Zhou Fengsuo, who was a student leader at the time of the protests and now lives in the US, said Beijing was unlikely to make any explicit response to the video for fear of drawing attention to the matter. But that did not prevent a stern response from some members of the Chinese public. Soon after the commercial was shown online, social media users rushed to pour scorn over the German camera maker, which works with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to develop lenses for the company’s smartphones…

Following the outcry, the company said that it regretted any “misunderstandings or false conclusions that may have been drawn”. China is one of Leica’s fastest growing markets, with the company planning dozens of new stores on top of its current nine.

Human Rights Day: a selection of articles from Asian media that you may have missed

December 10, 2014

 I call on states to honour their obligation to protect human rights every day of the year. I call on people to hold their governments to account. And I call for special protections for the human rights defenders who courageously serve our collective cause,” UN Secretary-General stated in his message for Human Rights Day.  There is so much to report on this day, that I decided to focus on stories from 4 Asian countries (China (Hong Kong), India, Thailand, Bangladesh) which give an impression (not more than that) of how Human Rights Day is reflected in the media.
The first article “Responsibility for the protection of human rights is in our hands” appeared in the South China Morning Post of Tuesday, 09 December, 2014

Read the rest of this entry »

Human rights defenders Alan Morrison and Chutima Sidasathian charged under Computer Crime Act in Thailand

December 23, 2013

On 18 December 2013, human rights defenders, Mr Alan Morrison and Ms Chutima Sidasathian, appeared at the police station in Phuket province. The two human rights defenders are accused of libel and violating the Computer Crime Act for publishing an article entitled “Thai Military Profiting from Trade and Boat people, Says Special Report”, which was published on Phuketwan website on 17 July 2013. The human rights defenders are due to appear at the police station again on 24 December 2013.   Read the rest of this entry »

Chinese prosecutors charge Human Rights Defender Xu Zhiyong with disturbing public order

December 15, 2013

On 15 December the Latin American Herald reported that the founder of a Chinese civil rights group known as the New Citizens’ Movement has been formally charged with disturbing public order and could face trial this month. The charges against Xu Zhiyong, whose group promotes upholding the Chinese constitution and reigning in the power of Communist Party leaders, were filed at the recommendation of the Beijing police, according to the China Human Rights Defenders organization.Dissidents who attempt to mount protests in China are frequently charged with disrupting public order. Xu’s attorney, Zhang Qingfang, said it was suspicious how quickly the prosecutor’s office filed the charges after receiving the police’s recommendation, adding that authorities may want the trial held over the Christmas holidays so there is less international media attention. Beijing police said Xu, who was arrested in August, “used tactics to organize and carry out a series of criminal activities, including distributing prohibited pamphlets in public places and organizing disturbances outside government installations.” The charges against Xu come shortly after another activist from that same movement, high-profile businessman Wang Gongquan, pleaded guilty to “disrupting public order” a few months after his arrest. The former close associate of Xu’s said he would cut ties with the founder of the New Citizens’ Movement, the South China Morning Post reported earlier this month, citing two sources familiar with the case.

via Latin American Herald Tribune – Chinese Prosecutors Charge Activist with Disturbing Public Order.

Young Hong Kong artists awarded inaugural Human Rights Art Prizes

November 9, 2013

The Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre launched the Human Rights Arts prizes in an effort to show the work of young artists, while recognising the role of art in raising awareness of and defending human rights. The Emerging and the Community  winners were chosen by judges working in the human rights field, while the staff from the centre chose two further winners, dubbed the Choice awards.

Works depicting the hardships of mainland immigrants and African refugees won two top awards (Elva Lai Ming-Chu won in the Emerging Artist category and photograper Alvin Fung Tsz Chung won the Community Artist prize). Artist Lo Chi-kit won a Choice award for his piece Under the Shadow, which he dedicated to detained, imprisoned and exiled human rights activists on the mainland. “Chi-kits work highlights the persecution and oppression that human rights defenders face around the world – sometimes to the point of being forced to flee their countries” Miller said.

via Crusading Hong Kong artists awarded inaugural Human Rights Art Prizes | South China Morning Post.