Archive for ‘Freedom’

02/05/2014

Freedom of information: Right to know | The Economist

IN THE summer of 2013 Wu Youshui sent an open government information (OGI) request to every provincial-level government in China. Mr Wu, a lawyer based in the eastern city of Hangzhou, wanted to know about the fines imposed on violators of the one-child policy. Each year provincial governments collect billions of yuan from couples who have too many children, but how this money is spent is not public knowledge. That leaves the system vulnerable to corruption, says Mr Wu. To expose misconduct and spur public debate, he used the legal mechanism of the OGI regulations, China’s version of a freedom of information act.

When the regulations took effect in 2008 it marked, on paper at least, the beginning of a profound change in how the Chinese government handles some kinds of information. A culture of secrecy had for decades been the mainstay of the authoritarian state. But in the modern era absolute opacity can cause discontent that threatens stability. The government’s failure to disclose information about the spread of SARS, a respiratory disease, in 2003 hurt its standing at home and abroad. A government operating in “sunshine”, as state media have put it, could regain citizens’ trust and, the party hoped, help ease tensions.

The OGI regulations set up two ways of accessing government information. Government offices at local and central level had to issue findings of interest, such as plans for land requisitions or house demolition. The information was to be published on official websites and community bulletin boards and in government journals. Departments also became answerable to citizens. A response to a public request had to come within 15 days. This created a new way for people to contact and monitor the government, says Jamie Horsley of the China Law Centre at Yale Law School. At the last nationwide count, in 2011, roughly 3,000 requests had been filed to central-government departments and 1.3m others to offices at the provincial level. Over 70% led to the full or partial release of information, on everything from pollution to food safety to the tax on air fares. “It is as if there has been a pent-up demand and now people are pushing for the information,” Ms Horsley says.

In an important case in 2012 the All-China Environment Federation, a non-profit organisation with links to the government, took an environment-protection bureau in Guizhou province to court. The bureau had twice failed to give a good answer to an OGI request about a dairy farm that was discharging waste. The court ordered the release of the information within ten days. Such rulings against government departments, once rare, are becoming more common. In 2010 the chance of a citizen winning an OGI-related lawsuit in Beijing was 5%, according to research from Peking and Yale Universities. In 2012 courts ruled with the plaintiff in 18% of cases.

On April 1st the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued new guidelines, requiring that officials pay more attention to disclosing information. The guidelines come as the government is curtailing freedom of expression online and in the press.

Inevitably, plenty of information remains off limits. Article Eight of the regulations says disclosure must not endanger state, public or economic security or social stability, an open-ended list that prompts utmost caution from compliers. State and commercial secrets—however vaguely defined—are out-of-bounds. Last June Xie Yanyi, a Beijing lawyer, applied to the public security ministry for information about the surveillance of citizens. He received a note saying such details were not covered by the law. China’s regulations are more restrictive than those elsewhere. In America a request in the public interest suffices. In China, people must prove a personal need.

Government departments, at all levels, still do not release everything they should. But Mr Wu, the lawyer, found they are less able to opt out without a good reason. Guangdong province’s Health and Family Planning Commission initially rebuffed his OGI request, saying “internal management issues” prevented compliance. Mr Wu tried again. On April 1st Guangzhou Intermediate Court ruled in his favour. The commission was ordered to reprocess his request. He awaits word of its decision.

via Freedom of information: Right to know | The Economist.

Enhanced by Zemanta
07/03/2014

China’s restless West: The burden of empire | The Economist

After a brutal attack in China, the Communist Party needs to change its policies towards minorities

A GROUP of knife-wielding assailants, apparently Muslims from western China, caused mayhem and murder on March 1st in the south-western Chinese city of Kunming, stabbing 29 people to death at the railway station and injuring 140 others. The attack has shocked China. The crime against innocents is monstrous and unjustifiable, and has been rightly condemned by the Chinese government and by America. But as well as rounding up the culprits, the Communist Party must face up to an uncomfortable truth. Its policy for integrating the country’s restless western regions—a policy that mixes repression, development and Han-Chinese migration—is failing to persuade non-Han groups of the merits of Chinese rule.

The party says the attackers were “Xinjiang extremists”, by implication ethnic Uighurs, a Turkic people with ties to Central Asia who once formed the majority in the region of Xinjiang. The killers may have been radicalised abroad with notions of global jihad. Whatever the truth, there is no doubt that Uighurs are committing ever more desperate acts. Scarcely a week passes in Xinjiang without anti-government violence.

The party claims that Xinjiang has been part of China for 2,000 years. Yet for most of that time, the region has been on the fringe of China’s empire, or outside it altogether. An attempt to incorporate these lands began only with the Qing dynasty’s conquests in the mid-18th century. (The name Xinjiang, “new frontier”, was bestowed only in the 1880s.) During the chaos of the 1940s, Uighurs declared a short-lived independent state of East Turkestan. But from 1949 the Communists began integrating Xinjiang into China by force. Demobbed Chinese soldiers were sent to colonise arid lands, the state repression of Uighurs drawing heavily on the Soviet tactics for handling “nationalities”. Uighur resentment of the Han runs deep. The feeling is mutual. Many Chinese are openly racist towards Uighurs, and the government thinks them ungrateful. In 2009 hundreds of people were killed during street fighting between Uighurs and Han, who now make up two-fifths of Xinjiang’s population and control a disproportionate share of its wealth.

Identity crisis

The Kunming killers’ motives may never be known. But fears of militant Islamism arriving at the heart of China must not obscure the broader problem of Chinese oppression in Xinjiang. Recent crackdowns hit at the heart of Uighur identity: students are banned from fasting during Ramadan, religious teaching for children is restricted, and Uighur-language education is limited. Many Uighurs, like their neighbours in Tibet, fear that their culture will be extinguished. Xinjiang and Tibet (and Inner Mongolia) are still China’s colonies, their pacification under the Communist Party a continued imperial project. Were it not for the Dalai Lama’s restraining influence, violence in Tibet might be as bad as it is in Xinjiang. As it is, over 100 Tibetans have burned themselves to death in protest at Chinese rule.

There is a large military presence in China’s west. The government seems to believe that unless Uighurs and Tibetans are held in check by force, the western regions could break away. That is always a danger. But suppression, which leads to explosions of anger, may increase the risk, not mitigate it.

The only way forward is to show Uighurs (and Tibetans) how they can live peacefully and prosperously together within China. The first step is for the party to lift the bans on religious and cultural practices, give Uighurs and Tibetans more space to be themselves, and strive against prejudice in Chinese society. Economic development needs to be aimed at Uighur and Tibetan communities. Otherwise, there will be more violence and instability.

via China’s restless West: The burden of empire | The Economist.

Enhanced by Zemanta
01/12/2013

Xinjiang college says approved political views needed to graduate | Reuters

College students in China\’s restive western Xinjiang region will not graduate unless their political views are approved, a university official said, as the country wages what school administrators called an ideological war against separatism.

A Uighur student attends a lesson at the Xinjiang College of Uighur Medicine in Hotan in the southwestern part of China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region September 15, 2003. REUTERS/Andrew Wong

Xinjiang is home to the Muslim Uighur ethnic group, many of whom resent controls imposed by Beijing and an inflow of Han Chinese migrants. Some Uighur groups are campaigning for an independent homeland for their people.

University officials from Xinjiang said their institutions were a frontline in a \”life and death struggle\” for the people\’s hearts and a main front in the battle against separatism, the ruling Communist Party\’s official newspaper in the region, the Xinjiang Daily, reported on Tuesday.

\”Students whose political qualifications are not up to par must absolutely not graduate, even if their professional course work is excellent,\” said Xu Yuanzhi, the party secretary at Kashgar Teachers College in southern Xinjiang, which has been an epicenter for ethnic unrest.

It is unclear if such a policy has been officially implemented throughout the region.

\”Ideology is a battlefield without gun smoke,\” Xinjiang Normal University President Weili Balati said.

\”As university leaders, we have the responsibility to do more to help students and teachers properly understand and treat religion, ethnicity and culture and help them distinguish between right and wrong,\” he said.

China blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) for an attack on October 28, when a vehicle ploughed through bystanders on Tiananmen Square in Beijing and burst into flames, killing three people in the car and two bystanders.

Uighur exiles, rights groups and some experts have cast doubt on the official accounts of what China has deemed terror attacks and foreign reporting of the incident has discussed whether it was motivated by punitive ethnic policies.

An Islamist militant group has released a speech claiming responsibility for the incident, which China\’s Foreign Ministry said should silence those who are skeptical about the threat of terror within China\’s borders.

The Uighurs are culturally closer to ethnic groups across central Asia and Turkey than the Han Chinese who make up the vast majority of China\’s population.

via Xinjiang college says approved political views needed to graduate | Reuters.

04/11/2013

In China’s Xinjiang, poverty, exclusion are greater threat than Islam | Reuters

If the analysis in this report is correct, then it is good news for China and Xinjiang. Alleviating poverty is difficult, but far easier than eliminating religious extremism.

“In the dirty backstreets of the Uighur old quarter of Xinjiang\’s capital Urumqi in China\’s far west, Abuduwahapu frowns when asked what he thinks is the root cause of the region\’s festering problem with violence and unrest.

A police officer stops a car to check for identifications at a checkpoint near Lukqun town, in Xinjiang province in this October 30, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Files

\”The Han Chinese don\’t have faith, and the Uighurs do. So they don\’t really understand each other,\” he said, referring to the Muslim religion the Turkic-speaking Uighur people follow, in contrast to the official atheism of the ruling Communist Party.

But for the teenage bread delivery boy, it\’s not Islam that\’s driving people to commit acts of violence, such as last week\’s deadly car crash in Beijing\’s Tiananmen Square – blamed by the government on Uighur Islamist extremists who want independence.

\”Some people there support independence and some do not. Mostly, those who support it are unsatisfied because they are poor,\” said Abuduwahapu, who came to Urumqi two years ago from the heavily Uighur old Silk Road city of Kashgar in Xinjiang\’s southwest, near the Pakistani and Afghan border.

\”The Han are afraid of Uighers. They are afraid if we had guns, we would kill them,\” he said, standing next to piles of smoldering garbage on plots of land where buildings have been demolished.

China\’s claims that it is fighting an Islamist insurgency in energy-rich Xinjiang – a vast area of deserts, mountains and forests geographically located in central Asia – are not new.”

via In China’s Xinjiang, poverty, exclusion are greater threat than Islam | Reuters.

01/11/2013

Tiananmen crash ‘incited by Islamists’ – BBC News

China\’s top security official says a deadly crash in Beijing\’s Tiananmen Square was incited by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.

The crash occurred on Monday when a car ploughed into a crowd then burst into flames, killing three people inside the vehicle and two tourists.

Police have arrested five suspects, all from the western region of Xinjiang, home to minority Uighur Muslims.

Security has also been tightened in Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia.

China often blames the ETIM group for incidents in Xinjiang. But the BBC correspondent in Beijing says few believe that the group has any capacity to carry out any serious acts of terror in China.

Uighur groups claim China uses ETIM as an excuse to justify repressive security in Xinjiang.

via BBC News – Tiananmen crash ‘incited by Islamists’.

14/05/2013

* China issues white paper on human rights

China Daily: “The Chinese government on Tuesday released a white paper detailing the progress made in human rights in 2012, stressing its achievements in improving living standards and increasing room for citizens to express their opinions.

Human Rights in China (organization)

Human Rights in China (organization) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The cause of human rights in China has entered a stage of planned, sustainable, steady and comprehensive development,” says the white paper, published by the State Council Information Office under the title “Progress in China’s Human Rights in 2012.”

Development is the key to solving all existing problems and facilitating the progress of human rights in China, the paper says.

China has combined its human rights endeavors with economic, political, cultural, social and ecological construction, it said.

The country has prioritized people’s rights to subsistence and development and made efforts to promote the comprehensive and balanced development of their economic, social and cultural rights, as well as their civil and political rights, it notes.

“After years of unremitting efforts, China has reached a higher level in terms of people’s living standards, democracy, rule of law, cultural development, social security and environmental protection,” says the white paper.

In 2012, the annual per capita net income for both urban and rural residents increased, hefty investment was directed to poverty reduction programs, housing conditions were improved for both urban and rural residents and the state made proactive efforts to boost employment, according to the white paper.

Practical measures have been taken to ensure citizens’ right to know and right to be heard, according to the white paper.

Deepened reform and the rapid development of information technology have given the public greater power to acquire information and express their opinions, it notes.

The creation of the Regulations on Government Information Disclosure has helped establish a system for disclosing information, the white paper says.

In 2012, more than 90 central government departments made their budgets and expenses for official receptions, vehicles and overseas trips known to the public. The Communist Party of China (CPC) continued to press ahead with making Party affairs public and established a spokesperson system for Party committees, the paper says.

The Internet has become an important channel for citizens to exercise their rights to know, participate, be heard and supervise, as well as become an important means for the government to hear public opinions, according to the white paper.

Democracy building at the grassroots level further expanded citizens’ right to participate, the paper says.

By the end of 2012, direct elections had been held for over 98 percent of village committees across the country, with participation reaching 95 percent.”

via China issues white paper on human rights |Politics |chinadaily.com.cn.

14/05/2013

* China launches new crackdown on internet celebrities

My personal view is that “the genie is out of the bottle” or that you cannot shut “Pandora’s box” with the Internet and social media.

Telegraph: In its latest bid to contain the often riotous jumble of news and rumour on the Chinese internet, the Communist party has decided to bring the most high-profile and influential voices to heel.

China launches new crackdown on internet celebrities

Before his account was removed, Mr Hao had 1.85 million followers

On Saturday, Hao Qun, a famous 39-year-old novelist and frequent government critic who goes by the pen name Murong Xuecun, found his account on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, deleted. He tried to open another account but failed.

Before his account was removed, Mr Hao had 1.85 million followers and his postings on the site often went viral.

The world of Weibo, which had 368 million registered users last year, operates much like Speaker’s Corner. Its most famous inhabitants command huge followings and have the power to steer debate in a way that is often uncomfortable for the Communist party.

The deletion of Mr Hao’s account follows a series of actions against other high-profile users.

He Bing, the vice president of the law school at China’s Political Science and Law university was suspended last week “for deliberately spreading rumours”. Prof He, who had close to 500,000 followers, had posted a snippet of news, which later turned out to be false, claiming that there had been a mass stabbing in a hospital in Hefei.

Since the Chinese media is carefully controlled, Weibo has developed into the country’s most important source of news.

And since newspapers and television stations are not allowed to report on many of the topics that are voiced on the internet, rumours often go unchecked and develop their own momentum.

“Some of the [high profile users] have become rumour relay stations,” noted the Global Times in an editorial last week. “Any frequent Weibo user knows that rumours cannot be widely spread unless there is a [high-profile user] helping to spread it,” it added.

“Theoretically they have the right of speech on the internet, but they should also have an equal responsibility. Currently they have no moral responsibility or legal liability for what they post.”

Kaifu Lee, the former head of Google in China, who has more followers (40 million) than Barack Obama does on Twitter (33 million), said he was careful to verify information before posting it on Weibo.

“I realise with the number of followers I have that I need to make sure the messages I forward are legitimate,” he said. “With great power comes great responsibility,” he added.

However, he noted that Weibo already has inbuilt checks that should prevent false news from gaining traction.

“If you suggest something that is clearly false and do not retract it, your reputation (online) will suffer. I think the social ecosystem should largely be self-reinforcing,” he said, adding that Sina already has a type of tribunal system that can rule over the veracity of certain posts.

Mr Lee said he did not know what the purpose of the new government “internet management” campaign was. There already exists a sophisticated censorship system that filters posts and deletes sensitive topics. “I am not in the government, so I cannot say why the government is doing this,” he said.

Zhang Lifan, a historian with almost 270,000 followers said the attempt to control high-profile users would be fruitless. “Shutting them down will not make much difference. For each account they silence, other people will speak up,” he said.

“Of course people should not spread rumours, but the government is using a double standard,” he said. “CCTV (China’s state television station) also sometimes reports the wrong news.”

The campaign appears to have sent a firm message however. Yao Bo, a commentator and restaurateur with close to 900,000 followers said a number of his friends had seen their accounts shut down. “Some of the accounts are shut down for criticising government policy, others for reporting bits of information. I now feel I need to watch what I say before I post something,” he said.”

via China launches new crackdown on internet celebrities – Telegraph.

08/05/2013

* Detention of petitioners denounced

China Daily: “Anti-graft officials vow protection of whistle-blowers from retaliation

Officials with China’s top anti-graft authority expressed firm opposition on Tuesday to the detention of petitioners.

Authorities are not allowed to detain petitioners at any level of petition offices and at public venues, said Zhang Shaolong, deputy director of the office of letters and calls of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China.

It is a legal channel for petitioners to submit whistle-blowing materials face to face to the anti-graft authorities, and the petitioners should receive a warm welcome from anti-corruption agencies, he said.

Zhang made the remarks on Tuesday during an online interview with two other anti-graft officials from the commission.

Under the administrative mechanism in most places, the leading officials will not get promoted if too many petitioners appeal to higher authorities.

Many corrupt officials were exposed by online posts, Zhang said, adding that some inaccurate online information has also made the investigations of corrupt officials difficult.

Among all the cases investigated by the commission last year, about 41.8 percent of the clues were collected from the public whistle-blowers through online reports, letters and calls, Zhang said.

Guo Hongliang, Zhang’s colleague who also attended the online interview, said that the commission has received 301,000 online whistle-blowing reports from 2008 to 2012.

The commission established 12388.gov.cn, its online whistle-blowing website, in October 2009, and the Internet has become one of the most important channels for the commission to collect information, he said.

Deng Jixun, another colleague of Zhang who attended the interview, said that real-name whistle-blowing activities should be encouraged to promote the efficiency of anti-corruption work.

The anti-graft authorities should protect real-name whistle-blowers from being victims of retaliation, he said.

Zhang acknowledged that some officials try to prevent people from petitioning to higher levels of government, and these officials’ behavior should be firmly opposed.

A report in People’s Daily revealed that many petitioners had been detained by the government of Hai’an county in Jiangsu province since March when they tried to visit the anti-graft officials from an inspection team sent by the provincial government.”

via Detention of petitioners denounced |Politics |chinadaily.com.cn.

01/05/2013

* China’s new mental health law to make it harder for authorities to silence petitioners

SCMP: “The director of Xinjiang‘s largest mental health institution has welcomed a new law, which went into effect on Wednesday, banning involuntary inpatient treatment for many people deemed mentally ill.

scmp-1.jpg

“Seventy to 80 per cent of the patients have been forcibly admitted to the hospital,” said Xu Xiangdong, director of the Fourth People’s Hospital in the regional capital Urumqi, the Yaxin online news portal reported on Monday.

“Because of this increased consideration for patients’ rights, [the figures] will change fundamentally,” he said, adding that it would put an end to frequent episodes of people being wrongfully declared mentally ill.

The new law, which has been debated for a quarter of a century, is meant to crack down on local authorities aiming to silence petitioners and troublemakers by arbitrarily declaring them mentally ill and locking them up in mental health wards.

Under the law, patients must first give their consent to being hospitalised, except in cases in which they could harm themselves or others.

If patients are still forcibly confined, they or their guardians have the right to seek a second opinion. Forced hospitalisations for reasons other than severe mental illness are banned.

Last week about 200 health practitioners from the region were sent to Xu’s hospital to be trained in the new provisions on patients’ rights stipulated by the new law, the Xinjiang Daily reported.

Two million people in Xinjiang live with mental disabilities, Xu estimated, amounting to more than 9 per cent of the population in the economic backwater of China’s remote northwest.

That compares with almost 8 per cent of China’s population diagnosed with some form of mental illness, according to the Ministry of Health in 2011. A largescale 2009 study estimated a much higher national average at 17.5 per cent.

In Xinjiang, authorities have not been able to provide adquate resources to deal with the increasing number of people living with mental disorders. Xu told the Yaxin portal in 2011 that the number of mentally ill patients had increased by 20 to 30 per cent annually over the last years.

In Monday’s report, he said less than 5 per cent of the two million mentally ill could receive treatment because of a lack of resources and trained staff.

Two years earlier, the regional government had reported plans to build 15 new mental hospitals and to expand current ones. Until now, only one additional hospital in Kashgar has been completed, the Yaxin report said.

In March, a gruesome murder of a seven-year-old Uygur boy by a Chinese man has caused tensions among ethnic communities in the Turpan prefecture east of Urumqi. The man had been declared mentally ill to prevent ethnic revenge attacks, locals told Radio Free Asia.”

via China’s new mental health law to make it harder for authorities to silence petitioners | South China Morning Post.

16/04/2013

* 10 Maoists killed in encounter on Andhra, Chhattigarh border: Police

Times of India: “At least 10 Maoists were killed in a gun battle between security forces and the rebels in Kanchal forests close to the inter-state border of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in tribal Bastar region on Tuesday morning, police said.

Maoist rebels train with guns in Chhattisgarh

Preliminary reports said a joint team of Greyhounds-the elite commando force of Andhra Pradesh-and Chhattisgarh police had a fierce encounter for three hours between 0400 and 0700 hours under Pamed police station area in Bijapur district. Security forces claimed that they have gunned down 10 rebels during the encounter in which a large number of rebels were injured.

It’s not immediately known whether the bodies of slain rebels were recovered by the forces as the Maoists usually take away the bodies of their demand comrades. However, police said they have recovered arms and ammunitions, including INSAS and .303 rifles, from the encounter spot.”

via 10 Maoists killed in encounter on Andhra, Chhattigarh border: Police – The Times of India.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 498 other followers