Archive for ‘Arrest’

07/03/2019

The British woman who fought for India’s freedom

A portrait photo of Freda taken in Lahore in the early 1940
Image captionFreda Bedi’s is a remarkable story

Freda Bedi lived an unusual life. Born in a small town in England, she moved to India for love and ended up joining the independence movement. Her biographer, Andrew Whitehead, writes about her remarkable story.

“There are things deeper than labels and colour and prejudice, and love is one of them.”

These were the words of Freda Bedi, an English woman who overcame prejudice to marry an Indian Sikh and went on to challenge Indian notions about the role of a woman and a wife.

Freda and her boyfriend, Baba Pyare Lal Bedi (his friends called him BPL), met at Oxford where both were students.

This was the early 1930s and romances across the racial divide were rare – almost as rare as a girl from Freda’s background securing a spot at a top university. She was born, quite literally, above the shop in the city of Derby in England’s East Midlands, where her father ran a jewellery and watch repair business.

Freda could barely remember her father. He enlisted during the First World War and served in the Machine Gun Corps, where casualties were so high it was known as the “suicide club”. He died in northern France when his daughter was just seven years old. “This death shadowed my whole childhood,” she recalled – it shaped her political loyalties and prompted her lifelong spiritual quest.

Her years at Oxford were “the opening of the gates of the world”, as Freda once put it. She was part of “the Depression generation” – those who were students at a time of global crisis, mass unemployment and the rise of fascism.

She made firm friends at her college with young women who were rebellious by nature, and went with them to meetings of the Labour Club and the communist October Club.

The engagement photo of Freda and BPL taken at Oxford in 1933
Image captionFreda and BPL met as students at Oxford University

Driven by curiosity and by sympathy with those struggling against the Empire, she also went along to the weekly meetings of the Oxford Majlis, where radicals among the university’s small number of Indian students asserted their country’s case for nationhood. BPL Bedi, a handsome and cheerful Punjabi, was a regular there. A friendship developed into intellectual collaboration and, within months, Freda and BPL were a couple.

In the early 1930s, women’s colleges at Oxford were obsessed with sex or rather with preventing it. If a male student came to have tea in a female student’s room, a chaperone had to be present, the door left wide open and the bed had to be taken into the corridor. Freda’s college did its best to derail her relationship – she was disciplined for visiting BPL without a chaperone in what she was convinced was a case of racial discrimination.

But she was fortunate in her student friends. Barbara Castle, who later became a commanding British woman politician of her era, was thrilled when Freda confided that she intended to marry her boyfriend. “Well, thank goodness”, Barbara exclaimed. “Now at least you won’t become a suburban housewife!” Freda’s mother didn’t see things that way though. Her family were sternly disapproving, until BPL made a visit to Derby and managed to charm them.

Freda commented that the engagement caused “a minor sensation” in Oxford. That was an understatement. She believed she was the first Oxford woman undergraduate to marry an Indian fellow student. Some didn’t hide their disapproval. The registrar who conducted the marriage ceremony pointedly refused to shake hands with the couple.

From the moment she married, Freda regarded herself as Indian and often wore Indian-style clothes. A year later, husband and wife and their four-month old baby, Ranga, set off by boat from Trieste, Italy, on the two-week journey to the western Indian city of Bombay (now Mumbai). “The nightmare was to get milk for myself to drink because I was feeding the baby”, Freda recalled. “And I remember the millions of cockroaches that used to come out at night in the ship’s kitchens – I used to go in and attempt to get milk.”

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Read more stories by Andrew Whitehead

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The couple had already been marked out by the British authorities as revolutionaries and potential trouble makers because of their student activism. When they disembarked in Bombay, their bags and cases were inspected for seven hours to check for left-wing propaganda. “Even Ranga’s little napkin was taken off and searched,” recalled Freda, “because they thought I might be carrying messages in it”.

The key test of Freda’s marriage was still to come – the first meeting with her Indian mother-in-law, a widow and matriarch known in the family as Bhabooji. From Bombay, the Bedis travelled non-stop for a couple of days to reach the small Punjabi city of Kapurthala, arriving at the family home close to midnight. Freda was wearing a white cotton sari – “not the ideal travelling dress, and nursing Ranga had not improved it”.

BPL bowed to touch his mother’s feet in the traditional expression of respect. “I copied him, feeling a little awkward,” Freda said, “but all my shyness disappeared when she smiled at us both with tears in her eyes, and embraced us and the child as if she could not hold us close enough.”

Although Freda was determined to fit in with her Indian extended family, her lifestyle was anything but conventional. BPL’s political stand extended to rejecting any share in his family’s wealth. They made their home in Lahore, one of the largest cities in Punjab, in a cluster of thatched huts without power or running water, keeping hens and a buffalo. It can’t have been the sort of life Freda had expected – nor would she have been used to the idea of sharing the household with her mother-in-law.

“Nowhere had I seen a white woman trying to be a typical Indian daughter-in-law”, commented Som Anand, a frequent visitor to the Bedis’ huts. “It surprised me to see Mrs Bedi coming to Bhabooji’s hut in the morning to touch her feet. In household matters she respected the old mother’s inhibitions. Her mother-in-law was an equally large hearted person; despite all her conservatism she had accepted a Christian into the family without a murmur.”

Freda with a rifle when she was living in Kashmir, probably 1948 - she is holding hr son, Kabir, while her older son, Ranga, is sitting on the family's pet dog.
Image captionFreda and BPL moved to Kashmir after 1947 and remained politically active

When World War Two broke out, both BPL and Freda were outraged that India was being dragged into supporting the British war effort. BPL was detained in a desert prison camp to stop him sabotaging military recruitment in Punjab. Freda decided to make her own stand against her motherland.

She volunteered as a satyagrahi, a seeker of truth, and was among those chosen by Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi to defy emergency wartime powers. She travelled to her husband’s home village of Dera Baba Nanak and announced that she would “break the law by asking the people not to support the military effort until India became democratic”. The authorities didn’t know how to respond to a white woman staging such a protest – they hurriedly sent an English police inspector to the village, deeming it inappropriate for an Indian policeman to arrest an Englishwoman.

Freda was brought before a visiting magistrate that same morning – she has left her own account of the trial:

It was finished in 15 minutes. The man on the other side of the table was quite young still, and looked as though he had been to Oxford. His face was red.

“I find this as unpleasant as you do,” he murmured.

“Don’t worry. I don’t find it unpleasant at all.”

“Do you want the privileges granted to an Englishwoman?”

“Treat me as an Indian woman and I shall be quite content.”

She was sentenced to six months in jail, which was fairly standard, and also to hard labour, which she regarded as vindictive.

That turned out to be no more onerous than supervising the prison gardens, where women imprisoned for criminal rather than political offences – many were locked up for killing their abusive husbands – did most of the work.

“It was my destiny to go to India,” Freda asserted. It was her destiny too to make history as an English woman who went willingly to jail in support of India’s demand for freedom.

The Bedis’ political prominence persisted after independence, when they moved to Kashmir – Freda joined a left-wing women’s militia and worked with the radical nationalists who gained power there. In the 1950s, her life changed utterly when, during a UN assignment in Burma, she encountered Buddhism for the first time and became an enthusiastic convert.

Freda as a nun, when she took the name Sister Palmo
Image captionFreda became a Buddhist nun in the 1950s

When thousands of Tibetans fled across the Himalayas in 1959 to escape Chinese oppression, Freda devoted herself to helping these “brave and wonderful” refugees. She became steeped in Tibetan spirituality. And once she felt that she had fulfilled her role as a mother (the film star Kabir Bedi is one of her three surviving children), she broke convention again by taking vows as a Tibetan Buddhist nun. In her sixties, she travelled relentlessly to spread the word about Buddhist teachings but never returned to live in the West.

“India is my womanhood and my wife-hood,” she once declared. “I too am ‘dust that England bore, shaped and made aware’. Yet I am living in an Indian way, with Indian clothes, with an Indian husband and child on Indian soil, and I cannot feel even the least barrier or difference in essentials between myself and the new country I have adopted.”

Throughout her life, Freda was determined not to be constrained by barriers of race, religion, nation or gender. She delighted in challenging convention and confounding expectations – that is what makes her story so beguiling.

Source: The BBC

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04/03/2019

Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou sues Canada authorities over arrest

Huawei's chief financial officer Meng WanzhouImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionMeng Wanzhou’s arrest has strained relations between China, and Canada and the US

The chief financial officer of China’s tech giant Huawei is suing Canada over her arrest at the request of the US.

Meng Wanzhou was held in December at Vancouver airport on suspicion of fraud and breaching US sanctions on Iran.

On Friday Ms Meng filed a civil claim against Canada’s government, border agency and police for “serious breaches” of her civil rights.

It came on the same day that Canada officially launched Meng Wanzhou’s extradition process to the US.

China has attacked Ms Meng’s arrest and the extradition process as a “political incident”. She denies all the charges against her.

What does Ms Meng’s lawsuit say?

Ms Meng’s claim – filed in British Columbia’s Supreme Court on Friday – seeks damages against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the federal government for allegedly breaching her civil rights under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

She says CBSA officers held, searched and questioned her at the airport under false pretences before she was arrested by the RCMP.

Meng Wanzhou's property in VancouverImage copyrightREUTERS
Image caption
Ms Meng has a property in Vancouver and is currently out on bail

Her detention was “unlawful” and “arbitrary”, the suit says, and officers “intentionally failed to advise her of the true reasons for her detention, her right to counsel, and her right to silence”.

Where are we in the extradition process?

Ms Meng, 47, will next appear in court on Wednesday, when it will be confirmed that Canada has issued a legal writ over her extradition to the US. A date for an extradition hearing will be set.

But this is still the early stages. A judge must authorise her committal for extradition and the justice minister would then decide whether to surrender her to the US.

There will be chances for appeal and some cases have dragged on for years.

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The Meng Wanzhou case – how did we get here?

  • 1 December: Ms Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, is arrested while changing planes at Vancouver airport
  • 7 December: Ms Meng first appears in court in Vancouver, where it is revealed she is accused of breaking US sanctions on Iran. China demands her release
  • 10 December: Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are arrested in China
  • 11 December: Ms Meng is released on bail
  • 28 January: US formally charges Ms Meng with fraud and Huawei with circumventing US sanctions on Iran and stealing technology from T Mobile
  • 2 March: Canada says Ms Meng’s extradition can move forward but the process is expected to be long
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What is Huawei accused of?

The US alleges Huawei misled the US and a global bank about its relationship with two subsidiaries, Huawei Device USA and Skycom Tech, to conduct business with Iran.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has reinstated all sanctions on Iran removed under a 2015 nuclear deal and recently imposed even stricter measures, hitting oil exports, shipping and banks.

It also alleges Huawei stole technology from T Mobile used to test smartphone durability, as well as obstructing justice and committing wire fraud.

In all, the US has laid 23 charges against the company.

Some Western nations are reviewing business with the firm over spying concerns, although Huawei has always maintained it acts independently.

How has China reacted?

Media caption – Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei on the arrest of his daughter

The arrest has seriously strained relations between China, and the US and Canada.

Beijing says it is an “abuse of the bilateral extradition treaty” between Canada and the US, and has expressed its “resolute opposition” and “strong dissatisfaction” with the proceedings.

China also says the accusations against Huawei, the world’s second biggest smartphone maker by volume, are a “witch-hunt”.

Two Canadian citizens are thought to have been detained in China in retaliation for the arrest.

China and the US are also engaged in tough trade negotiations to end a major tariff dispute.

Source: The BBC

10/12/2018

Violent veterans rally in China leads to 10 arrests

Ten suspects have been arrested for organising a “serious attack” on police officers during a veterans’ protest in northern China in October, according to state media.

According to People’s Daily, the accused organised a protest by 300 people from across the country, calling for better benefits for veterans, at a major public square in Pingdu, Shandong province.

During the assembly, some of the rally participants, led by the 10 suspects, acted violently towards the police and smashed police vehicles, the provincial police authority said, adding that their actions had caused injuries and led to substantial economic losses.

The report said 34 people, including an unknown number of police officers, were wounded in the violence, including two senior people officers who were seriously injured. In addition, a police bus and three private cars were destroyed.

More than 100 shops were forced to close during the rally and 11 buses had to change their routes to avoid the violence. Direct economic losses were estimated to have reached 8.2 million yuan (US$1.1 million).

The incident, on October 6, attracted the attention of the Ministry of Public Security as one of only a few large-scale examples of social unrest on the mainland over the past few years.

The People’s Daily report did not say if the 10 suspects were veterans, but local police said they had “complicated backgrounds” including criminal records in some cases.

All of the arrested are residents of Pingdu.

They are alleged to have used social media to contact people across the country and to have encouraged them to file petitions in Beijing during the “golden week” holiday, at the start of October, while posing as tourists.

They are also accused of spreading fake messages on social media after their plans were thwarted by authorities in Pingdu.

The suspects are reported to have told their followers they had been beaten up by government officials and encouraged them to support them by coming to the city.

At noon on October 6, about 300 people appeared at the People’s Hall square in Pingdu, waving banners and chanting slogans, although the report was unclear what they were calling for.

Two of the accused are said to have addressed the event, inciting people to use violence against the government.

One of the suspects, surnamed Ge, 46, was quoted as saying: “Bring wooden sticks and iron shovels with you. Hit their heads and beat them to death.”

Another suspect, surnamed Ji, 55, is alleged to have said: “We should kill more people to shock the whole nation”, according to the report.

Police said the suspects hired cars to take 105 sticks, 60 hammers, 16 dry powder extinguishers and a bag of talcum powder to the assembly site.

According to a local government statement, offers to negotiate with the protesters were rejected. The demonstrators also refused to leave the square until they received financial compensation from the government.

The conflict is believed to have been triggered when police tried to stop people crossing a cordon to join the 30 protesters originally within the square.

A tussle ensued and eight people were taken to a police bus parked nearby.

Several minutes later, three of the suspects are said to have led 60 protesters in an attack on the police. The windows of the police bus were smashed and the fire extinguisher was discharged into the vehicle, forcing police officers and the eight detained protesters to climb on to the roof of the bus to escape the fumes.

According to the report, the protesters threw stones at the police officers while also continuing to spray them with the fire extinguisher.

The police officers behaved in accordance with the law throughout the riot, which lasted for 11 minutes, the report said.

The report did not say how many people who took part in the rally were veterans.

Police said one of the suspects, surnamed Zheng, had previously been jailed for obstructing police and provoking trouble. Another suspect, surnamed Yang, had previously been caught with drugs.

Police also said a suspect surnamed Liu had been jailed for two years for theft, while another, surnamed Ge, had previously been sentenced to two years in jail for fraud.

Veterans have been an important issue for the mainland authorities this year, with the establishment in April of the new Ministry of Veterans Affairs.

The ministry has been collecting personal information from veterans across the country between August and December, as a “first step” in developing a policy on what packages veterans will receive from China’s governments in future, according to officials.

Last month the ministry and the Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department spearheaded a nationwide role model campaign in which the nation’s 10 “most beautiful veterans” were selected.

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