Courage on Trial in China

22weiweiart-superJumbo-v2

Credit Dadu Shin

BERLIN — In April 2011, I was kidnapped by the Chinese undercover police at a Beijing airport and detained at a secret location for 81 days. After my release, the government charged me with tax evasion, even though most of the questions during my confinement centered on my political activities. They demanded that I pay back taxes and a fine totaling $2.4 million, and when I asked why the shakedown, one official replied, “If we don’t penalize you, you won’t give us any peace.”

I decided not to give them peace. I contacted Pu Zhiqiang, one of the few courageous lawyers willing to defend political activists who suffer abuse at the hands of China’s authoritarian regime, to file an appeal. Zhiqiang took my case. I was impressed with his thorough preparation and clear thinking. In court, he was sharp, persuasive and fearless.

Over the years, Zhiqiang has defended many journalists, petitioners and human rights activists. His legal advocacy, along with his valor and superior skills, made him a target for political persecution. The leadership sees his rising influence as a threat.

After being detained for the last 19 months, Zhiqiang was put on trial on Dec. 14 by the Beijing Second Intermediate People’s Court for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and for “inciting ethnic hatred,” based on seven of his microblog posts that criticized Communist Party policies. The government found him guilty on Tuesday and gave him a three-year suspended sentence. The verdict automatically strips Zhiqiang of his attorney’s license — and eliminates the platform from which he has given voice to the voiceless.

As the world gushes over China’s economic power, no one should forget that its rise comes at the cost of freedom and human rights. Sadly, many people inside and outside China have resigned themselves to the fact that the judicial system submits to the power of the Communist Party.

Read more at The New York Times

 To Defeat ISIS, We Must Call Both Western and Muslim Leaders to Account

And that includes the Saudi kings whose funding of Wahhabi doctrine gave rise to the scourge of Islamic extremism.

 Flowers are put in a window shattered by a bullet as Paris mourns the victims of a terrorist attack. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Flowers are put in a window shattered by a bullet as Paris mourns the victims of a terrorist attack. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

By Laila Lalami

 What happened in Paris on November 13 has happened before, in a shopping district of Beirut on November 12, in the skies over Egypt on October 31, at a cultural center in Turkey on July 20, a beach resort in Tunisia on June 26—and nearly every day in Syria for the last four years.

 The scenario is by now familiar to all of us. News of the killings will appear on television and radio. There will be cries of horror and sorrow, a few hashtags on Twitter, perhaps even a change of avatars on Facebook. Our leaders will make staunch promises to bring the terrorists to justice, while also claiming greater power of surveillance over their citizens. And then life will resume exactly as before.

Except for the victims’ families. For them, time will split into a Before and After.

We owe these families, of every race, creed, and nationality, more than sorrow, more than anger. We owe them justice.

We must call to account ISIS, a nihilistic cult of death that sees the world in black and white, with no shades of gray in between.

Read more at The Nation

 This Is What Greece’s Refugee Crisis Really Looks Like

“Thanks to God I have made it here. I am free, I am alive!”

 Refugees arriving on the isle of Lesbos in a dinghy from Turkey. (Lazar Simeonov)
Refugees arriving on the isle of Lesbos in a dinghy from Turkey. (Lazar Simeonov)

By Jesse Rosenfeld

Lesbos, Athens, and northern Greece—In the baking midday August heat on the Greek island of Lesbos, Ziad Mouatash bounces out of an overcrowded inflatable raft and touches EU soil for the first time. The 22-year-old from Yarmouk—the Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Damascus that has been besieged and bombed since 2012 by Bashar al-Assad’s forces and recently invaded by ISIS and the Al Qaeda–affiliated Nusra Front—hugs everyone around him, ecstatic to be alive.

From the Greek shore, activists and locals had looked on helplessly as the boat’s motor broke down two miles away, water pouring into the barely floating rubber dinghy. Children and adults alike cried desperately for help, until they were towed to Greece by another boat of refugees coming from Turkey.

Mouatash paid human traffickers in Turkey over 1,000 euros for this near-death experience, but as far as he’s concerned, it was a far less risky choice than continuing to hide out in deteriorating Damascus, which he’d abandoned for Turkey two weeks before. As a Palestinian who grew up in Syria’s refugee camps, he is stateless, but he has a brother in Paris and hopes to start a new life in France.

He paces up and down the shoreline, unsure of which direction to go, while local activists try to bring the new arrivals together to tell them that they need to start a 40-mile walk to a registration center on the other side of the island.

 Although he has escaped the horrors of Syria’s grinding civil war, Mouatash is just beginning the difficult journey through Europe. He will have to cross more borders illegally; rest in filthy, makeshift camps; pay traffickers to help him cross those borders; dodge border police; and sleep in parks and fields, before he can reunite with his brother. Still, Mouatash is one of the lucky ones. Four days after his arrival, a raft off the Greek island of Kos capsized and six Syrians—including a baby—drowned.

Read more at The Nation

Hong Kong Rally Against Occupy Central Attracts Thousands

Anti-Occupy Central demonstrators carry a Chinese national flag during a march in Hong Kong, on August 17, 2014. Photographer: Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

By Jill Mao in Bloomberg News

Tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong marched to protest threats by activist groups to paralyze the city’s financial district if China refuses to allow direct leadership elections, underlining the division in the city.

The Alliance for Peace and Democracy put yesterday’s turnout at 193,000 people, compared with the 88,000 estimate by the University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Programme.

The protest highlighted the divide in Hong Kong over how to pick its new leader in 2017, with the political unrest threatening to erode its status as a global financial center. The Chinese government has insisted on having candidates vetted by a nominating committee, which has met with opposition from lawmakers, students and the activist group Occupy Central with Love and Peace.

“Occupy Central will block the traffic and affect my job and business,” Chan Cheung On, 40, a driver for a take-out delivery company, said yesterday at the protest. “Everybody in Hong Kong wants universal suffrage, but some people want to achieve it only through the way they want.”

Occupy Central has threatened to organize a 10,000 strong sit-in at the financial district if election methods fail to meet what it deems as international standards. A rally on July 1 for democracy drew 154,000 to 172,000 people, according to estimates by the University of Hong Kong.

Read more at Bloomberg News

Matthew Barber Reports On the Crisis in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region

By Matthew Barber in Syria Comment

The calm is slowly unraveling in Kurdistan, and a growing, pervasive anxiety is beginning to afflict us all.

We know that the fighting between the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Islamic State jihadis continues to develop and move from place to place, but we’re never exactly sure what’s happening, where the fighting is occurring, or who has the upper hand. News—both local and international—has proved highly unreliable since this crisis began on Sunday.

“When I visited Shariya on Monday, it looked like this.” Photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

By Wednesday, volunteers had registered over 63,000 displaced individuals (more had arrived and not registered). This was just one of several primary destinations for Sinjar’s refugees. I was informed by local relief coordinators that the needs of the refugees were beginning to exceed what the KRG and NGOs were able to provide.

But when I returned yesterday, something unbelievable had happened. Shariya was almost a ghost town… as silent as the grave.

Photo: Matthew Barber/Syria Comment

I found a few lingering volunteers and asked, “What happened here?” They replied, “Everyone fled this morning—the refugees as well as the local population of Shariya. Of approximately 80,000 people living here yesterday, only a couple hundred remain.”

This unbelievable second exodus is the result of a sense of panic that is washing across the Dohuk governorate. I had begun to sense it on Tuesday, while receiving panicked calls from Yazidis fleeing to Turkey. What initially prompted the stampede was the decision of many Yazidis in villages near Mosul—close to the further limit of Peshmerga-controlled territory—to leave and move northward, anticipating IS attacks in their area. Though IS hadn’t broken through Kurdish lines and no Yazidi villages had been infiltrated, fighting was taking place (and continues until now) between the Peshmerga and IS near the Mosul Dam and along the “border” with Mosul, and many Yazidis in those locations became fearful that what had just taken place in Sinjar might transpire in their areas as well.

Witnessing the ethnic cleansing of Sinjar, and sensing that an intentional campaign of extermination was being directed against them, Yazidis no longer felt secure about Peshmerga defensive capabilities and decided not to take any chances.

As waves of people from the southernmost villages began to arrive in villages a little closer to Dohuk (including Shariya), rumors began to circulate that Kurdish defenses had already been breached. I witnessed what verged upon mass hysteria as the local residents of villages near Dohuk decided to flee to Turkey. Those with passports and visas left; others tried to go as far north as possible, if they knew people who would take them in.

Read more at Syria Comment

Women Victims of Unmet Western Promises in Islamic Countries

Credit: Photo via Irrationally Bound

By Marianna Karakoulaki

The Paper Tiger of the Tigris: How ISIS Took Tikrit Without a Fight

World News Forum

Reuters

An Exclusive Report by Andrew Slater in The Daily Beast.

Before a shot was fired, rumors of ISIS led Iraqi forces to flee Tikrit. As Baghdad fights to retake the city, they’re up against a force made more powerful by the initial retreat.

Around 2 p.m. on Wednesday the 11th of June, ISIS forces entered the city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, in a small vanguard of just 30 unarmored trucks without firing a shot. This underwhelming force was a far cry from the horde of ISIS fighters the soldiers and policemen of the city feared would come swarming out of the desert. That fear of ISIS had more to do with the fall of Tikrit, than anything the group actually did inside the city. Fear alone was enough to induce surrender and retreat.

In a province with tens of thousands of Iraq Security Forces, Tikrit, the provincial…

View original post 404 more words

China Revises Environmental Law

FILE – Commuters wearing masks make their way amid thick haze in the morning in Beijing. China’s north is suffering a pollution crisis, with the capital Beijing itself shrouded in acrid smog. Authorities have introduced anti-pollution policies.

HONG KONG — After almost two years of debate, China’s parliament has passed a new law that analysts say is a positive step in addressing the country’s systemic problems with the environment. Environmental groups say that although implementation may prove difficult, the revision gives them a legal framework to challenge polluters.

The new law gives more punitive powers to environmental authorities, allows a broader range of actions for environmental organizations and defines geographical “red lines” where the area’s ecology requires special protection.

It is the first time the environmental protection law has been revised since 1989.

Lawmaker Xin Chunying, told a news briefing Thursday that the revision will have an important effect on the future of China’s environmental protection efforts. “The revision of the environmental law is a heavy blow [in the fight against] our country’s harsh environmental realities, and an important systemic construct,” said Xin.

China has suffered from the effects of its rapid development, which has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty but heavily damaged the environment.

Air, water and soil pollution have reached alarming levels, becoming one of the key sources of discontent for many Chinese.

Despite official pronouncements to put the environment first, local governments have for decades been judged solely on their economic performance.

Read more at Voice of America

A last-minute act of forgiveness in Iran

Parents mourn at the grave of their son after they spared the life of their son’s convicted murderer. (ARASH KHAMOOSHI/AFP/Getty Images)

With eyes covered and a noose around his neck, a young man identified only as Balal was “screaming and praying loudly before he just went silent,” Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) photographer Arash Khamooshi, who was photographing a public execution in Iran told CNN.

Saeed Kamali Dehghan of The Guardian reports Balal, who is in his 20s, was convicted of killing 18-year-old Abdollah Hosseinzadeh with a knife during a street brawl in 2007. He was arrested by police after fleeing the crime scene and, after six years, was given a death sentence.

The crowd watched as Samereh Alinejad, Hosseinzadeh’s mother, approached. Time writes: “According to some interpretations of sharia law, the victim’s family participates in the punishment by pushing the chair from under the condemned man.”

But instead of pushing the chair from underneath him and execute him, Alinejad slapped him in the face.

Khamooshi told CNN that, after slapping Balal, the mother told the crowd that she had forgiven him, and helped Hosseinzadeh’s father take the noose off.

Read more at the Washington Post

Support quality journalism. Subscribe to the Washington Post.

Syria’s Lost Generation

By KHALED HOSSEINI APRIL 11, 2014

There are now 2.5 million refugees from Syria, 1.2 million of them children. Photo credit; Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

SOMETHING about the boy was not right. He seemed disoriented, detached from his surroundings. He barely spoke, and when he did, it was in flat monosyllables, his eyes unfocused and downcast, as if too heavy to roll up from the weight of all they had seen. He was the picture of quiet devastation, of a childhood forever splintered.

He was 14 years old, a Syrian refugee, sitting with his family in a small room in the registration building of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Erbil, northern Iraq. In the crowded, noisy offices downstairs, scores of newly arrived refugees queued to register, including an exhausted-looking, dust-sheathed family of Dom Gypsies and a Syrian woman with a club foot, who limped about the hallways and pleaded with every passer-by to give her asylum in Germany.

In the upstairs office, the boy’s father sat across a table from me. A supple, boyish-looking 36-year-old, he recounted, with admirable calm, the story of his family’s harrowing escape, two weeks earlier, from their hometown, Aleppo, and their subsequent trip across the Turkish border and into the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

Before the war, he said, he worked at a shoe store, and his three children excelled at school. It was a modest but happy middle-class life. But then came war, and suddenly rocket-propelled grenades were whooshing in all day and Aleppo was honeycombed by falling bombs. He lost his job and his children’s school closed; they would lose two full years of schooling before the family’s eventual escape.

Soon, there was no electricity, no telephone service, no food. The father sold the family’s belongings, down to the last piece of furniture. When the money ran out, he borrowed flour from neighbors for his wife to make bread.

“Sometimes we weren’t eating for two or three days, but just giving the bread and water to the children to eat to survive,” he said.

At some point this year, Syria will overtake my native country, Afghanistan, as the world’s largest refugee-producing state. There are now 2.5 million refugees from Syria, 1.2 million of them children. Two-thirds of Syrian refugee children, and nearly three million children inside the country, are out of school.

They face a broken future. Syria is on the verge of losing a generation. This is perhaps the most dooming consequence of this terrible war.

Read more at The New York Times

Support quality journalism. Subscribe to The New York Times.