Tibet: Military Crackdown and Enforced Disappearances

A CRACKDOWN AT THE KIRTI MONASTERY in Tibet’s Ngaba region has led to one of the most violent crackdowns yet by China’s authorities against Tibetan culture this month. On Friday, the Dalai Lama appealed to the international community to persuade China to act with “restraint.”

The Kirti monastery, in Tibet’s Ngaba region, has a history of protest against the Chinese occupation, and was the site for a major demonstration in March of 2008. On March 16 of this year, Tibetan monk Phuntsok [Phuntsog] self-immolated to mark the third anniversary since Chinese armed forces cracked down these protesters.

Last week, residents attempted to stop Chinese authorities from taking monks away for “re-education.” Currently, the monastery is still surrounded by armed troops. Police also went house-to-house questioning residents, and there are now reports of arrests and enforced disappearances. The International Campaign for Tibet published a list of those who were forcibly disappeared.

The U.S government criticized China over its violent actions and says it is “monitoring the situation.” But that sounds like empty words yet again.

The world’s attention is currently on the arrest and disappearance of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. It’s the most obvious and high-profile example of China’s relentless violation against the rights of its own citizens, artists, and pro-democracy advocates.

Chinese authorities will continue to ignore the West’s tsk-tsking and appeals from rights’ groups unless people speak out. Sunday’s peaceful action in support of Ai Weiwei is a start. Now it’s time to do the same for Tibet. Go here and here to learn more and support democratic freedoms.

The Price of Freedom In China

© Ai Weiwei

LIFE FOR ACTIVISTS AND DISSIDENTS IN CHINA GROWS MORE DESPERATE after this week’s extrajudicial detention of artist Ai Weiwei. He was last seen Sunday as he tried to board a flight to Hong Kong.

It’s the latest, and most high profile, arrest of any dissident so far in China’s latest crackdown on dissidents and artists.

China is afraid of an Arab-style uprising. Persistent and anonymous calls for a “jasmine revolution” keep cropping up. Ai Weiwei, always an outspoken critic of China’s ruling communist party, made no secret of his support for civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, the dissidents are rounded up: there were dozens of arrests last week.

It was not until Ai Weiwei’s forced disappearance that governments joined human rights groups in condemning China’s actions, including the United States, France, and Germany.

The EU and China have a scheduled dialogue for the end of May. This is yet another opportunity for democratic nations to fully engage China and call them out for their lack of human rights. The EU must not let China slither away with its double talk about “misunderstandings.”

The appeasement of China must stop.

Time and again China acts preemptively, and with impunity, to silence dissent, while the West looks the other way or wrings its hands, and releases mealy-mouth statements to “free such-and-such.”

Liu Xiaobo is still in prison. So are thousands of political prisoners held in China. And China’s occupation of Tibet continues with the arrests, torture, and deaths of thousands of Tibetans.

Dissent in China is real, otherwise the government wouldn’t be reacting so violently. The nascent flowering of revolution was nipped in the bud (here’s a timeline of how the original non-protests went down), but repression will not make it go away.

We’ve forgotten that revolutions once happened without cell phones, the Internet, or computers. They happened by word-of-mouth, pamphleteering, meetings between people.

In 1989, there was no Internet—but students organized in Tiananmen Square anyway.

It’s true this generation doesn’t know a world without digital connection. And the people who remember Tiananmen, or who were there and survived, may not be able to speak of it today. But that’s what China needs now: the passed note and human voice. It’s time to rescue the old tools of revolution.

The human voice is ultimately the most powerful tool we have: we must speak up, and speak loudly. We must all do this now to support democracy and defend the voiceless.

For more on how to support human rights in China, visit Chinese Human Rights Defenders or Human Rights in China.

Because I Love Tibet

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS—we all make them, hoping that this year things not accomplished will (finally) get done.

Luckily we live on a planet where there’s ample opportunities to resolve to bring about change, and not just on January 1. One of those opportunities is now, with the start of Losar, or Tibetan New Year, 2138, the year of the Iron Hare.

Each year Tibetans pledge to take action for a free Tibet once a week (or once a day). You can see examples of pledges at Students for A Free Tibet‘s Losar page. Pledges are as simple as spreading awareness to financially supporting children and families.

We can all participate, too.

Readers of this blog know about my engagement with Tibet and her people’s struggle for independence. It’s one of the main reasons I started blogging. So I’m adding my pledge to the campaign:

My Losar pledge is to continue to raise awareness for the cause of Tibetan freedom and ask for people’s support of Tibet.

Will you support Tibetan freedom by making a pledge?

I’m gonna Free Tibet!– Dan Haig

Will This Chinese Village Get Justice?

QIUGANG IS A TINY HAMLET IN CHINA’S INDUSTRIAL HEARTLAND, a community living with the pollution produced by a chemical plant that is literally in their backyards. The Jiucailuo Chemical plant, a producer of pesticides and dyes, engaged in runaway pollution that poisoned Qiugang’s farmland, water supply, and sickened residents. In 2007, the villagers decided to fight back.

The Warriors of Qiugang is a 2011 Oscar-nominated documentary short chronicling the community’s struggle against corruption and government indifference. It’s also the story of Zhang Gongli, the farmer-turned-activist who emerges as Qiugang’s leader in the fight to get environmental justice.

When we meet Gongli, a man of limited means and education, he’s already filed two lawsuits against the chemical plant (and lost both). He and his fellow villagers soon realize it will take relentless action for change to come. The townspeople organize and eventually confront factory officials, who threaten and attack the villagers.

Even in the face of violence, the villagers refuse to back down, and Gongli takes the fight all the way to the higher-ups in Beijing.

This absorbing documentary is an incisive look at local politics, as well an inspiring story about the nascent environmental movement in China. Here’s where you can watch the full documentary.

China’s Ongoing Mission to Erase Tibetan Identity

CHINA PLANS TO REBUILD THE TIBETAN TOWN OF KYEGU AS A TOURIST CITY, complete with new “temporary” Chinese name, Phayul.com reported last week.

Last April, a 6.9 earthquake devastated Kyegu in Yushu (also called Jyekundo or Kyegudo), an area that is majority Tibetan. Nearly 3,000 died and 100,000 were left homeless. Now, instead of including Tibetans in the reconstruction, Chinese authorities are using the aftermath of this tragedy to further their plans to reshape Tibet, and effectively eliminate any Tibetan identity left in the area.

The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) also reported how Chinese authorities plan to rename the area Sanjiangyuan [The Three River Sources] as part of an “urbanization drive.”

This is nothing less than cultural genocide, and business as usual for the Chinese. Last week’s Hu-Obama summit featured lots of lip service to human rights and a call for “improving dialogue” between China and Tibet. But this development hardly registers in the media, and hope for any progress to give Tibetans a voice in their own future dims.

In the meantime China continues its unceasing measures to impose its culture on Tibet and the Tibetan people.

Learn more and take action:

Tibet Justice Center
Students for a Free Tibet

Image: Tibet Post International

The Film the Chinese Don’t Want You to See

ON DECEMBER 28, 2009, CHINESE AUTHORITIES SENTENCED filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen to a six-year prison sentence for exercising his right to free expression. His film, Leaving Fear Behind, features Tibetans inside Tibet speaking openly about the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Dalai Lama, and China’s policies in Tibet.

Learn more about Dhondup Wangchen’s trial and the campaign to free him.

Watch his film, Leaving Fear Behind, here:

Artist on Trial: Wu Yuren

WU YUREN IS A CHINESE ARTIST CURRENTLY DETAINED and awaiting trial for allegedly assaulting police at a Beijing station this past May. His wife and supporters say his arrest is punishment for his political activism. In February, he and a group of artists protested against their forced eviction and received compensation. But all this activity seemed to set the stage for the government to retaliate. At the time of the incident at the police station, Wu was helping a friend lodge a complaint against a landlord.

Wu says his work “reflects and speaks to the peculiarities of the times.” The multimedia artist is a signatory to Charter 08, and has never shied away from being a publicly open voice shouting against Chinese censorship.

Pictured here are selections from his series, “Imperial Criminal.” The first image is titled Politics as an Imperial Crime. The series features men and women charged with “falungong,” “computer hacking,” as well as “looting” and “swindling.”

Wu’s photographs are passport-like and the subject’s crime is exposed when the brand is placed under ultra-violet light.

Prostitution as an Imperial Crime © Wu Yuren

Wu addresses morality and legality in this series, but by branding a person with an otherwise-invisible stamp, he’s commenting on a society that views each individual as a criminal, his or her “crime” waiting to be revealed or exposed.

You can see more of “Imperial Criminal” and Wu Yuren’s other major works at Front Line Contemporary.

Wu Yuren’s wife, Karen Patterson, posts regular updates about Wu Yuren’s trial and the campaign to free him at her blog, WYR’s Incarceration: Seeking Truth From Fiction. You can also follow on Twitter, @KPinChina and Facebook.

How One Artist Will Mark Liu Xiaobo’s Peace Prize

NEXT WEEK, TO MARK THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE CEREMONY, Taiwanese artist Vincent J.F. Huang will stage a performance piece called Habeas Corpus. It speaks directly to Liu Xiaobo’s imprisonment and comments on China’s human rights record.

In the performance, planned for December 10, a blindfolded “prisoner” shackled in a traditional Chinese yoke will be paraded on an open horse-drawn cart through the streets of London.

The performance begins at the Tower of London, making stops at the Tate Modern, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Pall Mall, Hyde Park, Speaker’s Corner, and Oxford Street, and finishes up at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Portland Place.

In an interview Huang said, “Most people are afraid of offending China but I am in a unique position, as a resident of Taiwan and as an artist who has a desire to be publicly intelligent. If China is to become the great nation it aspires to be, it needs to learn about basic human rights.”

Huang’s most well publicized works thus far focussed on climate change protests, such as this past February’s “Suicide Penguins,” a work featuring stuffed penguins and polar bears hanging from nooses off the Millennium Bridge in London.

As a Taiwanese artist drawing on his own culture, Huang’s protest promises a powerful statement about human rights in China.

More of Huang’s work will be featured at The Vaad Gallery in December, including bronze medals he created featuring Liu Xiaobo’s words, “I have no enemies—my final statement.”

With Suu Kyi Free, What’s Next for Burma?

THIS WEEKEND’S JOYOUS SCENES FOLLOWING THE RELEASE of Aung San Suu Kyi were followed by hard questions about what’s next for Burma.

Image © irrawaddy.com

At the first news conference since being released, Suu Kyi spoke of national reconciliation and called for a meeting with General Than Shwe. Whether that will be possible and what might come of any talks remains to be seen.

At the very least, the world seems aware now of the situation in Burma. Perhaps after witnessing Suu Kyi’s release this weekend, people who had never heard of Aung San Suu Kyi, Than Shwe, or the oppressive military state will be inspired to support the people of Burma.

Now it’s a matter of trying to predict a situation that is beyond the merely political.

There are many factors and influences at play—including the threat of civil war, what role China will play (according to press reports, Chinese investment in Burma is 8 billion dollars). That China is a not exactly an open, democratic society doesn’t bode well for increased political freedoms.

With the economic power China holds over so many nations’ heads, human rights is certain to be all but excluded from the conversation. Who then in the international community can be counted on as an ally for the Burmese people? Will any country in the West put human rights before trade and profits?

How to Support Human Rights In China


Image: © Digital Journal

NOW THAT LIU XIAOBO IS THE RECIPIENT OF THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE, and continues to be at the forefront of the news cycle, it’s time to think about what we can do to support press freedom, civil liberties, and political reform in China. Here are English-language resources to learn how to advance these and other human rights issues in China:

Independent Rights Groups

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) is a network of Chinese and international activists working at the grassroots level. They publish a bi-weekly human rights briefing including news on citizens’ actions inside China.

human-rights-in-chinaHuman Rights in China (HRIC) is an international NGO founded by Chinese students and scholars in March 1989. The group practices advocacy and outreach within China and internationally, publishing reports and case studies on issues like China’s legal system. Also available online is HRIC’s in-depth quarterly journal, China Rights Forum.

The Dui Hua Foundation‘s mission is based on dialogue (dui-hua in Mandarin) between the U.S. and Chinese governments in order to gain the release of political prisoners. The foundation maintains a detailed prisoner database and has had significant success in securing prisoner releases.

Legal Reform Activists

China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group , based in Hong Kong, works to promote the rule of law in China. The group monitors the activities of China’s civil and human rights lawyers and works to ensure their freedom and safety, especially in the face of the government’s increased crackdown on lawyers. You can also learn about lawyers who licenses are revoked or who have been disbarred and detained for taking sensitive cases.

Media, Press Freedom and the Internet

china-media-projectThe China Media Project documents media reform and the state of press freedom in China. The group is based out of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong. The site includes a newswire, a section on political cartoons, and current stories on the state of media in China by journalists working in China.