Hong Kong Democracy Campaigners Jailed Over Anti-China Protests
Tom Phillips, THE GUARDIAN
Hong Kong’s democracy movement has suffered the latest setback in what has been a punishing year after three of its most influential young leaders were jailed for their roles in a protest at the start of a 79-day anti-government occupation known as the umbrella movement. Alex Chow, Nathan Law, and Joshua Wong, the bespectacled student dubbed Hong Kong’s “face of protest” were sentenced to between six and eight months imprisonment each. The trio, aged 26, 24 and 20 respectively, had avoided jail a year ago after being convicted of taking part in or inciting an “illegal assembly” that helped spark the umbrella protests, in late September 2014. But this month Hong Kong’s department of justice called for those sentences to be reconsidered, with one senior prosecutor attacking the “rather dangerous” leniency he claimed had been shown to the activists. “See you soon,” Wong tweeted shortly after the verdict was announced. In another message he wrote: “Imprisoning us will not extinguish Hongkonger’s desire for universal suffrage. We are stronger, more determined, and we will win.”
Family Of Jailed Chinese Dissident Yang Tongyan Seek Medical Parole After Brain Tumor Discovered
Catherine Lai, HONG KONG FREE PRESS
The family of jailed Chinese dissident Yang Tongyan has applied for medical parole on his behalf after a tumor was discovered in his brain, his sister has said. Yang, who is also known by his pen name Yang Tianshui, is serving a 12-year prison sentence for “subversion of state power.” He is known for writings critical of the Chinese government, and was also jailed from 1990 to 2000 for his involvement in China’s 1989 pro-democracy protests. His family was notified by the Nanjing Prison on Saturday that a tumor had been discovered in the 56-year-old’s brain and that his condition was serious, according to his sister. The authorities told them to apply for medical parole.
China Angered At US Criticism Of Religious Freedom, Says US Not Perfect
Ben Blanchard, REUTERS
China hit back on Wednesday at criticism by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of its record on religious freedom, saying the United States was not perfect and should be looking after its own affairs rather than making baseless accusations. Tillerson, speaking at the State Department while introducing the agency’s annual report on religious freedom, said the Chinese government tortures and imprisons thousands for their religious beliefs, citing the targeting of Falun Gong members, Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China fully respected and protected freedom of religion and belief.
India And China Troops Clash Along Himalayan Border
A confrontation occurred between Indian and Chinese soldiers along a disputed border in the western Himalayas, Indian officials said on Tuesday. The PTI news agency said soldiers threw stones, causing minor injuries to both sides, as Chinese troops tried to enter Indian territory near the Pangong lake. Beijing maintains that their soldiers were inside Chinese territory. The two countries are also locked in an impasse in the Doklam area, which borders China, India and Bhutan. PTI quoted army officials as saying that in the latest confrontation, soldiers had to form a human chain to prevent an incursion by Chinese forces into territories claimed by India and located near the country’s Ladakh region. China claims the territories as its own. An Indian official told the BBC that he could neither confirm nor deny media reports, but said “such incidents do happen,” adding that “this isn’t the first time that something like this has happened.”
Cuba Grapples With Professionals And Their Economic Future
Calle Marti is a modest half-mile boulevard split by a simple winding flagstone path that’s bracketed by green grass, pine trees and curving blue cement benches. But the project is part of a fragile experiment whose success or failure might help determine if Cuba is able to pull itself out of years of economic stagnation and brain drain. The central avenue in the western city of Pinar del Rio, population 150,000, was redesigned over the last three years by a private firm of three 20- and 30-something architects hired by the communist provincial government—a contract that would have been unimaginable in Cuba just a few years ago. Over the last decade, Cubans making state salaries of less than $25 a month have moved by the hundreds of thousands into the private sector—opening stores, restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts that have been among the few sources of growth for the island’s moribund centrally planned economy. Graduates of Cuba’s renowned free universities have been mostly left out of private jobs in their fields, because the state sees the privatization of professions like architecture and accounting as unacceptable in Cuba’s socialist system. The government has argued that individuals shouldn’t profit, feeding inequality, from society’s costly investment in free education. Professionals looking for better lives have emigrated by the tens of thousands or turned to unskilled but higher-paying work like waiting tables or driving taxis.
Ukraine’s Space Agency: North Korea Engine Identical To Ours
Elizabeth Shim, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
Ukraine’s state space agency said the rocket engine used to launch North Korea’s most recent intercontinental ballistic missile is the same as the type of engine used by Ukraine-made space vehicles. But Ukraine denied supplying the engines to North Korea, raising the possibility Russia might have played a middleman role in delivering the powerful engines to Pyongyang, Radio Free Asia reported. The statement from the Ukrainian government agency came Tuesday, a day after The New York Times reported American investigators found evidence North Korea purchased the engines on the black market, and that they were “probably from a Ukrainian factory with historical ties to Russia’s missile program.” According to Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, North Korea switched suppliers in recent years, and turned the fate of its missile program around with Ukrainian technology. “It’s likely that these engines came from Ukraine—probably illicitly,” Elleman told The Times. “The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now. I’m very worried.” Yuzhmash, a state-owned factory in Dnipro, Ukraine, is at the center of a US investigation.
No American Strike On North Korea Without My Consent, Says South’s President
Anna Fifield, THE WASHINGTON POST
The United States has agreed not to take any military action against North Korea without first getting South Korea’s approval, President Moon Jae-in said Thursday as he marked 100 days in office. Backing up the president’s assertion, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Beijing that there was “no question” that South Korea would be consulted before any possible military action was taken on the Korean Peninsula. “South Korea is an ally and everything we do in the region is in the context of our alliance,” Dunford told reporters traveling with him on a trip that has taken him to Seoul and then to Beijing, where he met with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping on Thursday. Dunford will later travel to Tokyo. The risk to South Korea has restrained successive American administrations striking North Korea to take out its nuclear and missile facilities, even as its capability has improved to the point where it now poses a threat to the US mainland. But a strike on North Korea would likely cause Pyongyang to unleash conventional artillery at Seoul, just over the border.
North Korean Gangsters Extort “Fees” From Truckers, Merchants
RADIO FREE ASIA
Gangsters operating at a major local market in North Korea’s Chongjin city are extorting money from truck drivers and local merchants, charging them large “fees” for permission to transport their goods, sources in the sanctions-hit country say. The gangsters target trucks that leave early in the morning to carry bulk goods from Chongjin’s Sunam market to other parts of the country, a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service. “They do not allow trucks to approach certain areas near the market, and only the trucks that pay them money are allowed to drive up to the market to load the goods they need to deliver,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The gangsters, many of them former convicts, demand payment ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 Chinese yuan (US $149 to $224), and give 40 percent of what they take to police officers working at the market, the source said. Truck drivers traveling to Chongjin from cities such as Musan, Hoeryong, and Kyongsong are also hit, he said, “as they usually stop at the Sunam market to fill up with local goods to avoid driving back with an empty truck.” Merchants traveling long distances on business are meanwhile blocked from using service vans by men demanding pay, a second source from North Hamgyong said.
Trump Takes Aim At China’s Bad Intellectual Property Practices
Bryan Riley And Riley Walters, THE HILL
This week, President Trump signed a presidential memorandum asking the US trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, to decide whether his office will investigate the transfer of US intellectual property to China. If the investigation goes forward—and if it concludes that China is indeed responsible for widespread theft of intellectual property—it might result in economic sanctions against Beijing and the companies involved. White House officials maintain that “China’s unfair trade practices and industrial policies, including forced technology transfer and intellectual property theft harm the US economy and our workers.” The semantics of how technology is transferred under Chinese leadership is subtle but important. The outright theft of intellectual property is different from, say, a US firm knowingly transferring its intellectual property to Beijing at the demand of the communist government. Chinese investment laws are relatively explicit in this regard. They may require some US investors to find a Chinese partner before they are allowed to do business in the country. Others state specifically that the Chinese government may request intellectual property for “national security” reasons. As long as such transfers are voluntary, there is nothing nefarious about the practice. Companies like Apple, for example, have willingly agreed to adhere to recent requirements on data localization to maintain their access to Chinese markets.
Florida Bans Future Investments In Maduro’s Venezuela
Gary Fineout, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Florida Gov. Rick Scott easily won approval Wednesday for a proposal to bar the state’s $150 billion pension plan from making future investments that directly support the regime of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. Scott and the two other trustees who oversee the plan quickly approved the ban, which could be more symbolic than substantive, since the Florida Retirement System doesn’t currently invest in any companies or securities controlled or owned by Venezuelan government interests. Scott, a likely Republican challenger of Democratic US Sen. Bill Nelson next year, called the ban a “huge step in the right direction.” But Nelson, another Maduro critic, accused Scott of backtracking from his original vows by banning only direct investments in Venezuela, but not sanctioning companies that do business there.
Venezuelan President, In Cuba, Pays Homage To Fidel Castro
Nelson Acosta, REUTERS
Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro traveled to Cuba on Tuesday to pay homage to deceased leader Fidel Castro, in a surprise visit days after US President Donald Trump warned of possible military action against Venezuela. State-run television on Wednesday showed Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores, accompanied by Cuban President Raúl Castro, visiting the stone monument in eastern Santiago de Cuba containing Fidel Castro’s ashes and placing flowers at the grave. Castro, who died last November, would have turned 91 on Sunday. Communist-run Cuba remains Maduro’s staunchest defender in the region. Maduro’s surprise visit to shore up ties with a close ally coincided with US Vice President Mike Pence’s tour of Latin America, where he has downplayed Trump’s threat last week to use military force against Venezuela. Pence argued economic sanctions and political pressure can restore democracy to the country. Cuba and Venezuela see themselves united against what they call US “imperialism.”
Venezuela’s Socialist-run “Truth Commission” To Investigate Opposition
Opposition candidates running in Venezuela’s October gubernatorial elections will be investigated to make sure none were involved in violent political protests this year, the head of a new pro-government truth commission said on Wednesday. The panel was set up earlier in the day by the constituent assembly elected last month at the behest of socialist President Maduro. Government critics say the commission is designed to sideline the opposition and bolster the ruling party’s flagging support ahead of the October vote. Also before the assembly is a bill that would punish those who express “hate or intolerance” with up to 25 years in jail. The opposition fears such a law would be used to silence criticism of a government that, according to local rights group Penal Forum is, is already holding 676 political prisoners. “Whoever goes into the streets to express intolerance and hatred, will be captured and will be tried and punished with sentences of 15, 20, 25 years of jail,” Maduro said last week. Over 120 people have died in four months of protests against the president’s handling of an economy beset by triple-digit inflation and acute food shortages.
Venezuelan Authorities Ban Violinist Wuilly Arteaga From Protesting
Andrea Torres, ABC NEWS: LOCAL 10
After breaking his violin, beating him and later arresting him, Venezuelan authorities banned violinist Wuilly Arteaga from protesting. They also ordered him to appear in front of officials every eight days, his attorney Alfredo Romero tweeted. Arteaga talked to reporters Wednesday. He said the real heroes of Venezuela were dead and behind bars. According to Penal Forum, a Venezuelan human rights group, there are about 676 political prisoners and at least 120 deaths are linked to the four months of protests. He also asked politicians to stop arguing over elections, as the political parties in opposition of President Maduro stand divided about who will run in the municipal elections. “How many more will die?” Arteaga said.
Venezuela Accuses Two Political Dissidents Of Extortion
Nicholas Casey and Ana Vanessa Herrero, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Venezuelan officials took action against two political dissidents on Wednesday, raiding the home of the country’s ousted attorney general and ordering the arrest of her husband, whom they accused of running an extortion ring. The former attorney general, Luisa Ortega, was accused by her replacement, Tarek William Saab, of turning her office into “a center of blackmail and extortion.” Mr. Saab, who was appointed by Venezuela’s newly installed, all-powerful Constituent Assembly, also accused Ms. Ortega’s husband, Germán Ferrer, a lawmaker, of extorting millions of dollars from victims with the aid of corrupt prosecutors and stashing the money in foreign bank accounts. “I want them to explain to me how a lawmaker, who is known to have a modest salary, could open various accounts at the same time,” Mr. Saab said on television. Mr. Saab was joined by Diosdado Cabello, a top member of the governing party, who called those accused of running the extortion ring “a mafia,” saying they had taken in at least $6 million. Also on Wednesday, the authorities raided the couple’s home in the capital, Caracas, Ms. Ortega said on Twitter.