Prosecutor Seeks Four-Year Prison Sentence For Belarusian Activist
The state prosecutor has asked a Belarusian court to sentence an activist who took part in protests against a law obliging the unemployed to pay taxes on “social parasites” to four years in prison. Svyataslau Baranovich, who was charged with attacking a police officer, pleaded guilty on the trial’s first day on February 15, but said that the police officer he hit at a rally in March 2017 was not in uniform. After the 2015 law establishing a “parasite tax” sparked protests in Minsk and other cities in 2016 and 2017, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka announced that collection of the tax would be suspended until 2018. The law echoed Soviet-era legislation under which unemployed citizens could face criminal prosecution.
Cambodian-Americans Welcome Draft Bill For Further Sanctions On Phnom Penh
Men Kimseng, VOA
Cambodian-Americans have welcomed the drafting of a bill by a group of prominent U.S. Senators that could see further sanctions imposed on Cambodia over its anti-democratic crackdown. The Cambodia Accountability and Return on Investment (CARI) Act calls for further sanctions on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, including possible asset freezes. Hun Sen’s government has led a crackdown in recent months that has seen the country’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, dissolved and its leader imprisoned on treason charges. Media outlets, civil society groups, and activists have also been targeted by the courts and security forces.
Cambodian Political Opposition Movement Calls For Boycott Of Firms Owned By PM’s Family
A movement started by exiled Cambodian opposition lawmakers has launched a campaign boycotting products sold by companies owned by the family of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the country’s longtime leader who is using his power to eliminate his competitors before a general election in July. The CNRM considers the drinking water produced by the company run by Hun Sen’s daughter, Hun Mana, to be “the spring drops of tears.” CNRM spokesman Eng Chhai Eang also said Vital Premium Water Company is not the only company that is involved in undermining democracy and justice in Cambodia. “It’s natural that where there is oppression there is struggle,” he said. “We have to continue our fight for justice. If we do not do anything, injustice will continue to spread. Injustice is like an early stage of cancer that needs immediate treatment before it is too late.”
“Day Of Anger” Becomes Cambodia’s Latest National Holiday
Kuoch Masy, Phnom Penh Post
Cambodia, a country with quite possibly the most public holidays of any nation in the world, has just added one more —and a controversial one at that. A sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin on February 14 and obtained yesterday declares May 20 the National Day of Remembrance, though for years it has been better known as the national “Day of Anger” towards the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. The designation brings the total number of days of national holidays in Cambodia in 2018 to 28. The day is often celebrated with re-enactments of Khmer Rouge atrocities and reminders of the “achievements of the Cambodian People’s Party”, which for decades has based its political legitimacy on its role in the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge, drawing accusations that the holiday is strictly political.
Widow Of Slain Cambodian Government Critic Kem Ley Is Granted Asylum In Australia
Bou Rachana, the widow of slain Cambodian social commentator and government critic Kem Ley, has been granted asylum in Australia, leaving with her five sons from Thailand and arriving in Melbourne on Feb. 17, an Australian lawmaker told RFA’s Khmer Service on Monday. It was unclear shortly before they left whether Bou Rachana’s youngest child, a toddler, would be allowed to leave with her, as he was born in Thailand and was not given a birth certificate. But Australian authorities convinced the Thai government to allow them all to leave together, Hong Lim, a member of Australia’s Victoria state legislative assembly, said, speaking to RFA by phone on Feb. 19. Hong Lim said that he and the Cambodian community in Australia are “thrilled” to welcome Bou Rachana to the country. “We think that she and her children will have much better lives here than in Cambodia,” he said.
A Dance For Tibetan New Year, Then 17 Hours In Custody
Steven Lee Myers, NYT
The monks, dressed in crimson robes and wielding blue plastic swords, were rehearsing a dance they would perform the next day in celebration of the Tibetan New Year. Then a uniformed police officer appeared in the temple and said there were a few questions to answer. So began nearly 17 hours in police custody for me and a French photographer, Gilles Sabrié, a long though not uncommon experience for foreign correspondents in China. It was hardly an ordeal, to be clear; journalists face far worse threats and abuse in China and elsewhere. It was, rather, a bother. For the Chinese, though, it was a self-inflicted embarrassment. We had traveled high into the mountains of the Tibetan plateau last week to write about holiday traditions in that part of China. By detaining us, and ultimately expelling us from the region, the authorities succeeded in preventing that. So I am writing this instead.
Activist In China’s Guangdong Confined In Psychiatric Hospital With “No Sign Of Illness”
Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have confined a rights activist to a psychiatric hospital in spite of her appearing to lack any symptoms of mental illness, fellow activists told RFA. Zhang Qi has been committed to the Guangzhou Baiyun Mental Rehabilitation Hospital in the Baiyun district of Guangdong’s provincial capital after being incommunicado for several months. Guangzhou-based rights activist Liang Songqi said he had only recently found out her whereabouts. “Zhang Qi is a senior member of our circle of rights activists and concerned citizens,” Liang told RFA. “We have been unable to contact her since last June, and we continued to look for her.” “In the end, we tracked her down to the Guangzhou Baiyun Mental Rehabilitation Hospital,” Liang said. “A few of us went there to talk to her, and we found that she has no mental illness whatsoever.”
Anti-Pollution Activist Held Over Chinese New Year In China’s Jiangsu
Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu have detained an environmental activist on public order charges as she planned a Valentine’s Day reunion with her husband, a fellow activist newly released from police detention. Ji Shulong had planned to be reunited with husband Hao Zhiquan on Wednesday after his release from more than a month’s police detention for pursuing a complaint against local ruling Chinese Communist Party officials. But she herself was detained on Tuesday evening on suspicion of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a charge commonly used to target government critics and activists in China. Ji, an outspoken petitioner and anti-pollution activist who complained about industrial pollution in her hometown in Jiangsu’s Funing county, had been placed under house arrest as a form of criminal detention more than four months earlier, but the authorities then came to place her under formal arrest, taking her away on Feb. 13, Hao told RFA on Thursday.
Chinese Embassy Denies Racism In “Blackface” Skit
Elvis Ondieki, Daily Nation
The Chinese Embassy in Nairobi on Sunday fought back claims of racism in a skit aired on Thursday by China’s national broadcaster. The embassy said any perception of ill-will was from people who are not happy with Beijing’s cooperation with Africa. Zhang Gang, a spokesman of the embassy, told the Nation that the reports of malice were “ill-intended, totally distorting and smearing.” In a performance that was to depict a scene in Kenya of a Chinese man involved in the construction of the standard gauge railway (SGR), a Chinese actress who played the role of a Kenyan mother raised eyebrows. She painted herself black and stuffed her undergarments to look like she had huge behinds. And she showed up on stage with a monkey walking by her side. Reports say the monkey was an African man in a special costume. Many observers thought the dramatization reeked of racism, but Mr. Gang said it was a misreading of the action.
“Gulmira Imin Must Not Be Forgotten”
Gulmira Imin, a former government employee and administrator of the Uyghur-language Salkin website in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, is now nearing the start of her eighth year of a life sentence in prison following her conviction on charges of ethnic separatism. Imin, whose online writings frequently criticized Chinese government policies in the Uyghur homeland, was also convicted of having called on her website for a July 5, 2009, demonstration in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi protesting a violent attack weeks earlier against Uyghur migrant workers in China’s eastern Guangdong province. The Urumqi protest, initially peaceful, turned violent when Chinese security forces attacked Uyghur protesters, sparking ethnic clashes that left some 200 people, including many Han Chinese, dead by official count. Thousands of Uyghurs vanished into Chinese custody in the police crackdown and roundups that followed, with many never heard from again.
Independent Publishing In Hong Kong—A Once-Flourishing Industry Annihilated By Fear
Ilaria Maria Sala, HKFP
Most of Hong Kong’s “second-floor bookshops,” where independent books used to be sold, have closed down. It took just a little less than two years: in one fell swoop, the shocking disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers has managed to completely annihilate an industry that had been going strong for decades. And of course, independent bookshops themselves have become nearly non-existent. As the Chinese language ebooks market is not profitable enough to allow publishers to make ends meet and pay their writers, nothing much that strays from the allowed line sees the light of day. The whole book publishing industry is not just facing a tough market, as in the rest of the world, but it is being swallowed up by fear.
Safeguarding The Right To Practice: A Statement By 58 Chinese Lawyers
On July 9, 2015, in the mass arrest of Chinese human rights lawyers and defenders known as the “709 Crackdown,” the security authorities used “residential surveillance at a designated place”, a disguised form of secret detention, to detain lawyers. They denied family the ability to hire their own counsel, conducted secret trials, and violated the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” by forcing prisoners to plead guilt in video recordings for state media before trial. This campaign-style suppression has engendered panic and backlash domestically, and led to widespread censure from the international community. The lessons of the 709 mass arrests are deep. The rising prominence of human rights lawyers was, in the first place, a wonderful opportunity for the government to reflect on the value of lawyers for the rule of law and their role in improving social governance. But now, lawyers are arrested or disbarred on the slightest pretext, and their rights to practice and have a job are increasingly infringed upon.
Waking Up To China’s Infiltration Of American Colleges
Josh Rogin, WaPo
China’s massive foreign influence campaign in the United States takes a long view, sowing seeds in American institutions meant to blossom over years or even decades. That’s why the problem of Chinese financial infusions into U.S. higher education is so difficult to grasp and so crucial to combat. With more than 100 universities in the United States now in direct partnership with the Chinese government through Confucius Institutes, the U.S. intelligence community is warning about their potential as spying outposts. But the more important challenge is the threat the institutes pose to the ability of the next generation of American leaders to learn, think and speak about realities in China and the true nature of the Communist Party regime.
Xi Jinping Is No Longer Any Old Leader
Except for “Debrett’s Peerage”, no institution pays as much attention to titles as China’s Communist Party. It has already conferred a lot of them on its leader, Xi Jinping. Recently it has topped them off with a description hitherto mainly applied to Mao: lingxiu. It means leader, but conveys far more reverence than the usual word, lingdao. This was partly intended as a warning to recalcitrant officials that Mr. Xi must be obeyed. If the party chief feels the need for further title inflation, perhaps the lower-downs are still not getting the message.
Christian Rights Activist In Cuba Arrested After His Bibles Are Confiscated
Marius Artemis, Christian Daily
Misael Diaz Paseiro, a Christian rights activist, was arrested last year on charges of “pre-criminal social dangerousness” by the Cuban government. He is a member of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Civic Resistance Front. Authorities forced their way into Misael’s home where they confiscated two Bibles, crucifixes and rosaries. He was badly beaten by Cuba’s political police on November 4, 2017. Watchdog Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that Misael was told by the police: “Misael, in addition to being a counter-revolutionary, you are also a Christian,” the police said. “You should look at us, we are revolutionaries and we don’t believe in your God. Our god is Fidel Castro.”
Daniel Llorente Exchanges US Flag For Poster Against “Raúl Castro Dictatorship”
Daniel Llorente, the “man with the flag,” was denied visits this Sunday at the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, because he is being punished for protesting with a sign in the hospital courtyard, his son confirmed to 14ymedio. At the entrance to the Comandante Doctor Eduardo Bernabé Ordaz Ducungede Psychiatric Hospital, popularly known as Mazorra, the guards prevented Eliezer Llorente from entering the premises because of his father’s punishment status. Last Wednesday, Daniel Llorente, who as of March 1st will have been imprisoned for ten months, went out into the hospital’s courtyard with a sign that said: “No to injustice, down with the dictatorship of Raúl Castro.”
More North Korean Overseas Workers Return Home
Seol Song Ah, DailyNK
Ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, Daily NK obtained photos of employees of a recently-closed North Korean restaurant called Pyongyang Koryo Pavilion in the Chinese border city of Dandong returning home to North Korea. The restaurant shut down in November due to intensifying international sanctions targeting North Korea for its nuclear and missile development. Its employees have continued to return to North Korea in groups. “They’re heading back to their hometowns, where their families live, but they don’t look very happy about it because they’re losing the opportunity to earn money abroad,” the source said.
Study Reveals North Korean Cyber-Espionage Has Reached New Heights
David Taylor, The Guardian
An increasingly sophisticated North Korean cyber-espionage unit is using its skills to widen spying operations to aerospace and defense industries, a new study has revealed. FireEye, a US private security company that tracks cyber-attackers around the world, has identified a North Korean group, which it names APT37 (Reaper) and which it says is using malware to infiltrate computer networks. The report suggests the group has been active since 2012 but has now graduated to the level of an advanced persistent threat. Until now, the group has substantially focused its cyber-espionage efforts on South Korea, but FireEye outlines evidence that it “has expanded its operations in both scope and sophistication.”
Still Making Art, And Sly Jokes, At Age 91
Anna Codrea-Rado, NYT
In her studio, the Romanian conceptual artist Geta Bratescu was looking at a large drawing she had made in 2012 of a bird dressed as a clown. The 91-year-old artist remarked how much younger she was when she made the piece. “What I work with these days is smaller,” said Mrs. Bratescu. “This big surface is harder for me to work with now.” International recognition for Mrs. Bratescu, who represented Romania in the 2017 Venice Biennale, came late in a career spent principally in Romania under communism. “During communism, it was almost mandatory to make political art, so the avant-garde had to be political in an unpolitical way,” Sebestyen Gyorgy Szekely, an art historian who specializes in female Eastern European artists, said in a telephone interview. “One of Geta Bratescu’s escape routes to make unpolitical art was to use mythology, and the other way she did it was in her handling of the process of art, using the act of drawing as a way to discover the world.”
Facelift Or Farce? “Restoration” Of Palace Shocks Crimean Tatars
Centuries-old oak beams ripped out and concrete poured in their place. Priceless tiles removed. Murals nearly erased by high-pressure streams of water. These are reports from the restoration of a 16th-century Turkic palace near the southern tip of Russia-occupied Crimea. For the Moscow-installed local authorities, a firm with apparently no experience in restoring historic buildings seemed to be the perfect choice to renovate the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchisaray, some 50 kilometers southwest of the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol. Critics are shocked, warning that irreparable harm is being done at the site, which in 2013 was listed by UNESCO as a potential addition to its World Heritage List. “The palace is threatened with losing its historic value. The workers have already chopped up old beams, used concrete on parts of the structure. They are vandals. That’s not how restoration is done,” says Edem Dudakov, the former head of the Crimean Committee on Interethnic Relations and Deported Peoples.
Gangsters Of The Mediterranean
Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica
In hundreds of telephone calls intercepted during the year before Gennady Petrov’s arrest in 2008, Spanish investigators listened as the mob boss chatted with powerful businessmen, notorious criminals, and high-level officials in the government of Vladimir Putin. During one trip to Russia, Petrov called his son to say he had just met with a man who turned out to be the Russian defense minister—and to report that they had sorted out a land deal, the sale of some airplanes, and a scheme to invest in Russian energy companies. In isolated cases, the mafias are also believed to have been used as instruments of Russian state power—running guns for the security services, killing enemies, or carrying out political skullduggery.
Head Of Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation Detained Ahead Of Election
The director of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation has been detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, a senior Navalny associate says. Leonid Volkov said on Twitter late on February 19 that Roman Rubanov was detained after passing customs inspection on charges of organizing a rally on January 28. Rubanov later tweeted that he was taken to a police station near central Moscow. Navalny supporters nationwide staged “voter strike” demonstrations protesting the Central Election Commission’s refusal to register Navalny as a presidential candidate and supporting his call for a boycott of the March 18 vote.
Maduro Invites Himself To The Summit And Cuba Calls His Exclusion “Unbelievable”
The President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, said this Thursday that he will be attending the next Summit of the Americas, which will be celebrated in Lima on April 13 and 14, “come hell or high water,” in order to, he added, tell “the truth” about his country. “They don’t want to see me in Lima, but they’re going to see me. Because rain or shine, by air, ground or sea, I will arrive at the Summit of the Americas with the truth about Simón Bolívar’s fatherland,” Maduro affirmed in a press conference with international media. Perú, as the host country, announced this past Tuesday that the presence of Maduro at the Summit “will not be welcome,” a decision supported by those known as the “Lima Group,” which encompasses several countries of the region.
Presidential Elections: Venezuelan Youth’s Last Shot
Mabel Sarmiento, Caracas Chronicles
They don’t trust the system, but they want to vote. “Otherwise, I’d have to leave the country, and I don’t want that.” That’s coming from Luis González, a young man who recently turned 18 and who left his home in El Junquito at 4:00 a.m. “Just imagine, I’m 18, I have to stand in huge lines in order to eat and now I have to climb on a truck. I don’t want that. I want a free, safe Venezuela where people aren’t starving to death. That’s why I’ll vote. Even though I don’t trust the CNE, it’s a stage for participation that we can’t give up.”
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
February 20th, 2014: Dozens of Ukrainian Euromaidan protestors are killed by snipers while protesting the pro-Russian, anti-European Yanukovych regime. Protestors killed during Maidan are later called “the Heavenly Hundred.”