Prominent Chinese Rights Lawyer Returns Home After Nearly Two Years Detention
Prominent Chinese rights lawyer Li Heping has returned to his Beijing home after being held for nearly two years amid a sweeping clamp-down on civil society, his former lawyer said on Wednesday. Li, who once defended practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and dissident writers, was sentenced to a suspended three-year jail term for subversion in a closed trial last month. Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has overseen a campaign to tighten the space for independent civil society in China. In July 2015, dozens of rights lawyers, including Li, were detained in a coordinated crackdown. Beijing has said that rights lawyers endanger national security and social stability.
China’s Newest Propaganda Format: Children’s Bedtime Stories
Carolos Tejada, THE NEW YORK TIMES
For parents struggling to get their little ones to rest their eyes for the night, China’s state propaganda apparatus has a suggestion: Tell your child about Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s ambitions to extend China’s political and economic power across Asia and the Middle East. China Daily, a state-controlled media organization that aims primarily at an international audience, began releasing English-language videos this week describing a huge spending and infrastructure push called the Belt and Road Initiative, in the form of a child’s bedtime story. In the two videos released so far, a father uses a windup camel skittering across a map to describe trade across Asia along the old Silk Road, and how China plans to help develop the regions it once passed through. Mr. Xi’s name is, of course, dropped prominently.
How Unlikely Hackers Will Transform Cuba
Nowhere is the old adage about necessity breeding innovation more true than in Cuba. Working against a wide-ranging embargo from the neighboring United States, Cubans have been getting along without many basic goods for half a century. From illegally installing rooftop radio antennas to record American music to hotwiring antique cars, Cubans are ingenious at figuring out workarounds to barriers that would otherwise keep them decades behind their neighbors. Now, in the Internet era there are no shortage of Cuban entrepreneurs aspiring to overcome the technological drought. Since 2007, the most important method of distributing the Internet has been the El Paquete Semanal—or, The Weekly Package. Like a subscription service, thousands of couriers deliver a terabyte of videos, movies, music, and games via thumb drive to half the island’s population each week. But after President Obama lowered sanctions in 2009, restored diplomatic ties in 2014, and removed Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list in 2015—a digital revolution has dawned.
North Korean Officials Meet US Experts in Oslo
YONHAP NEWS AGENCY
North Korean officials began informal talks Monday with a group of American experts in Oslo, Norway, amid speculation that Washington may seek dialogue with Pyongyang, diplomatic sources said. It’s their first Track II meeting in half a year. The previous session was held in Geneva, Switzerland. The North Korean delegation is reportedly led by Choe Son-hui, director-general of the North America bureau chief of the communist nation’s foreign ministry. Her counterpart is Suzanne DiMaggio, director and senior fellow at New America, a think tank based in Washington DC, according to another source. The US State Department would not attach any special meaning to the Track II dialogue, which is held semi-regularly.
Focus on the Suffering of North Koreans
Yeonmi Park and Thor Halvorssen, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
South Koreans elected a new president Tuesday: Moon Jae-in, who supports engagement and trade with North Korea’s Kim regime. His supporters celebrate him as the “peace” candidate, but Mr. Moon’s policies represent little more than accommodation of an evil regime that enslaves its own people. Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship deprives its citizens of food, medical care and electricity; starves and works them to death in labor camps; and sentences them to public executions for crimes as benign as listening to foreign music. The United Nations 2014 Commission of Inquiry detailed such “unspeakable atrocities” as complete denial of free thought and belief; state-sponsored trafficking and sexual violence; and gulags akin to Holocaust concentration camps. The UN recommended trying the North Korean government for crimes against humanity. Mr. Moon has no apparent plans to challenge or even expose this grim reality.
Despite Arrests, Americans Continue to Visit North Korea
Austin Ramzy, THE NEW YORK TIMES
The State Department has long advised Americans to avoid North Korea, but every year hundreds visit. Not all of those get to leave. So why do any Americans visit North Korea? Most are tourists intrigued by a destination far different from the usual itineraries. They are willing to overlook warnings that have grown increasingly strident. The State Department “strongly urges US citizens to avoid all travel to North Korea,” reads the boldface type at the top of the most recent warning, “due to the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.” The State Department does not keep records on how many Americans visit North Korea. Of the 4,000 to 5,000 Western tourists who visit each year, about 20 percent come from the United States, said Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, a travel company in Beijing.
After Meeting With Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Again Denies Interference in US Election
Carol Morello, THE WASHINGTON POST
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that no evidence exists linking Russia to hacked emails during last year’s election and that the issue never arose during his meeting in the morning with President Trump. By chance, he arrived as the White House is coming under political fire for Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey on Tuesday night. The FBI has been conducting an investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Before a separate, early-morning meeting with Tillerson at the State Department, Lavrov professed mock surprise when asked whether Comey getting the boot had cast a shadow over his visit.
Venezuela’s Public Health Declines Sharply
Sarah Schaefer Muñoz, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Venezuela’s public health worsened sharply last year, with infant mortality jumping 30%, maternal mortality shooting up 66% and cases of malaria climbing 76%, according to the country’s health ministry. The latest health and mortality statistics—usually a closely guarded government secret—were published this week in the government’s most recent epidemiological bulletin, from the end of December 2016. The last time the health ministry published such figures was in 2015, and it is unclear why the ministry published the statistics now after a long delay. The soaring infant and maternal mortality figures underscore a society in deep crisis, health observers say. Venezuela, once one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries but whose socialist government is now facing a shortage of dollars to pay for imports of basic goods, currently has an infant mortality rate well above that of war-torn Syria.
13 MLB Players Denounce Repression and Deaths in their Native Venezuela
Carolina Moreno, HUFFINGTON POST
Thirteen Major League Baseball players added their voices to the chorus of Venezuelans abroad denouncing repression in their country. The group is featured in a video posted Monday by Miami-based Venezuelan journalist Alberto Rodríguez on Twitter. The video, which identifies the athletes by name and team, currently has over 11,500 retweets. “My name is Francisco Cervelli, we’re a group of Venezuelan players in Major League Baseball,” the catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates says at the beginning of the video in Spanish. “We’re speaking not as players but as citizens, as people who love their country.”