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Category Archives: human rights

“Guest Post” — Anthony Venn-Brown

Uganda – a wake-up call for US ‘ex-gay’ and Evangelical leaders

Have you been following the news about Uganda’s Anti-homosexual Bill will is currently being pushed through the parliament. If not, just Google Uganda Anti-homosexual Bill and you’ll get 102,000 pages.

123 The current law allows authorities to imprison suspected homosexuals and AIDS patients for up to 14 years. The new legislation would make the prison term a life sentence. The practice of "aggravated homosexuality" would allow the authorities to sentence homosexuals to death. Members of the public would be required to report acts of homosexuality within 24 hours of witnessing the act. If they fail to do so, they would also be imprisoned for a minimum of three years. The bill also states that the nation would be prepared to cut ties with other countries and stop any commitments they have with them to allow the new laws to be enforced.


How can such regressive and repressive legislation even be introduced?

Firstly it should be noted that colonialism has a lot to answer for. Outdated laws established by the empire builders still exist in many countries years after independence was gained. One of those laws is the so called ‘sodomy laws’ which made any sex, except for procreation, illegal and punishable by death. This can be seen in many parts of the world such as the Pacific, India, Caribbean, Bahamas and of course many parts of Africa. Australia was the last country in the British empire to hang a man for a homosexual act.

Secondly, we know there has been much anti-gay preaching by some ‘ex-gay’ leaders and evangelical preachers which has reinforced already negative beliefs about gay and lesbian people. Preachers and leaders from the US have purposely visited Uganda and other African countries to speak specifically on homosexuality. Their message? Homosexuals are sick, it is a choice and God can cure them. Funding and materials from the US have been given to promote this message.

So there we have it. If people continue to preach messages that promote outdated, ignorant beliefs about sexuality this is how far they can be pushed.

In the US, some leaders have realised how damaging their message can be and have issued statements about the evil nature of the proposed legislation in Uganda that is currently being pushed by many Christian groups.

Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International issued this statement. Of course this probably carries little weight when he, Randy Thomas and others sign the statement as supposedly ‘former homosexuals’. There is no such thing.

Ps Rick Warren of Saddleback issued this video

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has made his first public statement on the proposed anti-gay bill passing through Uganda’s parliament.

Even the Vatican has got in on the act.

One wonders whether this is all too late now the horse has bolted. If this bill is passed, and gay and lesbian people are imprisoned or die we know who are the guilty ones.

It’s time for those in the western Christian church, still living in the dark ages, to wake up and realise that homosexuality is not an illness, choice or sin; it’s an orientation. To preach anything else is not only ignorant, it’s dangerous.

Freedom 2 b[e]

 

The inspirational Muhammad Yunus

Here is a clear case of the importance of rejecting group-think, stereotypes and prejudices about Islam and Muslim people. Andrew Denton interviewed Muhammud Yunus on Monday. See also: Meet the New Heroes and the Yunus Centre:

yunus-centre5

ANDREW DENTON: Your dad, have I got his name right? Doula Mia?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Doula Mia, yes.

ANDREW DENTON: You described him as, you were what you were largely because of him. What was it he taught you?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Well he didn’t have much education, he went to school up to eighth grade, my mother went to school to about fourth grade. But he always wanted his children to go to school. He valued education very much, so every single child he wanted to put in school and kept them in the school. Usually in a business family of that level they always want to get their children to come and work with them, expand the business and so on, but my father never tried to do that. My father always said "No no, don’t waste your time, you stay in school and continue with your education". So that was very important. He was a very religious person.

ANDREW DENTON: He did the Hajj I think three times didn’t he? He went to Mecca three times.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Yeah, that’s right, he performed his Hajj.

ANDREW DENTON: What’s your memory of him going doing that?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Well, at that time going to Hajj was a big thing because there was no plane to take you, so you go by ship. So for them it’s a big journey to go and we, as kids, we waited for all the gifts for us, when he gets back.

ANDREW DENTON: Like kids everywhere.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Like kids everywhere, yeah.

ANDREW DENTON: What sort of gifts would he bring back from the Hajj?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: From Hajj he’d bring … dates, this is a very favourite one so we would like to wait for them and lots of trinkets for kids… even the coins, we loved the coins he would bring for us, the coins of another country, so that’s another attractive thing for us.

ANDREW DENTON: So exotic.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Exotic, yes…

 

Thursday recommended site of the week: 1

indigabc

Yes, a new feature for this blog! (And easy to do too…) But really, do look. The screen shot is linked to this excellent site where you will find much more than just the bad news or the sensation of the day.

 

Zimbabwe

While we all wait here in Oz to see how the Liberal Party’s three ring circus pans out – see entry above – I thought I’d mention a story I caught on BBC World Service last night. I went straight to the relevant site this morning.

Washington, DC – President Barack Obama and Ethel Kennedy presented Magodonga Mahlangu and her organization, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), with the 2009 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award this evening at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award annually honors courageous and innovative human rights defenders throughout the world who stand up against injustice, often at great personal risk.

“By her example, Magodonga has shown the women of WOZA and the people of Zimbabwe that they can undermine their oppressors’ power with their own power — that they can sap a dictator’s strength with their own. Her courage has inspired others to summon theirs. And the organization’s name, WOZA — which means “come forward” — has become its impact — its impact has been even more as people know of the violence that they face, and more people have come forward to join them,” said President Obama.

The event, sponsored by the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center), also included remarks by Kerry Kennedy and a tribute to Senator Edward Kennedy, an RFK Center founding board member from 1968-2009. RFK Board Chair and former Chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party Phil Johnston, introduced the President. Over 200 guests including First Lady Michelle Obama, Administration officials, Members of Congress and the Washington diplomatic community attended.

WOZA is a grassroots movement working to empower women from all walks of life to mobilize and take non-violent action against injustice. WOZA helps its members to stand up for human rights and speak up about the worsening economic, social and political conditions in Zimbabwe at great personal risk. Since its founding in December 2002, WOZA has staged hundreds of peaceful marches in support of democratic reform and women’s empowerment. The Government of Zimbabwe has jailed Ms. Mahlangu along with WOZA founder Jenni Williams over 30 times and thousands of WOZA members have spent time in police custody.

“Arrests do not deter us because WOZA has empowered us to believe that we deserve better. We deserve to have a roof over our head, food in our stomachs, our children in schools and the nation working”, said Ms. Mahlangu. “We deserve to live in dignity and free from fear; and it is our right to have our voices heard and respected. That is why I joined WOZA. While Mugabe boasts of having degrees in violence, I and 75,000 WOZA members who stand beside me, have degrees in non-violence.”

“We are not fighting a revolution in Zimbabwe, we are leading an evolution. And civic education is our tool to evolve the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans to build a strong, new, African democracy where respect, tolerance and accountability are key”, said Jenni Williams, who accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

Williams added, “Mr. President you know how invaluable community mobilizing can be. We have learnt that knocking on doors, talking with and listening to people is the way we can rebuild our nation. We call on you, to support community mobilizers who are organized to empower Zimbabweans to deliver change from the ground up.”…

For more inspiration go to BBC and read about the writer Petina Gappah.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2009 in Africa, amazing, human rights, humanity, inspiration

 

Helen Bamber

Last night Andrew Denton interviewed Helen Bamber. The prepublicity had been – basically — Helen who?

I had read Neil Belton’s The Good Listener: A Life against Cruelty [1998] some time back – see Only the demons are dancing… – and looked forward to seeing and hearing her for the first time. I was not disappointed.

bamber01 ANDREW DENTON: What is it about the world today that scares you?

HELEN BAMBER: When people, when victims are thrown up through man’s inhumanity, whatever it is, through war, through ethnic violence, whatever it is, I feel the banality of and the denial that accompanies people’s stories and people’s claim for protection when they’re really in danger. Very, very problematic indeed.

ANDREW DENTON: I’m struck by what you said before though when you became upset, you said that these stories have to be told over and over again. Why do people have to be reminded? Why have they forgotten?

HELEN BAMBER: Yes some people don’t know and don’t want to know and have no historical sense of what’s gone on even for their parents or their grandparents, It is the denial of people in a consumer society that we have in our midst, people who are living in danger, who fear danger if they are returned, who may be deemed and (I don’t know whether this is a word that’s used in other countries), may be deemed to be failed asylum seekers. And therefore they are denied protection, they are denied benefits and they’re denied accommodation and healthcare. And I find this extraordinary in a civilised world, a civilised country, a civilised Europe…

ANDREW DENTON: Are you optimistic for the future of humanity?

HELEN BAMBER: I wish we could learn better, both in psychological terms because there’s so much knowledge, and in political terms, and especially in historical terms. I wish we could learn.

ANDREW DENTON: Helen, I’ve asked you to bring in one thing from your life that means something to you. What have you brought?

HELEN BAMBER: Oh yes, yes. I thought about it and course, because I am a collector, there were hundreds of things…but there’s this, this was given to me in Belsen. You know after liberation and when people got better we began to develop a kind of structure within the camp because people were going to be there for so long. I don’t think people realised but people remained there until 1950, many years there was nowhere for them to go. No doors were open for them, and so workshops were set up and a committee was set up, and a theatre was set up and this is one of the things that was made in the workshop, and this was given to me by a young… I don’t know how old he was – probably 16, 17… and he said don’t forget me. When I was holding this and talking my colleagues said you know your holding it a bit like a microphone and it’s interesting you know, telling the story…

A great woman.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2009 in History, Holocaust, human rights, humanity, media watch, memory, TV

 

On being too clever

Let me draw your attention to Recommendation 1 of the recent HREOC report on Christmas Island.

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That and the rest of the report strikes just the right note as far as I am concerned. This piece of legalistic chicanery came via the Howard administration and is as shameful and Dickensian now as it was then. Repealing this and much more is what the Rudd government should have attempted from Day One. Instead Rudd was sucked in – no doubt for what he saw as clever political reasons – by the rhetoric of his predecessors – including, let it be said, that of the later Hawke and Keating administrations.

Life would have been a lot simpler all round, and the deepening mire of the Oceanic Viking avoided, if this had been done. The 78 Tamils could easily have been brought here for processing, and should be.

I am not an open borders romantic. We do have the right to determine who stays here, if not even the possibility of determining 100% who comes here. People forget in their obsession with boats that the majority actually fly in.

For more see immigration on this blog.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2009 in Australia, human rights, immigration, Kevin Rudd, politics

 

… and on

Following on yesterday I commend Jim Belshaw’s post Refugees and a contempt for the ordinary person.

… I do not think that either Mr Rudd or Mr Howard before him know how deeply upset we are.

There are, as Neil noted, some 16 million refugees globally excluding internally displaced persons. There is no way Australia could manage this current number. Hard choices have to be made…

I also congratulate the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes.

The Labor Party has found a leader’s voice on boat people and immigration – but it’s not the Prime Minister’s.

The task has fallen to a most unlikely candidate, a 28-year-old right-wing union leader who grew up poor in the Blue Mountains. It’s the voice of the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, the very outfit that led the creation of White Australia a century ago.

While Kevin Rudd continued to duck and weave yesterday to avoid antagonising anti-immigrant sentiment in the outer suburbs, Paul Howes confronted it. Howes is saying plainly what Rudd has not dared. He was in Canberra yesterday speaking in favour of humanity and strongly setting out Labor’s policy in favour of immigration.

”The immaturity in political debate in Australia sometimes makes me sick,” Howes said. ”There are politicians in both the Liberal and Labor parties who are exploiting the issue of race to whip up fear in the community. Question time is dominated by 78 people on a boat. We have around 50,000 visa overstayers every year,” he said of people who arrive by plane rather than boat. ”Is anyone saying this is a national crisis? One reason there is no outrage is that these people are mainly white and speak English. Is anyone demanding we clean out the backpackers’ hostels of Bondi and Surry Hills?”…

On Sri Lanka at the moment see Sri Lanka: it’s only business as usual so why the fuss?

 

National Human Rights Consultation Report

The National Human Rights Consultation Committee handed its report to the Attorney-General, the Hon Robert McClelland MP, on 30 September 2009. The Sydney Morning Herald this morning notes:

AUSTRALIA should introduce a human rights act to prevent discrimination, enshrine individual freedoms and ensure Federal Parliament remains committed to ”the fair go”, according to a historic review of the nation’s commitment to civil rights.

The review committee, set up by the Rudd Government and chaired by Frank Brennan, found that existing protections were a ”patchwork quilt” that could be improved with an act setting out the rights of individuals and protecting groups such as indigenous people and the mentally ill.

The act could potentially result in courts declaring Parliament had breached human rights in areas such as mandatory detention, counter-terrorism and the Northern Territory intervention.

However, the committee did not support a US-style bill of rights, instead recommending a ”dialogue model” that would allow judges to send laws back for redrafting. Under this model, judges could not strike down laws and politicians could breach the list of human rights but would be required to justify their actions.

The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, would not say if he supported an act but promised to provide a response this year. The review is set to trigger lively debate within cabinet and is not assured of approval, despite the tacit support of Mr McClelland.

”The key debate is not about whether we protect human rights – it is about how we protect human rights,” he said.

”There are times when individuals, especially those who are vulnerable or disadvantaged, miss out, including the homeless, people with disabilities, children at risk, and indigenous Australians.”

You may recall that I wrote about this in the June South Sydney Herald.

You may read the whole report at the first link in this entry, but here is the summary: NHRC+Report+(Summary).

 
 

A week for mixed messages from China

… or “We’ll decide who comes into this country” – John Howard.

So we’ve had a record deal with the Chinese on the one hand for natural gas into the future, and a rather heavy diplomatic cooling on the other. What’s new?

The Opposition did their best to behave like an Opposition on issues they fundamentally agree with the government on. Clarke and Dawe captured that beautifully on The 7.30 Report last night.

KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: Time now for John Clarke, Bryan Dawe and Joe Hockey, giving credit where it’s due.
BRYAN DAWE: Joe Hockey, thanks for your time.
JOHN CLARKE: It’s very good to be with you Bryan and good evening.
BRYAN DAWE: You’re pleased at the announcement of this big new gas deal off the West Australian Coast, weren’t you?
JOHN CLARKE: Yeah I’m delighted, Bryan I’m always very keen on anything that goes to the benefit of Australia and Australians, I don’t apologise for that Bryan, neither do I resile from it. I don’t apologise for that at all.
BRYAN DAWE: This is the biggest business deal in Australian history?
JOHN CLARKE: It is, it’s great for the West Bryan, It’s great for business and it’s great for Australia.
BRYAN DAWE: Also, you said it was organised by the Howard Government?…

The Chinese have been particularly miffed by our giving a visa allowing what they see as a “Muslim terrorist” and “splittist” into the country. As The People’s Daily reports:

001aa018f68c0bf5897031 China canceled plans for Vice-Foreign Minister He Yafei to visit Australia earlier this month, reportedly due to Canberra granting a visa to Rebiya Kadeer, the mastermind of the July 5 Urumqi riot.

The decision was the latest sign that ties between the two countries are strained.

"Australia very much regrets that China decided to take that response," Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told Parliament yesterday.

China’s Foreign Ministry yesterday refused to comment.

Kadeer, who lives in exile in the US, was allowed to visit Australia, despite strong protests from Beijing…

Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull accused Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat to Beijing, of bringing bilateral relations to "the lowest ebb that they have been for many, many years".

"He obviously has no leverage with China left at all," Turnbull said.

Chen Fengying, an expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said it was "natural" for China to have made the move because it was dissatisfied with Australia granting Kadeer a visa…

On Rebiya Kadeer see Amnesty International.

Since the late 1980s, Chinese government policies and other factors have generated growing ethnic discontent in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. In the past few years, thousands of people there have been the victims of gross human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, unfair political trials, torture, and summary executions. These violations, suffered primarily by members of the Uighur ethnic group, occur amidst growing ethnic unrest fueled by unemployment, discrimination and restrictions on religious and cultural freedoms. The situation has led some people living in the XUAR to favor independence from China.

Crackdowns in the region intensified after September 11, 2001, with authorities designating supporters of independence as “separatists” and “terrorists.” Uighurs, most of whom are Muslim, have been the main targets in the region of the Chinese authorities. Authorities have closed down mosques, detained Islamic clergy, and severely curtailed freedom of expression and association.

 

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Quote of the week: Naj on Tehran

I have in the past mentioned the blog Neo-resistance, “…an Iranian woman. I am tired of hearing Iranian women are chained creatures who need sympathy or liberation. I am not a feminist; that is why my tales are those of resilience.”

I would have stood behind Ahmadinejad, if he had not become the face of fascism.

I would have been now cheering the glorious images of a massively attended election, over 42 million out of some 49 million eligible voters participating in the election.

I would have been posting images of happy men and women, rural and urban, rich and poor, lined up to vote.

I would have been standing tall in front of the world, and would have said "look, Iran is not the backward dictatorship that your media is projecting it to be."

I would have … ONLY if the "passionate outbursts after soccer game"-as stupidly uttered by that ugly man–were not faced with bullets and batons!

I would have … ONLY if the headquarters of the opposite parties to Ahmadinejad had NOT been raided, tear gassed, and closed

I would have … ONLY if the foreign journalists were not kicked out and the internal reporters were not intimidated

I would have … ONLY if I had not seen pictures of ununiformed, ugly, angry men holding knives to unarmed gigolos

I would have … ONLY if the result of 42 million votes were NOT released in less than 24 hours!!! If the election monitors were allowed to monitor the count!!! If there was at least a small gesture that "sure, we do re-count for the respect of our democratic process, instead of shedding blood!"

This is NOT religion versus democracy …

This is fascism versus humanity …

— 15 June 2009

Here is one of pictures she posted yesterday.

Violence_Rally

Click on the picture to see more.

 
 

Who killed Mr Ward? Four Corners 15 June 2009

This is a very disturbing story.

.. the shocking story of a well respected community leader in outback Western Australia who was locked in a metal cell in the back of a prison van and driven through the desert in the searing heat. Four hours later he was dead.

In his lifetime Mr Ward, whose first name is not used in respect for Aboriginal custom, had gone from a traditional hunter-gatherer life in the desert of Western Australia to becoming a spokesman for his people in Australia and overseas.

On a hot Saturday night, just over a year ago, Laverton police arrested Mr Ward for driving under the influence of alcohol. Less than 24 hours later he was dead. He had been transported 400 kilometres in the back of a prison van operated by a private security firm. The air temperature inside his cell was over 47 degrees, and the metal surface reached 56 degrees…

The guards driving the prison van did not stop to check his welfare or see if he needed a toilet break, food or water until, they say, they heard a thud from the back. Even then they didn’t unlock both the cell doors, and instead threw water on Mr Ward through the chained-up inner door.

"We don’t treat animals like that. We don’t treat our pets like that. People get put in jail for treating another… another creature the same as Mr Ward was treated." Dennis Eggington, Aboriginal Legal Service of WA

Evidence from the inquest reveals the Department of Corrective Services was explicitly warned of the high risk involved with transporting prisoners in their ageing and sub-standard fleet of vehicles, by the former company providing the transport service…

Basically, this converted a drink-driving matter into execution by cooking to death.

Today in The Sydney Morning Herald we learn this:

THE private prison operator found responsible for the gruesome death in custody of a West Australian Aboriginal elder last year was invited to bid to run a NSW prison.

Mr Ward, whose family has asked that his first name not be used, suffered third-degree burns and slowly burned to death in almost 60-degree heat in the back of a prison van on a 400-kilometre trip from Laverton to Kalgoorlie in January last year.

He had been charged with drink-driving and was refused bail in an unrepresented 10-minute hearing by an unqualified justice of the peace…

G4S Australia [formerly GSL] was one of five companies invited by the NSW Government to tender for the running of Parklea prison last month as it pursues a contentious privatisation policy at the western Sydney jail.

The company was awarded the contract to transport prisoners in WA despite a damning report by the Department of Immigration in 2005 on its transportation of five detainees from Melbourne to Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia.

The five prisoners, kept in the back of a GSL van for seven hours without food and with only one bottle of water, were forced to urinate in each other’s company. On that occasion, GSL promised it would take whatever steps it could "to ensure that this can never happen again"…

A company that previously owned the vans, AIMS, recommended the same year that they not be used for long-haul trips.

The WA government promised to replace the vans but never did, buying them instead and giving the transport contract to GSL.

In a statement the company said it took immediate action after Mr Ward’s death to prevent a recurrence, but it provided no details of the action.

The NSW Corrective Services Minister, John Robertson, was unavailable for comment last night.

No need to say more, is there?

 

Substantial food for thought on Radio National

Given the trivia and infotainment and sometimes unbalanced ranting that characterise too much of the media, it can be refreshing – and challenging – to tune into Australia’s Radio National. I probably should do so more.

I was struck particularly by some recent episodes of All in the Mind.

1. Child soldiers: the Art and arts of healing (Part 1 of 2). “Born into the bloody horror of war, Sudanese rap artist Emmanuel Jal was 9 when he was recruited into the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army as a child soldier. Incredibly he survived, and his music reaches a generation of Lost Boys.”

2. Child soldiers: the Art and arts of healing (Part 2 of 2). “In Sierra Leone, child soldiers committed acts that words can barely describe. At the war’s end, ravaged communities responded to them with terror and stigma. A minority of former child soldiers, many orphaned, have access to reintegration programs. Dance and movement therapist David Alan Harris describes an extraordinary project to respond to the traumatised psyche through engaging the body.”

You can listen, or read the transcripts. It is strong stuff.

Then I enjoyed A tribute to Isaiah Berlin on The Philosopher’s Zone.

John Gray: Although he thought each of these conceptions, negative and positive liberty were in some ways legitimate and authentic developments from a basic core, which is common to both, he preferred negative liberty to positive liberty in any of the versions that it had had throughout history, and there were several. I mean I think what he feared in positive liberty was paternalism, and even a type of authoritarianism, or even totalitarianism….

I should make one very important point though. I think it’s a great mistake as some people do, to assimilate Berlin therefore to certain types of narrow or extreme liberal or libertarian thinkers who argue that what states should only do is to protect negative liberty. And he himself certainly did not take the view that the purpose of government was only to protect and promote negative liberty. As I mentioned earlier he wasn’t a tremendously political person; he was never actively involved in politics but if I had to describe his political outlook it would be that of a Rooseveltian liberal or in British or Australian terms of a moderate social democrat, and of course being that, meant that negative liberty could and should be tempered and constrained and supplemented by other important values such as social cohesion, distribution, equality and so forth.

Nonetheless he was strongly critical of positive conceptions of liberty because they assumed within individuals and between individuals and in societies as a whole, an actual or a potential harmony which he thought was delusory.

NOTE: The transcript for the second All in the Mind program goes up later this week. You may listen though.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2009 in Africa, Australia, Australia and Australian, faith and philosophy, human rights, humanity, inspiration, intellectual spot, radio

 

Tiananmen and all that – 20 years on

Today there is a fascinating story in The Australian: Zhao Ziyang memoir reveals truth on massacre.

THE 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre has been rocked by the emergence of a memoir by former Communist Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang claiming the decision to send in troops caused deep division among the country’s leaders.

The book – painstakingly reconstructed from hours of tape recordings smuggled out by supporters of the late Zhao – will enrage today’s leaders because of his assertion that Western-style democracy was essential if China was to avoid future bloodbaths.

The book raises difficult questions for Chinese President Hu Jintao, who was at Zhao’s side as he emotionally urged students to break up their protest in the days before the crackdown.

The record made by Zhao – who resigned, was purged and held under house arrest for almost 16 years before he died in 2005 – is to be published this month as Prisoner of the State: the Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang.

So sensitive is the document that its existence was kept secret until days before publication. Speculation had been rife during his house arrest and after his death as to whether the man with the most intimate knowledge of the machinations that led to the crackdown on June 3-4, 1989, had provided his own account of the dramatic days.

Zhao’s account confirms the bitter power struggle as students occupied Tiananmen Square, and the deep rivalries between reformists and hardliners, as well as the crucial role played by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in the decision to use force.

After listening to the arguments of moderates such as Zhao, Deng summarily imposed martial law without even calling a vote of China’s most powerful body, the Politburo Standing Committee.

The army was called in. On the evening of June 3 and into the next day the tanks rolled into the centre of Beijing towards Tiananmen Square, where protests had been growing since the death of liberal leader Hu Yaobang. The troops opened fire on students and civilians, murdering hundreds of people and injuring an unknown number…

zhao_ziyang_and_wen_jiabao

Zhao Ziyang (with loud hailer) in Tianamen Square.

Jiang Qisheng, one of the student leaders in 1989, who served 5 1/2 years in prison, said: "When Zhao Ziyang was dismissed, he had a strong defence for himself, and never admitted wrongdoing (as the party would have liked). It was unusual for a Communist Party cadre. In his 15 years of house arrest, he had thorough rethinking: what is democracy, does China need democracy? The depth of his thinking goes beyond any leader of the Communist Party of China, and the current leadership are far left behind by him.

"The current leadership will pretend to be dumb deaf to his memoir, they will not comment nor attack but try to block his voice. But Zhao has many sympathisers in the party, who have similar opinions with him. They will stand out at a certain time."

Most young people in China only know vaguely of the massacre. The country’s internet censorship infrastructure blocks all mention of the event…

Less well known is what happened in Shanghai. See Spring 1989 in Shanghai – A Memory of the ‘89 Student Movement and on the same blog a somewhat apologetic account by a “guest blogger” Mark Anthony Jones: Sorting fact from fiction – Tiananmen revisited (Part 1). “Fool’s Mountain (愚公移山) is a collaborative effort amongst writers focused on Chinese issues. Through our blog, we publish regular English-language articles and essays for both a Western and Chinese audience. All articles represent only the opinion of the individual writer, and may not reflect the opinions and views of other contributors. All contributors write on a voluntary basis with no compensation; those who write are driven to do so by their conscience, and nothing else. We are completely unaffiliated with any government, political party, or movement.”

Back to Shanghai. At the time this appeared in The New York Times: CHINESE EXECUTE 3 IN PUBLIC DISPLAY FOR PROTEST ROLE. I didn’t register this at the time.

The Chinese authorities staged a public execution today of three young men who were accused of taking part in a violent political protest in Shanghai…

The three young men in Shanghai were presumably executed in the Chinese way, with a bullet fired in the back of the head at close range…

The three men in Shanghai – Xu Guoming, an employee of a Shanghai brewery; Bian Hanwu, who is unemployed, and Yan Xuerong, a worker at a radio factory – were sentenced to death last Thursday but had appealed.

They were accused of helping to set fire to a train on June 6 and then attacking firefighters who arrived to put out the fire. No one was killed, but some firefighters were beaten up and nine rail cars were burned, forcing the closing of the rail line for two days.

The Government has not mentioned the circumstances in which the crowd attacked the train. The crowd had gathered to block the rail line, in protest of the killings of hundreds of students and workers in Beijing two days earlier by the army. A train rammed its way through the human blockade, killing six people who lay on the track, and only then did the outraged crowd attack the train and set it afire.

It is not known what evidence existed against the three men, who appeared to be in their 20’s or perhaps early 30’s, or even exactly what role each was accused of having played in the incident. Nor have the authorities indicated how they caught the three, who were apparently arrested several days later rather than on the scene…

Someone I know well witnessed the events at the station. Not only that but one of the police responsible for leading the arrests was this person’s friend. The two argued afterwards about the correctness of this action. I might add that from what I have been told by this eyewitness The New York Times report is very accurate, except that the three were, as I recall, arrested at the scene. 

Of course I didn’t meet this person until 1990, by which time he was in Australia, like the many other Chinese students I was teaching in a language college, one of whom, a Beijinger, told me in tears one day: “I used to believe in the Communist Party until I saw them killing their own people. I’ve just had a letter from my mother telling me not to come home…” Another student’s first English sentence to me was “My best friend killed in Tiananmen.” Later she explained the circumstances. Another I have met ferried the wounded to hospital. The family of a student of mine at SBHS was sent to Gansu Province (internal exile) because his grandmother, who was in the Ministry of Culture in Beijing, publicly resigned from the Communist Party in protest. Obviously a supporter of Zhao Ziyang, if not necessarily of all the students’ ideas. Later on I met one of the Tiananmen hunger strikers. So I was rather bemused by some Australian communist friends – good friends too – who visited Beijing around July 1989 and came back convinced nothing much had happened there, having swallowed the Party Line whole.

Update

I have revised this entry to further disguise my Shanghainese informant’s identity; I thought that wise on reflection.

 
Comments Off on Tiananmen and all that – 20 years on

Posted by on May 16, 2009 in Chinese and China, events, History, human rights, memory

 

Three thought provokers

These have come my way via Arts & Letters Daily.

1. "The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan" by Nicholas Schmidle (Foreign Policy March 2009)

After eight years of a White House that often seemed blinkered by the threats posed by Pakistan, the Obama administration seems to grasp the severity of the myriad crises affecting the South Asian state. The media has followed suit and increased its presence and reporting, a trend confirmed by CNN’s decision to set up a bureau in Islamabad last year.

And yet, the uptick in coverage hasn’t necessarily clarified the who’s-doing-what-to-whom confusion in Pakistan. Some commentators continue to confuse the tribal areas with the North-West Frontier Province. And the word lashkars is used to describe all kinds of otherwise cross-purposed groups, some fighting the Taliban, some fighting India, and some fighting Shiites.

I admit, it’s not easy. I lived in Pakistan throughout all of 2006 and 2007 and only came to understand, say, the tribal breakdown in South Waziristan during my final days. So to save you the trouble of having to live in Pakistan for two years to differentiate between the Wazirs and the Mehsuds, the Frontier Corps and the Rangers, I’ve written an “idiot’s guide” that will hopefully clear some things up…

2. "Human Nature" by Mark Dowie (Guernica Magazine May 2009) — in the paradox and unexpected consequences department.

Is modern conservation linked with ethnic cleansing? In an excerpt from his new book, the investigative historian explores the concepts of wilderness and nature, and argues that the removal of aboriginal people from their homeland to create wilderness is a charade.

"One way to guarantee a conversation without a conclusion is to ask a group of people what nature is." —Rebecca Solnit, University of California…

3. "Fear masquerading as tolerance" by Christopher Caldwell (Prospect May 2009).

This article has resonance for Australia, but I suspect our experience with immigration and multiculturalism has been different from Europe’s in significant ways. Nonetheless I add this to paradox and unexpected consequences too.

…The Europe into which immigrants began arriving in the 1950s was reeling in horror from the second world war and preoccupied with building the institutions to forestall any repetition of it. Nato was the most important of these institutions. The EU was the most ambitious. The war supplied European thinkers with all their moral categories and benchmarks. Avoiding another explosion meant purging Europe’s individual countries of nationalism, with ‘‘nationalism’’ understood to include all vestiges of racism, militarism, and cultural chauvinism—but also patriotism, pride, and unseemly competitiveness. The singing of national anthems and the waving of national flags became, in some countries, the province only of skinheads and soccer hooligans.

Prompted by the US, which was addressing its own race problem at the time, and with the threat of communism concentrating their minds, Europeans began to articulate a code of ‘‘European values’’ such as individualism, democracy, freedom, and human rights. These values were never defined with much precision. Yet they seemed to permit social cohesion, and their embrace coincided with 60 years of peace.

Europe was an attractive place for immigrants. But attraction and admiration are not synonyms. The Ottoman empire and China both had a ‘‘power of attraction’’ for westerners in the 19th century. But it was not out of any admiration for their systems of government or their ideals of human rights that Europeans signed treaties with, settled in, and disrupted the national lives of those two countries. It was because they were rich places too weak to look out for themselves.

The EU was not dreamt up with immigrants in mind, but it wound up setting the rules under which they were welcomed. Postwar Europe was built on an intolerance of intolerance—a mindset that has been praised as anti-racism and anti-fascism, and ridiculed as political correctness. Our interest here is neither to defend it as common sense nor reject it as claptrap. It is to understand, first, what Europe was thinking when it welcomed immigrants in such numbers—something it would not have done at any previous moment in history—and, second, what grounds Europe had for dealing with newcomers in the often naive and overindulgent way it did…

 

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