Category Archives: prison

“Saga Dawa In Flames” and “Lighthouse for Tibetans”

Two Woeser-related things today- first, a translation of one of her posts by the always-excellent High Peaks Pure Earth:

As Saga Dawa was approaching, the atmosphere in Lhasa and in the whole of Tibet was more tense than before. In fact, no matter whether it is a local festival, a traditional or a foreign imposed one, to use a currently popular saying, they are all, without exception, considered sensitive days.

As expected, the Tibet Daily sententiously published a notice of the Commission for Discipline Inspection and Supervision Department of the Tibet Autonomous Region on the second day of Saga Dawa, explaining that this notice had been “issued the day before”, but clearly, it had been publicised before Saga Dawa had even started. The notice linked Saga Dawa to the “struggle against separatism” and requested that “the battle against separatism must not be challenged in any way”, “it has to be ensured that during the religious activities of Saga Dawa, large-scale, medium-scale or minor events must be prevented in the entire region”; the use of military language immediately pervaded the originally religious festival with the smell of gunpowder.

It looks as if the notice was directed at the following people: “Party cadres”, “retired cadres”, “Party members, government employees, students” as well as Party members’ “families and personnel” etc. But in fact, it reached out to a broad audience and its rhetoric was highly threatening; in this very short notice, “do not participate” or “not allowed to participate” in Saga Dawa appeared more than three times and even clearly expressed that “if one did, the person will be dealt with in a serious manner and the leaders of the person’s work unit will be held responsible.”

Interestingly, the notice reprimanded “Party cadres”, “retired cadres” in several instances not to “follow the Dalai”, “let alone to openly follow the Dalai” or “leave the country to worship the Dalai”, expressing that “such actions will be dealt with in a strict manner according to the law”. This was perhaps the first time that the local authorities in their official media publicly acknowledged the Dalai Lama’s central position and influence upon Tibetan people, even upon those working within the system, those occupying official positions; they do not only “follow” him in their hearts, they even actively “follow” him, which means that the “struggle against separatism” has lost people’s support, to the extent that the local authorities, completely ignorant of the consequences, publicly violated their own constitution and issued in their media an official order to prohibit a religious festival.

Next, a profile of Woeser by Tienchi Martin-Liao from Sampsonia Way:

“Life will never be the same after March 14, 2008,” Weise, the Tibetan poet and writer, said sadly. She grew up in the Kham area of Sichuan province, and when she speaks Chinese it has a slight touch of the Sichuan dialect. Weise’s real name is Tsering Woeser, and she is internationally known for her writing. For years she has used her fearless pen to report the situation in Tibet and write about the fate of her countrymen and women. Although granted many international awards, Woeser has never been to a foreign country. She is not allowed to leave China to personally accept the honors. Instead, she has become a kind of hostage like Liu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei, and others.

After March 2008, video cameras were installed on the main street [in Lhasa]. Big Brother is watching with high-tech equipment. The police carry machine guns and truncheons, and in their pocket, a cell phone or iPad. Recently they have taken to carrying fire extinguishers on their backs—not to save lives, but to prevent pictures of the person on fire from being disseminated online. Photos like that damage China’s image.

Lots of the self-immolated people are monks because the “Patriotic movement” has taken over all the monasteries in the Autonomous Region as well as in Kham and Amdo. This political campaign started in 1995, but after 2008 it became unendurable. As part of the movement the Chinese national flag must be hoisted and the portraits of the “big Four”—Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao—need to be hung in each temple. Very soon the “big Four” will turn to the “big Five” as Xi Jinping will be added.

Meanwhile the picture of Dalai Lama is forbidden.

Woeser updates her blog every day. One day she posted about the latest self-immolation, a 20 year-old man named Ngawang Norphel. She also wrote about the April 6th double immolation of an uncle and his niece, the 45 year-old Lama, Chugu Tudeng, and the 23 year-old nun, Ani Aze.

“How can you keep all of these terrible stories in your mind and not get ill?” I asked Woeser.

“Maybe I am a Tibetan and a Buddhist,” she muttered.

But the Chinese authority does not think so. In their eyes this delicate woman is dangerous and her blog has been attacked and shut down frequently. Therefore Woeser was told that she had to leave her home in Beijing before the CCP’s 18th Party Congress, although her house is already monitored by police day and night. Woeser obeys the “order” silently. Beijing is not her true home anyway—it is too political and the power struggle inside the Zhongnanhai wall constantly shakes and rattles the city. “I am not unhappy,” she said, “that I can avoid all this and go back to the Tibetan plateau for two months or more.” Well, there are police and soldiers patrolling Lhasa too, but Woeser can stay with her mother and family, and her husband Wang Lixiong can visit her from time to time, bringing the newest political jokes from the capital city.

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Filed under prison, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

“China instability rising with fungible rule of law”

Well… then there’s this. In the age of Neil Haywood and Chen Guangcheng, does anything about this story sound far-fetched?

Warren Rothman, a San Francisco lawyer, was having dinner with a Chinese legal colleague in Shanghai a few years ago, he said, when the colleague “blurted out” that he’d helped pay a $3 million bribe to ensure that his client, an iconic American company, could win a contract to work in China.

Rothman was stunned. He berated his younger colleague, a legal assistant for a Western law firm. He tried to defend himself and “looked very embarrassed,” Rothman recalled. Then within days, Rothman alleges that he found himself trapped in a Kafka-esque nightmare — poisoned, placed in a mental hospital, tortured and tormented in ways that were intended to trigger a fatal stroke to make sure he never revealed what he had learned about the bribe.

“Why’s it taking so long?” Rothman claimed one of his Chinese torturers mused to another one as he sat drugged, strapped to a chair. But unlike Neil Heywood, the British businessman who died under suspicious circumstances in China last fall, Rothman managed to get away and return to the United States.

“The only difference between me and Neil Heywood,” Rothman said, is that he’s not corrupt, and “I didn’t come home in an urn.”

Rothman supplied emails, documents from the American Consulate in Shanghai and other evidence that largely backed his story.

Earlier this month, in fact, labor rights activist Li Wangyang was found hanging from a sheet tied to the prison bars of his hospital room window. Government officials called the death a suicide. The problem was, Li had just been released from more than 20 years in prison. He’d been perfectly healthy when first jailed, but repeated torture had left him blind and nearly deaf, prompting the widely asked question: How could he have managed to find the sheet, fashion a noose and choose a place to tie it?

Li was just the latest in a long string of suspicious deaths. Last August, Xie Yexin, a Hubei Province official who’d made a name for himself as an anti-corruption campaigner, was found dead in his office — stabbed 11 times in his chest, neck and abdomen. The knife lay next to his body, its handle wrapped in tissue paper. Government authorities called that a suicide, too.

“It’s not a criminal case, and we have no obligation to investigate,” said Wang Jianping, a local police official.

All of this comes as “the factors for instability in China are rising,” Kamm said. “The economy is falling; home prices are dropping; there are more bankruptcies. The government is certainly very worried,” and “there’s a massive expansion in state security spending” as public anger and ferment rapidly escalate nationwide, causing the government to grow ever more consumed with keeping control of a fast-changing society.

China now spends $110 billion a year on internal security — more than is budgeted for its military. Sending more than 1,000 police to a remote village on short notice, for example, is not inexpensive.

The $3 million bribe the legal aide described went to a shell company, Rothman said — one that Chinese government officials almost certainly set up. And without government help, he added, the legal aide could never have carried out the complex plan to commit him to a government mental hospital and try by various means to induce a stroke. Earlier, Rothman, 68, had told the aide and others he was vulnerable to strokes.

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Filed under bribery, enforced disappearance, prison, torture

“Monk Charged After Repeated Detentions”

The repression machine is still on a roll, even outside of the conflicted Ngaba area- via RFA we learn that Labrang Jigme, the man interviewed in this video:

… has been been charged with ‘splittist activities’ and may be sentenced soon:

Jigme Gyatso , a monk at the Labrang monastery in the Kanlho (in Chinese, Gannan) prefecture of China’s Gansu province, was most recently picked up by Chinese police on Aug. 20, 2011, his brother reported at the time.

“Since then, he has been held without any word concerning his fate,” a Tibetan source close to the family told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“At the beginning of February, his brother Sonam Tsering received a notice dated Jan. 2 from the Kanlho Public Security Bureau [PSB] informing him that Jigme Gyatso had been formally charged with ‘splittist activities,’” the source said.

Meanwhile, a Tibetan traffic policeman from Machu county, also in Kanlho, was handed a four-and-a-half-year jail term for “rebelling” against the Chinese government during regionwide protests in 2008, a Tibetan living in exile said, citing contacts in the region.

“His name is Sherab, and he is from the [district of] Dzoge,” the source said.

“He had been a monk for a while, but later joined the Chinese police force, where he served for four years.”

When Tibetans in Machu rose against Chinese rule in 2008, Sherab “went to the Tibetan side and attacked the Chinese police,” the source said.

“He was detained sometime in May or June of 2008, and since then nothing was heard about him for a while.”

Although the news in China won’t report any of this, locals will definitely be following these developments. This is the kind of thing that destabilizes regions, Beijing…

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Filed under courts, enforced disappearance, ethnic conflict, prison, protests, Tibet, torture

“Rare visit to remote Chinese region shows depth of Tibetan despair”

Days after The Guardian managed to sneak a reporter into Ngaba, Tom Lasseter from McClatchy has done the same thing. His report is incredible and horrifying and absolutely must be read:

The monk reached into the folds of his red robe, pulled out a small notebook, and gently slipped from its pages a tiny photograph.

The man in the creased picture was a relative. He used to be a fellow monk at the monastery perched in snow-wrapped mountains outside the town of Aba. Then a Chinese security officer killed him, the monk said.

A McClatchy reporter last week apparently became the first from an American news organization to make it to Aba since the chain of self-immolations began in March. To do so, he hid on the rear floor of a vehicle under two backpacks and a sleeping bag as it passed through multiple checkpoints.

Beijing has long blamed unrest in ethnic Tibetan areas on conspiracies hatched by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who fled to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

But conversations with ethnic Tibetans here and elsewhere in Sichuan province, where almost all of the self-immolations have occurred, suggest that China’s authoritarian policies designed to tamp down disorder are fueling the troubles.

Sections of the town famous for its Tibetan Buddhist monasteries have come to resemble an armed camp. A few blocks from the entrance, paramilitary police stood behind riot gates with shotguns and assault rifles. Three large troop-carrier trucks sat on the side of the road, flanked by more men with guns. Up ahead, traffic wound through further riot gates and troop positions not unlike those used in counterinsurgency efforts.

Chinese officials point out that they’ve spent billions of dollars constructing hospitals, roads and schools in Tibet, which is referred to by Beijing as an autonomous region, and nearby areas like those in Sichuan.

Or as a billboard depicting green fields and blue waters outside Maierma Township, approximately 20 miles from Aba, puts it: “Building a civilized, new Aba together.”

Many ethnic Tibetans recognize the benefits of the government’s projects. But they chafe at the government’s restrictions on free expression of their culture and religious practices, and they speak of anguish over being separated from the Dalai Lama.

The lingering threat of police showing up at their doorstep has by all accounts made the situation even more complicated for ethnic Tibetans.

The younger brother, in his early 20s and with plans to move to a bigger city, finished the sentence with an assertion that no one contradicted.

“The people lighting themselves on fire do it because they are suffering … or because one of their family members has been killed by the government and they are now filled with hatred,” he said. “They are doing these things because they want to express their pain and their hardship.”

The majority of Tibetans approached in the area said they couldn’t discuss such issues.

One herder near the town of Chali, about 30 miles east of Aba, gestured for a reporter to follow him to his house. Once inside, the 67-year-old man with tough, thick hands shook his head, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I don’t dare talk about this.”

Official documents describing his arrest said that he and others had taken part in an action that “disrupted public order” and caused a traffic jam. The monk keeps the papers tucked in a plastic bag even though they’re written in Mandarin, a language he doesn’t understand well.

The monk said he was held in jail and fed such small amounts of thin porridge that it became difficult to stand up. He was then transferred to a reform-through-labor camp. “They told me that the Dalai Lama group is an obstacle to our road to peace,” said the monk, who was reluctant to describe the nearly two-year experience.

His relative never made it back — he died in custody, the result of being beaten in the head and then not receiving medical treatment, according to the monk and others at the monastery.

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Filed under Dalai Lama, ethnic conflict, prison, protest, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet, violence

“China rushes to jail activists before political handover”

Malcolm Moore from The Telegraph:

Li Tie, a 52-year-old essayist from Wuhan was given ten years for subverting state power. Two other men, Chen Wei, 42, and Chen Xi, 45, were handed jail terms of a similar length either side of Christmas.

All three had previous convictions, accounting in part for the severity of the sentences. A fourth man, a poet named Zhu Yufu, was charged with subversion on Monday.

Mr Liu said the Arab Spring continues to unnerve Beijing and that the current repression “is more to do with international affairs than problems inside China”. He added: “Local governments have been told by Beijing they can lock up anyone who seems like a troublemaker. Then they go back two or three years and trawl the records for anything that might implicate them.”

He added that the government was more worried about petitioners, people bringing specific grievances to Beijing, than about dissidents this year.

Meanwhile, Yu Jie, an activist whose family was allowed to leave China earlier this month, gave a graphic description of the house arrests and torture he had suffered after his friend, Liu Xiaobo, was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

Mr Yu said he had been grabbed by state security officers the day before the Nobel ceremony in 2010, hooded and beaten. “They stripped off all my clothes and pushed me naked to the ground and kicked me maniacally. They had a camera and were taking pictures as I was being beaten, saying with glee they would post the naked photos online,” he said.

Mr Yu said one of his attackers had told him: “If the order comes from above, we can dig a pit to bury you alive in half an hour and no one on earth would know.”

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Filed under Jasmine Revolution, prison

“Of Spies and Dissidents”

The Dui Hua Journal has a new piece up about the disparity in sentence reductions between those convicted of espionage versus convicted dissidents. Apparently spies have it easy compared to activists:

The number of sentence reductions for prisoners convicted of espionage and supplying foreign entities with state secrets contrasts sharply with that of prisoners convicted of speech and association offenses (subversion, splittism, and their incitement). A review of records in Dui Hua’s prisoner database—which catalogues about 24,000 cases—and available official statistics suggests that, in recent years, the majority of ESS arrests and trials have been for speech and association offenses. Despite making up the bulk of known ESS cases, speech and association prisoners are rarely granted clemency. There has not been a single known act of clemency for this group of prisoners since September 2009, when Jiangsu-based Internet essayist and political organizer Huang Jinqiu (黄金秋) and Sichuan labor activist Wang Sen (王森) were given 23-month and 10-month reductions, respectively.

Dui Hua research indicates that prisoners convicted of ESS have lower rates of sentence reduction and parole than the general prison population, for which the rate is about 30 percent. Within the ESS category, it seems that clemency is more common for individuals convicted of espionage—a crime most countries consider the greatest threat to national security—than for those convicted of non-violent speech and association. A number of factors may be involved here: discrepancies in information disclosure, differences in average lengths of sentences, official clout, admission of guilt, or individual circumstances.

What may also be at play is systemic prejudice. One official with whom Dui Hua has worked for many years acknowledged Dui Hua’s concern that “spies” had better access to clemency than dissidents by noting that only prisoners considered not to be a “threat to society” are eligible for parole. He stated that once out of jail spies can’t go on spying, while dissidents can continue stirring dissent. One wonders if that means that, for the sake of stability, citizens are better off selling out their country than trying to change it.

Two days ago I said that the government fears reasonable voices more than it fears actual enemies- I think this data supports that claim rather well.

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“Survivor demands probe into Shaanxi detention center horrors”

More on the black jails, detention centers established to intercept petitioners and stop them from reaching government offices:

Xu Lingyong, the elder brother of the victim Xu Lingjun, said the center in Benggu county, which was called a “training class,” resorted to violence and starvation to force people detained not to petition the government over their various grievances.

Jinan Daily reported that the detention center was set up in May 2008 with staff from the Public Security Bureau, the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee, the Bureau for Letters and Calls and the courts. The center uses “protective” measures to prevent the public from filing grievances against authorities, the report said.

Xu Lingyong, a 47-year-old disabled man who had served in the military, was in the center before he was sent to a hospital in April on account of illness. However, his brother Xu Lingjun was not so lucky and died after suffering from a prolonged period of hunger at the center.

Several “trainees” at the center said that they were not given meals or water for the first four days of their detention. Later, they were given two meals a day without water. Breakfast was a bun the size of a potato, combined with half a bowl of rice porridge or soy bean milk. Dinner was a bowl of noodles, with 21 noodles in the bowl at most. The detainees were locked all day in the center and lying down was forbidden; they were only allowed to stand or sit beside the bed.

“You feel acutely the sense of hunger every minute, every hour and every day there,” Xu Lingyong said.

Those detained suffered from blurred vision or loose teeth after long-term hunger and almost everyone suffered difficulty defecating because they were not properly fed.

The suspicious circumstance surrounding Xu’s sudden death drew the attention of county authorities.

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“Outspoken Chinese activists silent after release”

Close on the heels of Ai Weiwei’s surprise release, Beijing has chosen to release Hu Jia as well. Hu is another one of the most prominent activists in China- he has worked on promoting democracy, protecting the environment, and especially on support for AIDS victims. As per CNN:

Chinese authorities released prominent human rights activist Hu Jia Sunday, days after freeing renowned dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

“A sleepless night — Hu Jia arrived at home at 2:30. He’s safe and I’m very happy,” Zeng Jinyan, Hu’s wife, said in a Twitter post Sunday morning. “He needs to rest for a while.”

Hu, 37, denounced China’s human rights record in a series of articles ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was later sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for “inciting to subvert state power.” Ai, the conceptual artist turned government critic, was released Wednesday on bail after authorities detained him for nearly three months for tax evasion, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The seemingly positive news, however, has been dampened by the noticeable silence of both once-outspoken activists.

While Ai declined to answer questions from reporters outside his home early this week, police Sunday guarded entrances to Hu’s apartment compound and patrolled surrounding streets. Zeng, his wife, appeared unreachable via phone or the internet.

Is this the new strategy, then? Release dissidents so that the world doesn’t criticize China for imprisoning them, but still keep them muzzled by placing them in house arrest and restricting their communications? If so, I don’t think Beijing will get very much mileage out of it. You can only get so many positive headlines for “releasing” people before everyone catches on to the idea that they still aren’t free. Beijing can ask Burma about how that game plays out.

Again, it’s better that they’re at least home with their families rather than getting beaten up in a prison cell somewhere, but this should just be the first step.

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“Is China going back to the ‘era of name-calling’?”

Peter Foster quotes Ai Weiwei and refers to the plight of Fang Hong, a blogger sentenced to one year of ‘reeducation through labor’ after making a joke online about Bo Xilai, mayor of Chongqing.

The Financial Times noted that the story of 45-year-old Fang Hong, illustrated the “dire consequences” of mocking Mr Bo, who has made waves these past two years “cleaning up” Chongqing’s mafia gangs and promoting a nostalgic revival of “Red” culture.

It’s easy to mock the old Maoist claptrap, but as Mr Bo himself has said, the values of sacrifice, community and revolutionary spirit do resonate in the hearts of some Chinese who fear a society without values.

Of course there was another, darker side to all that revolutionary zeal which is still around today. Usually with soft edges – Hu Jintao, China’s president, talks in Orwellian terms of “social management” and a “harmonious society” – but as this episode suggests, with hard edges too, if need be.

Mr Fang received his one-year re-education sentence for “fabricating facts and disturbing public order” by making a thinly veiled suggestion that Mr Bo should “eat s–t” for using the justice system as a political plaything, to the dismay of some of China’s most prominent legal experts.

I shouldn’t even really have to ask this, but what do you think does more to disturb public order:  making jokes about poo on the internet, or giving out harsh prison sentences to people for the aforementioned poo jokes?  Is this really a fight Bo Xilai needed to pick?

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“4 year prison term for Tibetan writer”

Via Phayul:  news that Tashi Rabten has been sentenced to 4 years in prison.  Tashi was one of several writers who got in huge trouble for involvement with Shar DungRi, a literary magazine that dared to explore exactly how terrible the crackdown in 2008 was for Tibetans.

Influential Tibetan writer Tashi Rabten (penname – Theurang) has been sentenced to a 4-year prison term by a Chinese court in eastern Tibet.

The Ngaba Intermediate People’s Court on June 2, in a trial closed to Tashi Rabten’s family and friends, passed the sentence. According to Radio Free Asia, the court found Tashi Rabten, editor of banned literary magazine ‘Shar Dungri’ (Eastern Snow Mountain) guilty on charges of “inciting activities to split the nation”.

A student at the Northwest Nationalities University in Lanzhou, Tashi was detained on April 6, 2010 and six months later was traced to a detention center in Barkham (Chin: Ma’erkang) county, Ngaba (Chin: Aba) TAP.

His reports on the 2008 protests inside Tibet and his book ‘Written in Blood’, copies of which were later confiscated by government officials, had won Tashi ‘great respect and popularity’ amongst intellectuals and ordinary readers.

Tashi Rabten is from Dzoege (Chinese: Ruo’ergai) county in Ngaba, Sichuan province in the Tibetan region of Kham and was due to graduate in 2010.

He’s just one member of an entire generation of Tibetan writers which is being devastated by the post-2008 crackdown.  Who knows- maybe more arrests and disappearances will finally win over Tibetan popular sentiment in favor of Beijing?

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Filed under China, enforced disappearance, prison, Tibet

“China used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work”

Going to college in China is pretty much like being in prison- and being in Chinese prison is pretty much like being in a CIA torture site (or an actual normal American prison, given how poor things are going there these days).  On the other hand, The Guardian writes about how prisoners are now being forced to…  play World of Warcraft?!  Bizarre:

“As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells.

Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.”

I can’t wait for Thomas Friedman to write a book about how Chinese prison WoW labor is a global flattener.

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