("New York Times," April 21, 2010)
Beijing, China - Two Chinese lawyers who represented a follower of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement could have their licenses permanently revoked in an administrative hearing on Thursday. The action against the lawyers is the latest move in an increasingly harsh government crackdown on lawyers who take on human rights cases.
The lawyers, Tang Jitian and Liu Wei, said in a written statement that they were accused by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice of having disrupted the order of the court and interfered with the regular litigation process. The charge against the lawyers is based on accusations from the Luzhou Municipal Intermediate Peoples Court of Sichuan Province, where the lawyers defended Wang Ming, the Falun Gong practitioner, nearly a year ago.
Lawyers in China are usually barred from practicing for life only if they are convicted of a crime. If Mr. Tang and Ms. Liu have their licenses permanently revoked, then this would be a rare occasion, perhaps the first of its kind, when a disruption-of-court charge has led to such harsh punishment, said Eva Pils, a law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
The two lawyers said in their written statement that the justice bureaus charge is obviously factually unsound and lacks legal basis. The lawyers said it was in fact the judge in the court in Sichuan who was a disruptive element during the trial on April 27, 2009. The judge, Li Xudong, interrupted statements made by the defense lawyers or by Mr. Wang, the lawyers said, so that the defense was extremely difficult to carry out. The judge also allowed people to film the lawyers in the courtroom, even though this is usually prohibited.
As an organ with public power, the Luzhou Municipal Intermediate Peoples Court should examine its own unlawful acts, the lawyers said.
The Chinese government has been relentless about quashing any defense of Falun Gong, which is considered one of the most sensitive topics in China, along with independence for Tibet and Taiwan and the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. The movement was banned as an evil cult in 1999 after followers staged a silent protest at the Chinese leaderships compound in Beijing. Since then, practitioners have been subjected to imprisonment and torture.
The government has been clamping down on rights lawyers over the past year. In July 2009, the Beijing authorities, citing tax issues, shut down the office of Gongmeng, also known as the Open Constitution Initiative, a prominent legal research organization.
In May 2009, the licenses of 53 lawyers in Beijing were not renewed, making it impossible for the lawyers to work legally. Mr. Tang and Ms. Liu, who were among them, still have not received the proper stamp that would allow them to resume practicing but have so far managed to avoid having their licenses permanently revoked.
Last month, Gao Zhisheng, an outspoken rights lawyer who had defended Falun Gong practitioners, resurfaced at a Buddhist monastery after being held in custody for a year. He said in news interviews that he wanted to lead a quiet life for now. Last year, Mr. Gaos wife and two young children fled to the United States a month before Mr. Gao was detained. Previously, Mr. Gao had had his law license permanently revoked after being convicted on a charge of subversion and being sent to prison.
Human Rights in China, an advocacy group, called on the Chinese authorities to conduct a fair investigation of what took place in the Sichuan court during Mr. Yangs trial.
Instead of the progressive strangulation of rights defense work, the Chinese authorities need to demonstrate their commitment to respect the professionalism and independence of the legal profession, a critical requirement for a true rule of law, said Sharon Hom, the groups executive director.
("The Canadian Press," March 25, 2010)
Jakarta, Indonesia - Indonesian officials have shut down a private radio station that aired reports about the Falun Gong group, saying Thursday that it did not have the proper operating license.
But the director of Radio Erabaru (New Era Radio), which broadcasts news and entertainment in Mandarin and Indonesian languages from Batam island, accused government officials of bowing to pressure from the Chinese government.
Raymond Tan said he believed the Wednesday raid and seizure of radio transmission equipment by police and officials with the Radio Frequency Monitoring Office was the result of complaints made by the Chinese Embassy.
Calls to the embassy seeking comment were not answered Thursday.
China banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement more than a decade ago, calling it an "evil cult." Some of the movement's leaders and thousands of followers were arrested.
Raymond said the Chinese Embassy had sent a letter in 2007 to Indonesian authorities complaining about the radio station's broadcasts. That pressure has continued, he maintained, saying "it was clear" that Chinese intervention played a role in the station's closure.
Waving banners, about 20 members of the station's supporters held a rally outside the government monitoring office, protesting the closure of the station. "Stop China's intervention into Indonesian press freedom," and "This is Indonesian territory, not China! Why should we listen to them?" read banners unfurled at the peaceful protest.
Gatot Dewa Broto, a spokesman for the Ministry of Communication and Information, confirmed the station was shut down but denied any Chinese role. Instead, he said the radio station did not have the correct permit to broadcast.
"Such a measure of restoring law and order is a normal thing," he said.
But Raymond said the decision was unacceptable since the radio station is awaiting a court ruling on a lawsuit filed over the ministry's refusal to grant the license since 2007.
"We have told them that we are still waiting for the Supreme Court's ruling, but they didn't care," Raymond said.
The radio station's lawyer, Soleh Ali, accused the Indonesian government of refusing to guarantee the rights of its own citizens.
"In our view, the government is no longer independent," he said.
Frederik Balfour and Josh Fellman
("Bloomberg," March 23, 2010)
Hong Kong, China - Hong Kong says it wont help China censor Google Inc., after the search engine provider said it would route mainland users through its site in the city.
Hong Kong respects freedom of information and its free flow, a spokesman for the citys Information Services Department said yesterday, declining to be identified as a matter of policy. There are no restrictions on access to Web sites, including access to Hong Kong-based Web sites from China, he said.
While China regularly blocks content from Web sites outside its borders, Hong Kongs reaction illustrates the autonomy it enjoys under the One Country, Two Systems policy that guided its 1997 return to Chinese sovereignty. Hong Kongs constitution, the Basic Law, guarantees freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom and privacy of communication.
The governments response to Googles move yesterday highlights Hong Kongs advantages, said David Zweig, a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Its worth reminding people that they can come to Hong Kong because of One Country, Two Systems.
Thirteen years after the Hong Kong handover, Beijing has done little to meddle in management of the city - home to Asias third-largest stock market by capitalization, 34 billionaires and the worlds third-highest office rents.
One of Hong Kongs key rationales as a financial center is its freedom of information, said Michael DeGolyer, professor of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. One reason that fund management is in the city and not in China is freedom of information. If you cant get either the news or the rumor youre not going to be able to buy and sell with any accuracy. This is why Hong Kong is still the financial center of China.
Google decided to direct traffic to the Hong Kong site after a two-month dispute with the Chinese government over censorship. Analysts say China will continue to control content within its borders, blocking content from Hong Kong and beyond.
Its very likely that Google.com.hk will be blocked at least as aggressively as Google.com was and, more likely, probably more aggressively, said Ben Schachter, an analyst at Broadpoint AmTech Inc. in San Francisco.
So instead of censoring itself, Google is placating its conscience by having China do the filtering, Andy Xie, an independent economist, said in a phone interview.
Given that Apple Daily, a mass circulation Chinese-language newspaper, operates in Hong Kong with an editorial line severely critical of the mainland government, the rerouting of searches is unlikely to prompt a crackdown in the city, Xie said.
Of course, the Chinese government is unhappy about Googles decision because of the cost of censoring increased Web traffic, Xie said.
By late morning yesterday, searches for Tiananmen on computers in Shanghai and Beijing could not be displayed, suggesting the government had started limiting access.
Since the Peoples Liberation Army entered Hong Kong at midnight on June 30, 1997, the citys 7 million residents have continued to enjoy freedoms far beyond those of their counterparts across the border in mainland China.
In 2003, the local population even overturned planned restrictions on freedom. After about half a million people marched against anti-subversion legislation, then-Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa withdrew the plan and later resigned.
To be sure, Hong Kong lacks fully democratic elections, a target promised in the Basic Law that Beijing has indicated will not occur before 2020. China has criticized the tactics of legislators seeking a faster pace of progress.
Other things prohibited in China remain legal in Hong Kong.
The Falun Gong spiritual movement, banned in China as an evil cult, operates openly in Hong Kong, organizing displays in public places such as the Star Ferry pier publicizing allegations of abuse by the mainland government.
And groups, from Trotskyists demanding full democracy and the departure of Chief Executive Donald Tsang to bar workers denouncing plans to limit indoor smoking, demonstrate freely.
("Illinois Times," January 28, 2010)
Washington, USA - Promotional flyers for Shen Yun - a multimillion-dollar stage production set for Feb. 9 at Sangamon Auditorium - are lavish, four-color photo montages of elaborately costumed dancers, whirling banners and glowing quotes from reviewers. But way down at the bottom of the back page, in tiny type, is the name of one of the shows sponsors - Mid-USA Falun Dafa Association.
That raises the hackles of Chinas Communist government, says Joel Chipkar, a Falun Gong practitioner and promotion consultant for Shen Yun.
Just this week the Chinese government forced the cancellation of seven sold-out performances of Shen Yun in Hong Kong by withdrawing the visas of the technical crew that makes the production possible. Chinas government does everything it can, from politics to persecution, to discredit and ban Falun Gong.
(AFP, January 27, 2010)
Tokyo, Japan - The Falungong religious group, which is banned in China, Wednesday accused Beijing of forcing a dance troupe linked to the sect to cancel a Hong Kong performance tour by denying visas to key members.
The rejection of entry visas for seven production crew of the Shen Yun Performing Arts troupe "is absolutely part of the persecution of Falungong by the Chinese Communist Party," said Japanese Falungong member Kanae Yamakawa.
"We protest against the Hong Kong authorities over their arbitrary decision of a visa denial ... There is nothing wrong with the Shen Yun Performing Arts group in their visa application process," she told reporters in Tokyo.
China outlawed Falungong - a religion loosely based on Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian philosophies - in 1999 as "an evil cult" following a silent mass gathering in Beijing by its members, who report often brutal repression.
The New York-based dance company said it had to cancel seven sold-out shows between January 27 and 31 at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts? Lyric Theatre after authorities denied the seven visas last week.
Hong Kong's immigration department, which would not comment on the case in particular, said work visas "will be considered individually and on (their) own merits in accordance with the prevailing policy and established procedures."
"In general, an application for employment may be favourably considered if, among other criteria, the applicant possesses special skill, knowledge or experience of value to and not readily available in (Hong Kong)," it said in a statement emailed to AFP.
In its classic dance shows, Shen Yun also "tells the story of Falungong, describes the persecution of Falungong in China, and stresses the importance of believing in one's religion and conviction," Yamakawa said.
Yamakawa, who is in charge of organising Shen Yun's Japan performances in March, said China had also sought to obstruct its past visits to the island-nation.
She said Chinese authorities had in the past sent emails to Japanese media organisations and the alumnae associations of some Japanese universities, urging them to "not watch nor support the performances."
Shen Yun says on its website its "mission is to revive China?s artistic traditions and spiritual heritage that thrived before decades of suppression through portraying traditional legends and events in present-day China."
"The Chinese communist regime has been seeking to interfere with our performances for years by trying to pressure officials and theatres to cancel our shows," the dance troupe said in an earlier statement.