Guantanamo's Uighurs Coming to the US?

(Originally posted on Daily Kos)

On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder gave the first public indication that at least some of the Chinese Uighurs cleared for release from Guantanamo in September 2008, but unable to return home to China for fear of persecution, will be allowed to settle in the United States. His announcement followed the visit of the European Union’s Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove to US.

De Kerchove is believed to have delivered the blunt message to the Obama administration that, unless the US demonstrated its good faith by resettling the Uighurs on American soil, it was highly unlikely that any European country would be prepared to help in the dismantlement of the Guantanamo prison camp by accepting other discharged detainees.

The Uighurs were among 22 Chinese citizens of Uighur descent who were captured near Tora Bora towards the end of 2001. The circumstances of their capture is unclear although former detainee Abu Bakr Qasim has claimed they were handed over to US forces for a $5,000 a head bounty.

The men are alleged to be militant separatists affiliated with the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) who had received weapons training at a camp in Afghanistan with the apparent objective of fighting against China for Uighur independence.

None took part in hostilities against the United States nor bore any apparent animosity towards the west. Indeed, Abu Bakr Qasim told reporters that he had expected the US to be sympathetic to his people’s cause.

In May 2006 five of the original group were released from Guantanamo and resettled in Albania although one, Adel Abdu Al-Hakim, has subsequently been allowed to relocate to Sweden.

The US government finally conceded in September 2008 that none of the remaining Uighurs in Guantanamo could be categorized as an ‘enemy combatant’ and in October the US District Court ordered the Uighurs released. They have been trapped in limbo ever since with no country prepared to offer them a home for fear of angering China.

The saga of the Uighars has only served to underline the comments made this week by Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a guest post on The Washington Note. Wilkerson lambasted the ‘utter incompetence’ of the battlefield intelligence screening process that saw so many individuals who posed no threat to US interests transferred to Guantanamo and proclaimed to the American public as ‘the worst of the worst’.

In Wilkinson’s words:

Several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released… But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror.

Hundreds of detainees have been held in Guantanamo for an unconscionable length of time in defiance of international law and notions of due process. Wilkinson estimates that only two dozen or so could actually be considered terrorists. The rest have suffered long enough. The Obama administration must set an example and put right a wrong that has cast a long shadow over America’s global reputation. It can start by offering the Uighurs of Guantanamo a new home on American soil.

Putting a Face to Internet Censorship

I wasn’t going to post again today, but I was just reading Erica’s post, and I went to Daily Kos to check out the comments. One commenter was of the opinion that free speech is just an American construct, and others responded that freedom of expression and information are acutally guaranteed in Article 19 of the UDHR and also in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which China is a signatory. That’s good to know, but that level of discussion can make it easy to forget about the actual human cost of governments not respecting those human rights, and corporations not standing up for them.

Shi Tao knows this cost all too well. In April 2005, Chinese authorities sentenced him to 10 years in prison for using his Yahoo! email account to send a message to a U.S.-based pro-democracy website. Authorities used email account holder information supplied by Yahoo! to convict Shi Tao, and since then he has been suffering the consequences of his government’s lack of respect for freedom of expression and of Yahoo’s refusal to stand up for human rights. In addition to all the years he’s spent in jail, he’s lost his wife, who was pressured into divorcing him, and his mother faces regular harrassment.

So while it’s important to have these discussions about international law and international human rights standards, it’s equally important to remember the human suffering that results when profits and power are valued over rights.

Internet Co's: How about one day without censorship?

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) and Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) yesterday called on U.S. Internet companies Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! to give the world a day of censorship-free Internet search and blogging, in recognition of World Day Against Cyber Censorship, March 12.

In other words, we’re seeing if Internet companies are willing to give the world a free trial of freedom of expression. 

Like free trials of software downloads, the hope is that if these Internet mammoths can find it within themselves to stand up to censorship requests for just one day, they, we, the world, might like it enough to buy into the full version.

RWB and AI participated for months in an initiative, now known as the Global Network Initiative (GNI), with the companies to try to develop voluntary standards for the Internet and telecommunications industry on the rights to freedom of expression and privacy. 

Both groups, to date, have refused to endorse the GNI, pointing to loopholes that could allow for continued abuses of privacy and free expression rights, such as what occurred with Chinese journalist Shi Tao. (Yahoo! handed over account information to Chinese authorities who used it to sentence Shi to a 10 year prison term for sending an email to a U.S.-based pro-democracy website.) 

If any of the companies take up the RWB-AIUSA challenge, much could be discovered about the true nature of the online censorship beast. The power of the symbolism, let alone bringing transparency to the problem could be just enough to change the lives of millions. It would be a sad state if none of the three can find a way to respect freedom of expression for one day.

Don't Sideline Human Rights

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made headlines last week when she removed human rights from the agenda of discussion topics with China.  In today’s USA Today, a Duke colleague of mine and a former researcher for Human Rights watch, Robin Kirk, explains why removing human rights from discussions simply isn’t possible if America wants to achieve its other diplomatic goals.
“Human rights aren’t a side dish on a crowded buffet,” wrote Kirk, director of the Duke Human Rights Center. “Human rights support and frame each of these other important issues. To overlook them is to court failure on the themes [Clinton] highlights.
“How, for instance, does Secretary Clinton plan to secure China’s support for economic reform? Along with the government, she needs people like Bao Tong, once a top Communist Party official who argues that economic health starts with political reform. For that, he spent seven years in prison and lives under virtual house arrest in Beijing.”

To read the article, click here.

 

 

 

Execution Vans, Organ Harvesting – Business as Usual in China

Jinguan Auto's Execution Van

Jinguan Auto

For many years, it has been known that China uses execution vans, kind of like specially outfitted ambulances, to more efficiently carry out its exceedingly large number of executions.  The method of killing in these vans is lethal injection, which has been slowly but surely replacing the firing squad as China’s preferred means of execution, and both lethal injection and the vans are believed to facilitate the widespread practice of harvesting organs of the executed prisoners, an unbelievably appalling practice.

In October 2006, Sky News did a compelling video report - China’s Execution Buses – on the death penalty in China, including a discussion of the vans and organ harvesting, as well as cases of innocence, and the plight of death penalty defense lawyer Gao Zhisheng who has been harassed and detained since at least 2006, and who was once again detained on February 4 of this year. 

Today, a story in the Irish Times discusses these vans, and the Chinese automaker that manufactures and sells them – Jinguan Auto.    (The execution van itself is here.)

In the months leading up to the Olympics, there were a number of hints and statements that reforms in China’s death penalty were being seriously considered, including a declaration from the Chinese Medical Association “not to transplant organs from prisoners or others in custody, except into members of their immediate families.”  This statement was noted in an Amnesty International report two weeks prior to the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies, but the report went on to caution that “… Ministry of Health officials have reportedly stated that prisoners will remain a source of organs for five more years as execution-related transplantation winds down.” 

Of course, the Olympics are over now, and the execution vans are apparently still providing “slow but steady business” for Jinguan Auto.

Human rights advocate faces trial in China on eve of UN review

The New York Times reported yesterday that human rights activist Huang Qi was charged with illegal possession of state secrets. Huang was detained by plainclothes police last June after assisting the families of five primary school students who died in the earthquake in Sichuan, China last May. (The families believe local authorities are responsible for the poor construction of public buildings that collapsed and Huang was going to help them to bring a lawsuit.)

Huang Qi is considered the first webmaster in China to be sent to prison. In 1998, he set up the website www.64tianwang.com to help family members locate missing relatives who disappeared after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. The website later included content about the plights of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang and the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Huang was detained, charged with “incitement of subversion”, tried in secret in August 2001 and imprisoned until June 2005. According to the court verdict, the prosecution’s evidence included reference to Huang’s posting of the Amnesty International report, The People’s Republic of China: Tiananmen – Eleven Years on (May 2000).

Huang Qi was not deterred by his time in prison – he returned to human rights advocacy after his release in 2005. But, this time around, his freedom was taken away before he could bring justice to the families who lost their children in the earthquake.

Internet censorship has become an all-too-common tool for government authorities to stop dissent and punish dissenters. China is about to face its first Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council next Monday. The Council should be diligent in clearly documenting cases of suppression of dissent, like that of Huang Qi, in assessing China’s record on freedom of expression.

Happy Chinese New Year!

As we enter into the Year of the Ox, I did some research about the characteristics of this sign of the Chinese zodiac. Let me tell you, if the descriptions of the Ox are right, 2009 is shaping up to be the Year of the Human Rights Activist. According to Wikipedia, Ox people are “unswervingly patient, tireless in their work…they are articulate and eloquent…kind, caring souls…these people enjoy helping others…they engage all the trials of the whole world and seek solutions for them.” I’d say that pretty much describes every Amnesty member I’ve had the privilege to meet.

So with that in mind, as you watch the news today and see all the images of the extravagant New Year celebrations in China, don’t forget about the many Chinese people who cannot share in the celebrations. People like Shi Tao, who has been in prison since 2004 simply for sending and email. Take a moment to send a couple of Chinese New Year cards. Let Shi Tao know that he’s not alone, and to ask the Chinese authorities to release him. Together, we can make sure the Year of the Ox is also the Year of Freedom!

China's e-blockade a blow to human rights victims of the world

It’s not surprising that with the Olympics come and gone, reports are surfacing of China’s cracking down of the Internet, again, and with the help, of course, of Chinese and US companies, including Microsoft and Google.

Unfortunately, Amnesty’s website is again one of the victims.

But when widespread censorship occurs, the “victims” are even more widespread — it’s much more than the author of a site or the person who can’t access it which is harmed. According to media reports, Chinese authorities have clamped down on child pornography and vulgur content. (And, who wants to argue the pro-child pornography point?) But, such categories are also said to include “content depicting violence and depravity”.

Content depicting violence and depravity? Iraq? Gaza? Darfur? All off limits? It’s unfair enough to deprive Chinese nationals of access to the world, but what about those suffering egregious abuses around the world, whose only hope could depend on the awareness and actions of others (citizens of the world/human rights activists/humanists) outside of their borders? What right does any state have to take away not only from its own people, but from people far beyond its jurisdiction? And, how can companies that enable this taking sleep at night?