Chinese government considering legalization of secret detentions

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

BEIJING, China – Beijing is proposing a change in the criminal code that would allow suspects to be detained in an undisclosed location for up to six months without notification being given to family members or lawyers.

Chinese political artist Ai Weiwei sparked international outcry after being secretly detained for 81 days (Photo Courtesy of MSNBC).
Chinese political artist Ai Weiwei sparked international outcry after being secretly detained for 81 days (Photo Courtesy of MSNBC).

The proposed changes would essentially codify the longstanding and much criticized practice of detaining individuals for extended periods of time in unknown locations and without giving loved ones or attorney’s notification of their whereabouts or the reason for their detention.

Chinese law currently allows a suspect to serve up to six months of house arrest without being formally charged. The proposed change in the law would substitute house arrest with detention at a secret location in cases involving national security, terrorism and bribery when the police believe that holding the suspect at home would put a burden on the investigation.

In China, national security crimes encompass subversion which is frequently used to detain dissidents. Under this scheme rights activists and political commentators will be especially susceptible to the new amendment which will first have to be approved by the National People’s Congress.

According to Legal Daily, an official Chinese newspaper, in which the proposed change in the law was announced, the location of the detention would not be a “regular detention center or police station.” It is also reported that prior to detaining an individual under the proposed amendment, the police would be required to obtain permission from either a prosecutor or a public security agency.

Nicholas Bequelin, Human Rights Watch Senior Asia Researcher, stated that the changes would be a “worrisome expansion of the power of the police” and would violate international laws which require a court decision before an individual can be deprived of their freedom.

Some rights activists suggest that China’s attempt to amend the law is a result of widespread criticism the country has received from Western nations for their treatment of dissidents and that Beijing hopes to alleviate the criticism by legalizing the practice of forced disappearances and thereby strengthening China’s argument that their actions are not illegal.

This new proposal is believed to be another result of the call made for a “Jasmine” revolution last February in which Chinese citizens called for an uprising against the government. In the wake of February’s call for revolution, the Chinese government has cracked down on dissident voices, rights activists and lawyers. Many of these individuals, most notably artist Ai Weiwei, were detained in secret locations without notification being given to their families.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – China Announces Plans to Boost Secret Detention Powers – 30 August 2011

Irish Times – Beijing Considering Move That Would Allow Secret Detentions – 29 August 2011

Los Angeles Times – China’s Plan for Secret Detentions Alarms Rights Activists – 28 August 2011

Radio Free Asia – China May Legalize Secret Detentions – 28 August 2011

AFP – China May Legalize Secret Detentions – 27 August 2011

Indian Parliament Accepts Hazare’s Demands

By: Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DEHLI, India – After fasting for twelve days Anna Hazare has been heard loud and clear by the country’s parliament.

Anna Hazare breaks his fast (Photo Courtesy of India Express)
Anna Hazare breaks his fast Sunday Morning (Photo Courtesy of India Express)

After an eight hour session on Saturday, both houses passed a resolution urging for the creation of an independent anticorruption agency to monitor government officials. 

Included in the resolution were three main demands that Hazare required. First, an anticorruption bill had to be passed during the current session of Parliament. Second, anticorruption agencies would also be created at the state level to monitor local officials. Hazare’s last substantial mandate was that a clear process be created for public grievances.

Despite this success, the day nearly ended in a stalemate. After being told the new resolution would be put to a “voice” vote, “Team Anna” received a communication from Parliament that it would make the group aware of the House consensus on the bill but that the resolution would not be voted on that day.

Team Anna immediately accused the government of betrayal and demanded that the resolution be passed by a vote.  Shortly thereafter, a motion was made to vote on the resolution. While a voice vote did not take place, the bill passed unanimously. “Thumping of the desk is akin to passing a motion by voice vote,” House Speaker Meira Kumar explained.

In celebration of the passage of the resolution, Team Anna invited supporters to attend Hazare’s breaking of his fast Sunday morning. Hazare shed over fifteen pounds during the course of his fast but doctors report that his health is stable.

Hazare broke his fast by drinking a glass of coconut juice given to him by a five year old girl.

While Saturday marked a historical day throughout India, many are skeptical about the government’s true intent, believing that they might attempt to drag their feet in passing the resolution into law.

Team Anna announced that it still does not trust the government and it will watch the parliament’s actions to ensure that their “morally binding commitment” is kept.

Many local political scientists do not see the government going against a resolution that it created. Yogendra Yadav explained if the government did go against the bill, the parliament’s legitimacy would plummet.

In the past the government has been accused of corruption but some of that criticism has shifted to Team Anna. Many call the organizations tactics dirty and “political blackmail.”

Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi espressed that people have a right to protest but that threatening to fast until death in order to get your way is incorrect

Hazare’s supporters defend the actions taken noting that  if Hazare had not gone to such extreme measures the resolution would have never passed.

Team Anna has demanded a special session of parliament be called to pass the bill.

For more information, please see:

Times of India – Team Anna demands special session to pass Lokpal Bill – 29 August 2011

Express India – Has Anna Hazare really come out a winner? – 28 August 2011

India Today –Anna Hazare to break his fast today at 10am, govt accepts his key demands – 28 August 2011

Times of India – Anna Hazare wins, Parliament passes resolution on Lokpal Bill – 27 August 2011

New York Times – Anna Hazare Ends Hunger Strike as Indian Parliament Agrees to His Demands – 27 August 2011

Raids Continue in Syria as Assad’s Position Weakens

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – The end of Ramadan brought more of the same to the Syrian people.  Over the past two days, security forces began a new series of raids intent on crushing dissent against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.  Tuesday morning, at least seven people were killed when security forces fired at protesters who had gathered outside of mosques following their morning prayers to mark the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.  These latest crackdowns come in the face of continued international pressure.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad President performs the Eid Al-Fitr Prayer Tuesday morning.  At the same time, security forces fired on protesters as they finished the same prayer, killing at least seven.  (Photo courtesy of SANA)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad President performs the Eid Al-Fitr Prayer Tuesday morning. At the same time, security forces fired on protesters as they gathered after finishing the same prayer, killing at least seven people. (Photo courtesy of SANA)

“They don’t want us to have any peaceful day,” Um Mohammad, a mother of two from Damascus, told the New York Times. “We are grieving this Id, and we were not going to celebrate, so they didn’t have to kill more people today,” she added, referring to the feast of Id al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

Syria appears to be in a state of flux at this time.  Although raids have continued, reports have emerged to indicate that dozens of soldiers have deserted their posts to join the uprising against Assad.  In response to the defections, the country’s security forces surrounded Rastan, a town outside Homs, the country’s third largest city, early Monday morning.  According to a Rastan resident who called himself Raed during a telephone interview with Reuters, the defections began three months ago after tanks entered the town to crush street protests, reportedly killing dozens of civilians. Other defections took place Sunday, when several dozen soldiers disobeyed orders to fire on protesters in the Damascus suburb of Al Ghouta.  The targeted activists were attempting to march toward Damascus.  The recent defections may have been influenced by the recent fall of the Qaddafi regime in Libya.

But even as these recent shootings took place, the international community continues its responses. During Monday’s crackdowns, ambassadors to the United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss further action against Syria, including the possibility of a resolution or sanctions.  The European Union has also stopped making loans through its European Investment Bank.

Turkey, which borders Syria and has been a prime destination for refugees of the Assad regime, expressed concern about its neighbor’s efforts to beat back dissent.

“The only way out is to immediately silence arms and to listen to the people’s demands,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We have been watching the fate of those who did not chose this path in the past few months in Tunisia, in Egypt — and now in Libya — as a warning and with sadness.”

Even Iran, Syria’s closest ally, has called for Assad to listen to his people’s protests.  “The government should answer to the demands of its people, be it Syria, Yemen or other countries,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s foreign minister, on Saturday. “The people of these nations have legitimate demands, and the governments should answer these demands as soon as possible.”

Despite Salehi’s statement, he also mentioned fear that the situation needed to be handled delicately.  He considered the possibility of regional chaos to be great.

Ironically, Assad also performed the traditional prayer in Damascus, accompanied by high officials within the Muslim religion, calling for peace within his country.  He used the occasion to reiterate his belief that Syria was reacting properly and was on a steady path to reform. In the meantime, the stability of the Assad regime may depend on the strength of its security force.  Protests have yet to reach the stronghold of Damascus, so security forces have been able to concentrate on the sites of protest, instead of protecting the cities from activists.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera — Syrian protesters ‘killed’ after Eid prayers — 30 August 2011

BBC — Is Syria slipping out of the grasp of its rulers? — 30 August 2011

New York Times — Security Forces in Syria Fire on Worshipers as Ramadan Ends — 30 August 2011

SANA — President Bashar al-Assad Performs Eid Al-Fitr Prayer at President Hafez al-Assad Mosque — 30 August 2011

Al Bawaba — European Investment Bank stops loans to Syria — 29 August 2011

Al Bawaba — Syrian forces continue raids as Erdogan warns Assad — 29 August 2011

Al Jazeera — Syria forces surround town after ‘defections’ — 29 August 2011

New York Times — Amid Syrian Raids, Reports of Desertions — 29 August 2011

New York Times — Iran Calls on Syria to Recognize Citizens’ Demands — 27 August 2011

LANDMARK DEATH SENTENCE FOR SHOOTER OF UNARMED CIVILIAN

by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — On August 12, a Pakistani anti-terrorism court sentenced Shahid Zafar, a member of the Sindh branch of the Pakistan Rangers paramilitary force, to death in what many have hailed as an unusual rebuke of Pakistan’s powerful security establishment.

Unarmed youth begs for mercy moments before being fatally shot. (Photograph Courtesy of Reuters).
Sarfaraz Shah moments before his death. (Photograph Courtesy of Reuters).

According to attorneys, the speedy trial for the 29 June killing of eighteen-year-old Sarfaraz Shah in Karachi marks the first time that a Pakistani civilian court has sentenced a serving member of the military to death.

The Rangers paramilitary group technically falls under the control of the civilian Ministry of the Interior. However, the Rangers are commonly considered to be a part of the armed forces.

Six other men, including five Rangers and a civilian, were charged with murder and terrorism and sentenced to life in prison.  Zafar was fined 200,000 rupees and the other individuals were each fined 100,000 rupees to be paid to the victim’s family.

The shooting was caught on video and was broadcast on Pakistani TV. Against the background of already widespread criticism of the Pakistani military establishment’s failure to detect the American commando raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, the shooting sparked a rare public outcry leading to the replacement of the Sindh police chief and the director-general of the Sindh branch of the Pakistan Rangers paramilitary force.

However, prosecution lawyer, Muhammad Khan Buriro, took care to distinguish the court case from an attack on the military; “I would like to say that it was the personal action of the soldiers involved, and not an act by the Rangers,” Buriro said.

Attorneys for the defense argued that Shah was shot after trying to rob someone and have vowed to appeal the court’s ruling.

Death sentences are rarely carried out in Pakistan.

The televised shooting of an unarmed man has also instigated criticism of Pakistan’s human rights record and of its government for what many see as its failure to reign in security forces.

Human rights groups say that the approximately 10,000 Rangers in Karachi are not sufficiently trained to keep order amongst civilians. Human Rights Watch (HRW) applauded the verdicts. HRW’s Pakistan director went even further to say that he hopes that the verdict will help to address “the impunity with which Pakistan’s trigger-happy security and paramilitary agencies perpetrate abuses.”

However, some believe that the military may be attempting to increase public accountability of its own accord following the US raid on Osama Bin Laden. Last week, a Pakistani naval official announced that three senior naval officers will face courts martial on charges of negligence relating to the US commando raid in May.

For more information, please see:

Arab News – Death sentence for soldier in Karachi killing – 12 August 2011

BBC – Pakistani shooting film paramilitary sentenced to death – 12 August 2011

Guardian – Pakistani Ranger sentenced to death for killing unarmed civilian – 12 August 2011

Reuters – Pakistan court hands death penalty to soldier for civilian killing – 12 August 2011

48 Hour Strike in Chile Leads to Looting, Death and General Unrest

By Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – A growing discontent has spread across Chile as citizens publicly demand reforms from a conservative government.  Last Tuesday, protestors called for a “paro nacional” (national strike) on Wednesday and Thursday.  Other administrations have confronted 24 hour strikes but this was the first 48 hour strike to occur in Chile since the days of Pinochet’s dictatorship.

A Chilean protestor waving the national flag is confronted by police.  (Photo Courtesy of CNN)
A Chilean protestor waves the national flag as he is confronted by police. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Union leaders for Chile’s labor union, The Unitary Central for Workers (CUT), who organized and publicized the strike stated, “[t]his will be the biggest national strike of the last decade.”  What began a few months ago, as students’ calling for educational reform, has now segued into a much larger protest against President Sebastian Piñera’s government in general.  Demands for equal and quality education across the nation, government position transitions, pension reforms, healthcare reforms and better labor laws are being made.

The strike began on Wednesday morning with a traditional “caceroleo” or pot-banging in the streets.  Citizens throughout Santiago stood outside their homes, banging pots as a show of support for the protests.  Burning barricades of tires were erected in many of the streets to stop transportation.  Police responded with tear gas and water cannons to dispel crowds of protestors.  Wednesday and Thursday nights saw spikes in violence, bringing looting of stores and gas stations across the city. 

On Friday morning, 16 year old Manuel Gutierrez died from a gunshot wound in the chest that he received during the 48 hour protest.  His brother blames the police and the local news reports that he claims the police fired shots into a crowd of protestors Thursday night.  Chilean police deny that they used firearms at any point during the conflict.

Chilean government ministers estimated the crowds of protestors at 50,000 and stated only 14% of citizens participated by not working.  Union leaders disputed this, saying the government is minimizing the truth.  They place the number of protestors at 600,000 and claim 80% of workers refused to work for those two days.  The Associated Press placed the number of citizens arrested nationwide at 1,400 and injuries at 200, including both citizens and police officers. 

Other protestors have taken to hunger strikes.  About 40 students in schools around Chile are striking in this manner.  One of them, Gloria Negrete was hospitalized and near death after 37 days of hunger striking in an effort to pressure the government into recognizing demands for educational reform. 

Workers at copper mines in Chile are also striking.  At BHP Billiton’s Escondida, the top producing copper mine in the world, workers just ended a two week strike that kept tensions high about maintaining the global supply of copper.  Workers were asking for a more equitable distribution of the profits from the recent copper boom. 

Although Chile’s economy is projected as expanding at 6.6% this year the general populace feels that they are not sharing in the benefits of this prosperity.  The current administration’s maintenance of a policy of fiscal austerity and private sector benefits has spurred this sentiment.  The strong disparities between the wealthy and economically challenged; combined with a middle class that is not expanding or able to move upwards, make reforms appealing.

Piñera’s current approval rating stands at just 26%, the lowest of any Chilean president since the country returned to democracy in 1990.  Since his election, just eighteen months ago, two major reshuffles of his cabinet have occurred.  Both were failed attempts to quell the growing unrest in the nation.

On Friday, Piñera finally made a move towards conciliation, “[a]fter more than three months in which we’ve seen violence and conflict flourish, now is the time for peace, the time for unity, the time for dialogue, the time for agreements.”  In order to foster discussion Piñera reached out to students, teachers, parents and professors; asking them to participate in education reform talk both at Congress and the Presidential Palace. 

Prior to this, Piñera has avoided any direct communications with protestors.  The change in his approach and attitude coincides with his 21-point education reform proposal being sent to Congress.  However, simply considering education reforms might not be sufficient at this point.  Protestor demands have morphed into a call not only for reforms in education but also reforms in healthcare and employment sectors.  As well, a more general call has come out of this movement for a more accessible democracy in Chile and an end to the top-down power structure that currently exists.

No final decision has been made by student protest leaders or union leaders as to how they will respond to Piñera’s overtures.  The Chilean House President and Chilean Senate President, which represent the left and right wing political parties have offered to sponsor talks but both Piñera and protestors remain cautious and neither has formally agreed to this mediation.

For more information, please see;

The Associated Press – Chile Leader Wants Talks; 1 Dead, 1,400 Arrests – 27 August 2011

CNN – 210 Arrested in Chilean Protests, Government Says – 26 August 2011

San Francisco Chronicle – Thousands in Chile Take to Streets Demand Change – 26 August 2011

The Financial Times Limited – Teen Shot in Chile Anti-Piñera Protest Dies – 25 August 2011

Reuters – Looting, Unrest as Chileans Strike Against Piñera  – 25 August 2011

MercoPress – Two-Day Strike Takes Off in Chile with Piñera Increasingly Debilitated – 24 August 2011

MSNBC – Clashes, Disruptions as Strike Begins in Chile – 24 August 2011

The Economist – We Want the World: A Trial of Strength Between Students and the Government – 13 August 2011