Wednesday, December 16, 2015

CHINA: What's Black and White and Lives Behind Bars?

Bei Bei (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A legendary character in our family was the cat we had in the years before I was born. It was black and white, and was named "Newark News."

My father's father -- also Joseph Thomas Scarry -- had been an editor at the once-prestigious Newark Evening News, and so I guess we felt a kind of protective instinct for the Fourth Estate.

I thought of our beloved Newark News when I saw a picture of another black and white critter this morning -- the newest panda at the National Zoo, Bei Bei.

I guess Newark News leaped to mind because I was holding a clipping entitled, "China Is Leading Jailer of Journalists, Group Says," by Rick Gladstone in yesterday's New York Times, and I had been wondering what to say about it on my blog. I had come up with several ideas, but this crystallized it all for me.

When you hear "panda," think "China jails journalists" . . .

China is brilliant at conducting diplomacy and promoting friendship in "soft" ways. By providing breeding pandas to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, China has assured intermittent reinforcement of the notion that when you think "China," you should think "soft, cuddly, cute, adorable" . . . .

That's fine as far as it goes. I think China's "soft and cuddly" PR provides a necessary counterweight to the idea that China is a military threat, and that the US needs to be an even bigger military threat to "contain" China.  At the same time, it's not fine if people can't also hold in their heads the opposing idea that the Chinese government harms individuals and its whole society by persecuting journalists.

And pandas? The inconvenient thing about symbols is that they can cut both ways.

Yes, pandas are soft, cuddly, cute, and adorable . . . .

They're also black and white and live behind bars.

So, I would suggest, when you hear "panda," think "China jails journalists" . . .

Read the Committee to Protect Journalists 2015 report, and specifics about the 49 journalists who have been jailed in China.

I'll be using social media to spread the story of one of these 49 journalists every day. (Updates to follow . . . . )

Liu Xiaobo
Update: December 17, 2015

Number 4 on the CPJ list is the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, imprisoned in China since 2009. I wrote about him at that time.

There is a robust social media campaign working for justice for Liu. See, for instance: @free_liu_xiaobo @liuxiaobo and @freeliuxiaobo.

Update: December 18, 2015

There is an especially urgent need today for the world to be able to be able to receive frank reporting about the conflict between people in the western region of China and the Chinese government. Of particular concern to people in the US and Europe is the way in which the Chinese government more and more invokes the "global war on terror" and growing Western anti-Muslim sentiment to get away with abrogating civil rights and trampling press freedoms. (See CHINA: Where Minority Nostalgia is One Thing, Minority POLITICS Quite Another )

Eight of the journalists on the CPJ list are involved in reporting on developments in western China - the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region:

Ilham Tohti
Ilham Tohti
Perhat Halmurat
Shohret Nijat
Luo Yuwei
Mutellip Imin
Abduqeyum Ablimit
Atikem Rozi
Akbar Imin

Tohti is the founder of Uighurbiz/UighurOnline; the other seven are students of Tohti imprisoned after a secret trial for working on Uighurbiz/UighurOnline.

Connect to the social media effort in support of these prisoners via Ilham Tohti's daughter @JewherIlham; the writers' groups @pen_int, @PENamerican, and @chinesepen_org; and human rights organizations like @hrw_chinese and @amnestyHK.

(More on China's state repression of news about Uyghur affairs: "China didn't like Ursula Gauthier's reporting — so it is kicking her out of the country. . . . " see Emily Rauhala in the Washington Post, December 26, 2015: "China expels French journalist for terrorism coverage.")

Update: December 19, 2015

Yesterday I wrote about eight of the imprisoned journalists on the CPJ list who are associated with reporting about the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region via Uighurbiz/UighurOnline.

Gheyrat Niyaz (Hailaite Niyazi)
There are seven more who are also involved in reporting on Xinjiang and Uyghur affairs:

The common thread in most or all of these cases: reporting about demonstrations in Xinjiang -- including instances of rioting. Apparently reporting about protest is treated as "incitement," and transmitting reportage out of the country is "revealing state secrets."

The silencing of this large number of journalists raises a very fundamental question: What is really happening in Xinjiang? People and businesses with interests in China need to be concerned . . . .

The cases of all of these journalists are monitored by the @UyghurCongress. The Uyghur American Association / Uyghur Human Rights Project (@uaauhrp) is also an advocacy organization in these cases.

Update: December 20, 2015

My principal involvement with China has been through business, and I think the most likely advocate for press freedom in China ultimately should be the business and investment community. That's why I asked several years ago, "Will the global investment community continue to yawn at developments in China? Sadly, they seem to think Liu Xiaobo and a few stray intellectuals are the only victims. Unfortunately, the real prisoner's dilemma is theirs . . . ." (See Merry Christmas, Mr. Liu: The Prisoner's Dilemma in China)

Nine of the journalists on the CPJ list are associated with a specialized business and investment media group - 21st Century Media Group. To be clear: business needs to support all journalism, because all journalism bears on the knowledge needed for business. In any event, if influential businesses need any prodding to push for press freedom in China, the case of these 21st Century Media Group journalists is it.

Shen Hao
The names of the jailed journalists are:

Liu Hui
Zhou Bin
Liu Dong
Wang Zhuoming
Xia Xiaobo
Shen Hao
Chen Bin
Xia Ri
Luo Guanghui

It seems like an appropriate place to mention that a major Chinese corporation, Ali Baba, has purchased the leading English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post. It's time for businesses around the world to read the handwriting on the wall: their sources of truth about China are drying up, and that places them in a position of unacceptable risk.

Want to advocate for these journalists in China? Start by asking your investment adviser whether s/he has any confidence in the news they're receiving about China and its business developments . . . .

Update: December 21, 2015

Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang
Five of the journalists on the CPJ list are associated with Tibet:

Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang
Gartse Jigme
Dawa Tsomo

Tibet is a very important place. The government of China has long thought so, and observers in the West are beginning to develop a deeper understanding of this fact, as well.

However, Tibet gets intermittent attention in the Western media, at best, and the coverage it does get usually focuses on the exotic aspects of Tibetan culture and religion. Add to that the fact that numerous journalists who might otherwise be reporting on dissent in Tibet proper (as well as ethnic Tibetan areas in other parts of China) are in prison, and it becomes clear that the story is not getting to people.

Advocacy for the cases of the Tibetan journalists is carried out by organizations like @tchrd_, @SaveTibetOrg, @icpc_eng, and @CHRDnet.

Update: December 22, 2015

Jiang Yefei
Today, as the world learns of the devastating mudslide in Shenzhen that has buried dozens, it is an appropriate time to lift up the names of two of the journalists on the CPJ list who symbolize the importance of freedom of the press to report on and question government handling of disasters, and to report on environmental issues.

Number 45 on the list is journalist Ye Xiaozheng. He was prosecuted specifically for reporting on protests about environmental issues in Guangdong -- the southern province of China of which Shenzhen is a part. You can read more about Ye Xiaozheng on the Independent Chinese PEN Center website.

Number 49 on the list is cartoonist Jiang Yefei. A key aspect of his case is that he moved away from his home in Sichuan province after being persecuted for his criticism of the government's handling of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.  You can read about his case in a Human Rights Watch letter and in an Amnesty International campaign.

Yao Wentian
Update: December 23, 2015

At the opposite end of Guangdong province from Shenzhen, in northern Guangdong, lies the city of Shaoguang. Two of the journalists on the CPJ list -- Liu Wei'an and Hu Yazhu -- are jailed in apparent retaliation for their reporting on mineral extraction in Shaoguang.

Also imprisoned in Guangdong is Yao Wentian, head of Morning Bell Press in Hong Kong, which publishes books about government figures in China.

Update: December 24, 2015

It is time to speak of the Epoch Times.

In my neighborhood of Berkeley, California, there are newspaper boxes on many street corners with free copies of the Epoch Times. I read it every week.

Yang Tongyan
The Epoch Times is a publication of Falun Gong. Falun Gong is a group which combines meditation and Buddhist thought, holistic health practices, antagonism to the government of China, and extremely determined devotion. There is a significant history of conflict between the government of China and Falun Gong.

Two journalists who have been jailed in China and are part of the the CPJ list -- Yang Tongyan and Qi Chonghuai -- have apparently been targeted (at least in part) because of pieces they have written for the Epoch Times.

I plan to write in more detail about the Epoch Times and Falun Gong. For now I'll just say: the suppression of voices like those of Yang and Qi underlines the fundamental difference between China and the US with respect to freedom of expression. The government of China doesn't like the message of the Epoch Times, so it seeks to silence it. In the US -- at least in theory -- all kinds of messages get to see the light of day, and audiences get to use their brains to sort it all out.

Related posts

Despite the difficulties associated with engaging in effective solidarity with dissidents in China, it is important to make the effort. A fundamental tenet of all peace and justice activism is that if we have the power to speak we can do anything, and if "they" succeed in shutting us up, it's the beginning of the end.

(See What is the US Peace and Justice Movement Doing for Dissidents in China?)

Beijing has an intuitive understanding that, in a way that is determined by conditions of unequal information, it can monolithically dictate terms, and that other, "distributed," parties will be hard-pressed to stand up to those terms. Specifically, Beijing observes a cynical cost/benefit calculus which says, "Sure, a few players will always wise up and exercise their options to move away from us; but, by and large, everyone else is too paralyzed to move."

(See Merry Christmas, Mr. Liu: The Prisoner's Dilemma in China)

"There's one thing you don't understand," he said. "What you are calling 'the best and the brightest,' the leaders in China call 'troublemakers.; A hundred thousand Ph.D.'s stay behind in the U.S.? Two hundred thousand? A million? Fine! Let them! There's more where that came from! China's got nothing if not people!"

(See Why Beijing Always "Wins")

Make no mistake: Sandy was a high-powered lawyer with a high-powered lobbying firm. In that setting, Sandy was a big mahoff. But what made him really big was his ability to help the rest of us have the confidence to raise our voices.

(See REMEMBERING SANDY: Samuel Berger, 1945-2015 )