“No respect for human dignity”: Remembering China’s 709 Crackdown

On 9 July 2015 the Chinese authorities began an extensive crackdown on human rights defenders (HRDs) and their friends and family members. Dubbed the ‘709 Crackdown’ after the date on which it began, the campaign saw over 300 lawyers, activists and their associates detained, interrogated or imprisoned.

Some of those detained have since vanished into China’s prison system. Many others have since been released, and with them have emerged reports of physical and psychological torture, including frequent beatings, sleep deprivation, forced medication, violent threats, and prolonged isolation. One of those released is human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who was finally reunited with his family in April 2020 after serving nearly five years in prison. During his imprisonment, Wang suffered several health issues, losing approximately 30 pounds and showing signs of memory loss.

Five years since the crackdown began, pressure on HRDs in China continues to increase, with some forced to scale back their work on ‘sensitive’ cases or leave the profession entirely. Today we reflect on the crackdown, and its repercussions which continue to be felt across China, in the words of those who lived through it:

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On 4 June We Remember…

On 4 June 1989 Chinese army troops brutally supressed peaceful protests for freedom and democracy, killing and wounding thousands of people in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, in what has become one of the most infamous days in China’s history.

31 years on, the current human rights situation is itself a tragedy. The Chinese Communist Party continues to violate the rights of citizens across the country, stamping out dissent, stifling freedom of expression, and tightening its stranglehold on the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Today we remember all those who lost their lives in the bloodshed and stand with their families as they continue to seek justice. We also remember those who have since been targeted by China’s oppressive regime, and urge the international community to hold China to account for severe violations of human rights.

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Instead of gossiping about the Kim dynasty, the world should focus on North Korea’s human rights atrocities

By Benedict Rogers

One of the very few non-COVID-19 stories that hit the headlines last month was the rumoured near-death of North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-Un. For almost three weeks the speculation grew that he was dying or had died, and the discussion around who would succeed him reached near-fever pitch. Would it be his sister Kim Yo-jong? But would conservative North Korea be ready for a female leader? Would it be a senior military leader? But then what would that do to the regime’s credibility in the eyes of the North Korean people, if the Kim dynastic succession was broken?

But then, almost as mysteriously as he disappeared, the man known as “the Dear Leader” re-emerged, opening a fertilizer plant outside Pyongyang. Precisely what had happened remains known only to the core leadership of the world’s most secretive state. There was no shortage of rumours. It was suggested that he may have had surgery, that he may have had coronavirus, that he may simply have escaped Pyongyang to avoid infection and even that he had been injured in a missile test. But will we ever know?

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Burma’s much needed ceasefire presents a valuable opportunity, provided the military keeps its promises

By Benedict Rogers

Burma’s Cardinal Bo has repeatedly called for peace for a long time. In a statement last month in support of Pope Francis’ plea for a global ceasefire, he warned that during the COVID-19 pandemic continued armed conflict in Burma (officially known as Myanmar) would have “catastrophic consequences for our nation.”

He urged the military – known as the Tatmadaw – and ethnic armed resistance groups to “lay down all weapons and acts of aggression. Be armed instead with sincerity and truth. Let us take the more difficult path of overcoming differences face to face with courage and intelligence. Don’t hide humanity behind guns. In the end that is sheer weakness.”

The Cardinal, who is also President of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, argued that: “Soldiers are unnecessarily endangered by exposure to the unseen viral assassin. Civilians are endangered, even by bombardments purportedly aimed at military targets. Peace negotiations are endangered by continued aggressive threats. An economy under severe strain is put at risk by military adventures. Any spike in contagion in IDP camps, among detained persons, or in crowded spaces, gravely threatens the surrounding populations as well.”

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Language matters: What is terrorism?

Academic and terrorism researcher David Tucker once wrote: “Above the gates of hell is the warning that all that enter should abandon hope. Less dire but to the same effect is the warning given to those who try to define terrorism.”[1] Today, his words still aptly describe the continuing search by states and international bodies for a definition of terrorism.

A search for consensus

The United Nations (UN) has made several attempts to provide a general definition of terrorism, in contrast to describing specific acts of terrorism. It had a degree of success in the 1990s, with some progress made towards a general definition. In 1994 the non-binding ‘Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism,’ endorsed by the UN General Assembly, defined terrorism as  “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes.”

This was followed by a 1996 General Assembly Resolution 51/210, which established an ad hoc Committee to find a Draft Comprehensive Convention. However, when the Committee presented its report, the proposed definition was met with controversy and disquiet in the ad hoc Committee.

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