Former Boston Indymedia reporter among ten foreigners detained in China

Former Boston Indymedia journalist and media activist Bryan Conley, founder of grassroots media videoblog Alive in Baghdad, is one of six US citizens detained in China for covering actions of Students for a Free Tibet during the Olympics. The other five pro-Tibet activists are Jeffrey Rae, Jeff Goldin, Michael Liss, Tom Grant, and James Powderly. On Aug. 21, the Chinese government handed them and four other European activists a 10-day detention sentence.

Activists in Beijing have been organizing actions since the games started, to draw attention on the Tibetan independence movement. The actions have included unfurling banners on public places and providing space for Tibetans to speak out. But China's crackdown on Tibetans and activists alike has been relentless.

For example, on August 19, five activists posted a banner spelling out "Free Tibet" in English and Chinese in bright blue LED "throwie" lights in Beijing’s Olympic Park. All five—Amy Johnson, 33, Sam Corbin, 24, Liza Smith, 31, Jacob Blumenfeld, 26, and Lauren Valle, 21—were arrested.

In an amazing set of coordinated actions, people from Tibet, Canada, Germany, England, and the US, among other countries, have continued to bring Tibet to light during these games. So far most foreigners caught doing activism during the Olympic games were immediately deported from China. The detention sentence of these people is a new development in the government's control tactics.

"The Chinese government is desperate to turn the world's attention away from its abuses in Tibet as the Olympics take place, but the creativity and determination of Tibetans and their supporters has once again ensured that Tibetan voices are heard and seen in Beijing despite the massive security clampdown," said Tenzin Dorjee, deputy director of Students for a Free Tibet.

Tibetans themselves have it much harder. According to a Free Tibet 2008 press release, over one thousand Tibetan monks from the three main monasteries around Lhasa were imprisoned in jails and detention centers one month before the Olympics started. Lhasa itself was under virtual martial law to parade the Olympic torch through streets lined with thousands of Chinese troops.

According to Amnesty International, one of many human rights organizations whose web sites have been censored in China right before the Olympics, "Those who have made connections between human rights and the Olympics have been specifically targeted in the pre-Olympics 'clean up'. The police have also used control, surveillance and arbitrary detention against members of activists' families, in an apparent attempt to apply more pressure."

In an interview with Free Tibet 2008 TV, Eowyn Reike said that the kind of grassroots journalism that her husband, Brian Conley, provides is critical "to provide documentation of struggles that people who would otherwise would not be able to get the word out about their oppression." In 2005, Conley began the Alive in Baghdad project which provides Iraqis with cameras to help them produce a weekly news program distributed via RSS.

Eowyn has not been able to communicate with her husband since his sentencing.

From Boston Indymedia, Aug. 22

See our last post on China and Tibet.

Beijing pulls bait-and-switch on would-be protesters

This was on the front page of the New York Times Aug. 19, but just in case anyone missed it...

Would-Be Protesters Detained in China
BEIJING — When Gao Chuancai slipped into the capital last week hoping to stage a one-man rally against corruption in his village in northeast China, he knew his chances of success were slim.

During his decade-long crusade, Mr. Gao, a 45-year-old farmer from Heilongjiang Province, had been jailed a dozen times. Two beatings by the police left him with broken bones and shattered his teeth, he said, but did little to temper his drive.

The government’s recent announcement that preapproved protests would be allowed at three sites during the Olympic Games gave him a wisp of hope. Two weeks ago he mailed in his application, and last week he came to Beijing to follow up. During a visit to the Public Security Bureau on Wednesday, the police interviewed him for an hour and then told him to return in five days for his answer. "They'll probably arrest me when I go back," he said afterward.

Mr. Gao did not have to wait very long. A few hours later, he was picked up by the authorities and escorted back to Heilongjiang. On Monday, his son, Gao Jiaqing, in the family's village, Xingyi, said he had not heard from him.

A man who picked up the phone at the Wanggang police station, near Xingyi, acknowledged that Mr. Gao was being detained at a local hotel. "He's under our control now," said the officer, Wang Zhuang.

Mr. Gao's ill-fated odyssey is not unlike the journeys of other would-be demonstrators who responded to the government's notice that protest zones would be set up during the Games. At least three other applicants are in custody. Two, Ji Sizun and Tang Xuecheng, were seized during the interview process at the Public Security Bureau, according to human rights activists.

On Monday, 10 days into the Games, the government had yet to permit a single demonstration in any of the official protest zones. According to a report on Monday by Xinhua, the official news agency, 77 applications have been received since Aug. 1, from 149 people.

All but three applications, however, were withdrawn after the authorities satisfactorily addressed the petitioners' concerns, Xinhua said. Two of the remaining requests were rejected because the applicants failed to provide adequate information, and the last was rejected after the authorities determined it violated laws on demonstrations.

See our last post on the peasants' struggle in China.

China: not "totalitarian state"?

In an Aug. 17 op-ed, "Malcontents Need Not Apply," Times columnist Nicholas Kristof calls out the bait-and-switch routine—but, reflecting US elite ambivalence about its rival and partner in globalization, paradoxically denies that China is a "totalitarian state." He is called out on this equivocation on the letters page Aug 23 by one of the detained American protesters:

To the Editor:

Re "Malcontents Need Not Apply," by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, Aug. 17):

Imagine my surprise to learn from Mr. Kristof that China is "no longer a totalitarian state."

If he could somehow share this with the many thousands of Tibetan political prisoners, they would be gladdened to hear it.

Also, please pass the word to the undercover policemen who punched and kicked me on Aug. 10 while I stood near Tiananmen Square holding a banner reading "Tibetans Are Dying for Freedom."

Adam Zenko

San Francisco, Aug. 20, 2008

The writer is a member of Students for a Free Tibet.

Thanks for taking the TIbet issue seriously

I am glad to hear this. It seems the NYC indymedia site ignores the Tibet issue, and if someone says anything about human rights in Tibet the idiot left comes out in full force with stupid irrelevant comments.

Beijing bait-and-switch continues...

Nobody's paying any attention any more. This story was buried at the bottom of page 11 in the New York Times Jan. 16:

Would-Be Olympic Protester Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison
BEIJING — A legal advocate who was arrested after applying to hold a protest in Beijing during the Olympic Games in August has been sentenced to three years in prison, said a lawyer who has been asked to represent the man in the appeals process.

The advocate, Ji Sizun, 58, was sentenced on Jan. 7 by a judge in the city of Fuzhou for forging official seals and documents, the lawyer, Lin Kaihua, said Thursday.

Mr. Ji was one of many victims of a tactic employed by the central government during the Beijing Olympics that has angered human rights advocates and has raised questions about whether the International Olympic Committee should have put more pressure on the Chinese government to respect human rights and freedom of speech.

In the prelude to the Games, the government announced that it had designated three parks in Beijing as legal protest zones and that anyone could apply to hold protests in them. When people did apply, however, their requests were ignored or they were detained and arrested.

The government did not allow a single protest to be held in any of the parks. In the most infamous incident of would-be protesters being arrested, two women in their 70s were detained for applying to hold a protest over a land dispute. The women were sentenced to re-education through labor, a punishment handed down to dissidents without judicial review.

Mr. Ji, from the coastal province of Fujian, met with a similar fate. He arrived in Beijing planning to hold a protest against government corruption, an issue that angers many Chinese and that undermines the legitimacy of the government.

On Aug. 9, Mr. Ji went to the Deshengmenwai police station to apply for a permit to protest at the Purple Bamboo Park, one of the three designated protest areas. Mr. Ji had several reporters accompany him because he feared being arrested. He tried to submit his application but was questioned intensely by police officers. The reporters who accompanied him said they were harassed. Mr. Ji left the station that day, but returned two days later to check on the status of his application. The police arrested him then.

He was sentenced by the Taijiang District People's Court in Fuzhou. No one answered the telephone at the court when calls were made seeking comment on Thursday.

Mr. Lin, the lawyer, said that Mr. Ji had asked for his representation during the appeals process but had yet to raise the money to pay the legal fees.

For those who know their history, this is a tactic pioneered by the Great Helmsman, whose Hundred Flowers Movement of the late '50s, a supposed invitation to free discourse and dissent, was immediately followed by the Anti-Rightist Movement of the early '60s, in which those who took the bait and revealed themselves were purged, imprisoned or worse. Only at least under Mao, it was being done in the interests of totalitarian Communism. Now it is being done in the interests of totalitarian state capitalism.

Daily News

This was mentioned on the editorial page of todays NY Daily News

> Only at least under Mao, it was being done in the interests of totalitarian Communism.

You are implying here that totalitarian Communism is less bad then totalitarian state capitalism? Having spoken to people who lived through the 60s in China I would disagree.

China's new boss

I was being partially facetious. But my point is that China now has the worst of both worlds. At least under Mao, if you kept your head down and didn't happen to fall victim to ultra-left hubris like the Great Leap Forward, you were guaranteed a certain amount of social security. There were no political freedoms, but the peasants had access to land and the workers had guaranteed employment. Now there are still no political freedoms (to speak of)—and the peasants are getting their lands ripped off to build McMansions for the elite, and the workers are reduced to a migrant labor force for the export-factory zones, living in shanty-towns and getting shunted around from boss to boss. Meanwhile the Idiot Right that hates China and the Idiot Left that loves it both labor under the illusion that it is still Communist...

China past and future

> At least under Mao, if you kept your head down and didn't happen to fall victim to ultra-left hubris like the Great Leap Forward, you were guaranteed a certain amount of social security. There were no political freedoms, but the peasants had access to land and the workers had guaranteed employment.

The crazed modernizations of the 50s and the crazed, uh, crazies of the sixties were heinous beyond defense. Whether your land is being seized for 'the good of the people' or to open a Nike factory is probably academic when history rolls over you, and while I usually take the time to mention China Labor Watch and agree that the Capitalist uglies have descended on the populace, Mao-ism, in general, was a human rights disaster on a spectacular scale and is entirely indefensible.

I said to a Chinese woman, a big fan of Capitalism, maybe the Chinese can learn from our mistakes. She agreed but had no interest looking back on the days where politics wasn't even discussed out of terror and pointed out that housing was guaranteed and everyone had enough to eat, issues that on the street trumped my Western armchair political theorizing.

The labor situation in China is yet another in a long line of reasons to roll back the global supply chain. That could be moved along with international labor solidarity but I'm not holding my breath.

Not defending Mao, but... was being distributed to the peasants under Mao (albeit in massive, undemocratic state-controlled communes, especially during the Great Leap Froward) and taken away from the warlords and oligarchs of the old order. Now it is being taken away from the peasants, and delivered back into the hands of bureaucrats and oligarchs of the new order. Like I said, the worst of both worlds.

Not defending current situation but ...

... peasants starved in great numbers under Mao as well as the political brutalities. Unclear what being 'given' some land, in abstract, means under those circumstances. The current order is not good but less brutal.

Land is not "abstract."

Not when you need to grow rice in order to eat. Peasants starved in great numbers during the reckless experiments and massive forced collectivization of the Great Leap Forward, which even many Maoists will today acknowledge as "errors." For 20 years before that, Mao built his base of support precisely by giving the peasants enough land to feed themselves. Rural self-sufficiency was how they beat the Japanese and the Nationalists, remember? And after the excesses of the Great Leap Forward, access to land continued to be Mao's pillar of power, allowing him to prevail over the "capitalist roaders." The current order is less brutal than Maoism's most brutal and misguided period—but that's not saying much, and I'm not sure it's fair to judge Mao's long career (1931-1976) solely by the disaster of 1958. As big as that disaster was.

and the 60s

If you add in the insane excesses of the 60s the numbers get even larger. Less brutal is saying something if you live there and aren't just reading about it which was my Chinese friends point.


That's what Mad Magazine called the Cultural Revolution. Definitely pathological excesses in the '60s, but the peasants weren't starving then, as they were in the Great Leap Forward.


That's good!