politics of cyberspace
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is urging Chinese authorities to immediately release journalist Zhang Zhan, drop any charges against her, and ensure that the media can cover the coronavirus pandemic without fear of arrest. Zhang, an independent video journalist who had been posting reports from Wuhan on Twitter and YouTube since early February, went missing in the city on May 14, one day after she published a video critical of the government's countermeasures to contain the virus, according to news reports. On May 15, the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau issued a notice stating that Zhang had been arrested and detained for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," and was being held at the Pudong Xinqu Detention Center. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison, according to the Chinese criminal code.
As strongmen around the world exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to grab extraordinary powers, even democratic countries are putting unprecedented police-state measure into place in the supposed interest of a return to "normality." In the latter category is New Zealand, where a bill has been passed giving police sweeping powers to enter homes without warrants while enforcing new "Alert Level 2" rules. The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act creates a new corps of "enforcement officers" to track social contacts among the populace and conduct raids on the premises of suspected violators. (NZH)
In Episode 51 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg rants against the dangerous, irresponsible and politically weaponized claims being avidly propagated about COVID-19. In addition to paving the way for Facebook and other platforms being given greater power to censor content, these claims serve to delegitimize any critique of actual abuses of power by the medical establishment, government and corporations. Worse, claims originating from social-media trolls and the yellow press are being weaponized by the US State Department and Chinese Foreign Ministry as propaganda in their New Cold War. Whether the virus originated in a Chinese government lab in Wuhan or the US government lab at Fort Detrick is probably unknowable, and of limited relevance to the dilemma of how to resist the fast-consolidating biological police state. Listen on SoundCloud.
Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court announced on April 25 that it has abolished flogging as a form of punishment, part of a series of reforms to advance human rights in the kingdom. These reforms follow "unprecedented international criticism" that Saudi Arabia received in 2019 for its human rights record, which included 184 executions, 84 of which were for non-violent drug crimes. Court-ordered floggings sometimes extended to hundreds of lashes, and the punishment could be imposed for offenses ranging from extramarital sex and breach of the peace to murder. In the future, the courts will have to choose between fines, imprisonment, or non-custodial alternatives, such as community service.
Speaking April 14 at COVIDCon, an online Oslo Freedom Forum event presented by the Human Rights Foundation, exiled Chinese dissident Yang Jianli of the DC-based Citizen Power Initiatives for China charged that the death toll for Wuhan, the city where the COVID-19 outbreak began, was massively under-counted by authorities. In a talk entitled "The Chinese Communist Party: Savior or Culprit?," Yang portrayed a far-reaching cover-up by the Beijing regime. Citing his monitoring of social media, Yang said that as Xi Jinping visited Wuhan on March 10, "endless Wuhan residents pleaded for help online, saying hospitals were overflowing and their family members were turned away and left to die at home. Nobody knows how many people died before managing to get to hospitals."
At least 27 are dead in five days of communal violence in Delhi that coincided with Donald Trump's first visit to India as president. The violence began as protests against India's new citizenship law sparked a reaction by Hindu militants, who began attacking Muslims and torching Muslim-owned shops. Delhi judicial authorities have opened an investigation, and ordered police officials to view video clips of incitement by local leaders of the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). (Jurist, India Today)
"Citizen journalists" and "netizens" in China who are critical of the government's handling of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak are apparently being "disappeared." Winning most attention are two cases from Wuhan, infamously the epicenter of the outbreak. Wuhan businessman Fang Bin was posting videos to YouTube (presumably through a VPN) to "report on the actual situation here," with one on Feb. 1 seeming to show eight corpses piled in a minibus outside a hospital, going viral. On Feb. 9, he posted a 13-second video with the words "All people revolt—hand the power of the government back to the people." After that, the account went silent. The other is Chen Qiushi, a human rights lawyer turned video journalist who built a reputation through his coverage of the Hong Kong protests last year and in late January traveled to Wuhan to report on the situation. He visited hospitals in the stricken city, looking at the desperate conditions and speaking with patients. Then, on Feb. 7, a video was shared on his Twitter account (currently managed by a friend) featuring his mother, who said he had gone missing the day before. His friend, Xu Xiaodong, later claimed in a YouTube video that he had been forcibly quarantined. (BBC News, Feb. 14)
At least eight people were killed, dozens injured and nearly 50 homes and shops set on fire in ethnic clashes that broke out in a border region of Kazakhstan Feb. 8. The fighting was centered in Masanchi village in Kordai district of southern Zhambyl province (also rendered Jambyl), near the border with Kyrgyzstan. Ethnic Kazakhs reportedly set upon members of the Dungan minority group and Hui Muslims, related groups that migrated from China in the 19th century and are more numerous across the border in Kyrgyzstan. Rioters also fought with police when they tried to intervene. While it is unclear what sparked the violence, rumors and incitement on social media appear to have played a role. Interior Minister Yerlan Turgumbayev said: "Provocateurs...called for violence through social networks. Hooligans used rebar, stones and other implements. Police officers sustained numerous injuries, two received gunshot wounds. Seven people have been detained and two hunting rifles have been confiscated." (BBC News, Al Jazeera, Reuters, EurasiaNet)