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Sri Lanka’s Record of Abuses

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 18, 2009


Sri Lanka Fails to Protect its Citizens’ Fundamental Human Rights

  • Extrajudicial Killings
  • State Responsibility for Enforced Disappearances
  • Arbitrary arrests and Detention
  • Torture
  • Forcible Returns of IDPs
  • Threats to Journalists and Media Restrictions
  • Recruitment of Child Soldiers
  • Safety of Humanitarian Workers
  • Culture of Impunity


Extrajudicial Killings:  
“Police and military investigations into the killing of Tamils [and] ddeaths in custody have too often been poorly handled and remarkably few convictions have resulted. . . . from November 2004 to October 2005 the police [fatally] shot at least 22 criminal suspects after taking them into custody. . . . in one of these cases had an internal police inquiry been opened.”

– Report of U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston on his mission to Sri Lanka from 28 November to 6 December 2005” March 27, 2006. (UN Document: E/CN.4/2006/53/Add.5)


“[D]uring 2006, witnesses in Mutur identified to the Magistrate most of the perpetrators of more than 20 incidents of murder and abduction. The Police in Mutur arrested no one.”

“Can the East be Won through Human Culling?” University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna),Special report No 26, August 3, 2007.


“[T] the army – assisted by pro-government Tamil paramilitaries – is also engaged in a deliberate policy of extrajudicial killings and abductions of Tamils considered part of LTTE’s civilian support network. Targeted assassinations have been particularly frequent in Jaffna and parts of the east, often victimising civilians with no connection to the LTTE.”

“Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Crisis” International Crisis Group Report, June 14, 2007.




TNA parliamentarians meet Indian Foreign Minister

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 14, 2009


A team of five Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarians met the new Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna on Thursday and discussed matters related to the release of the three doctors and a TNA parliamentarian who rendered invaluable service to the beleaguered people to the very end of war, demilitarization of Tamil areas, resettlement and rehabilitation of civilians in the internment camps and grant amnesty to LTTE carders in captivity, TNA circles told TamilNet. The parliamentarians met National Security Advisor M K Narayanan on Wednesday and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon on Tuesday before the meeting with Mr. S M Krishna. They also met the leader of the opposition L. K. Advani on Friday.


TNA parliamentarians meeting Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna


Dr. Sathyamoorthy, Dr. Varatharajah and Dr. Shanmugarajah are the three Tamil doctors who braved a situation in serving the people that none of the international organizations and the world’s charities could not face and Mr. Kanagaratnam is the parliamentarian representing Mullaiththeevu who preferred to stay with his people throughout their misery. They have not violated any laws but are in the custody of the Sri Lanka government and are investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department and Terrorist Investigation Department.

The Indian Foreign Minister was urged to secure their release at the earliest by the TNA parliamentarians.

The MPs briefed Mr. Krishna of the humiliation and harassment faced by Tamil civilians in their homeland by the presence of Sinhala armed forces. As the LTTE does not exist any longer as a conventional military force, the intrusion of armed forces into the life of Tamil civilians must come to an end, the MPs said adding that new armed forces camps should not be allowed to be pursued and all military facilities that came up after the commencement of the armed conflict should be dismantled early.

Saying that the camps set by the Colombo government are nothing but ‘concentration camps’ and there is secrecy and lack of transparency in resettlement an rehabilitation, the MPs pointed out the Sinhala Task Force appointed by the Colombo government for this purpose and the talk of settling Sinhalese or Sinhala armed forces in the Tamil areas captured by Sinhala armed forces.

The TNA parliamentarians also urged that the LTTE cadres now in captivity should be treated in accordance to international laws applicable to combatants, should be handled with the participation of the ICRC and the precedence set by granting amnesty to the JVP should be followed in the case of the LTTE cadres too.

TNA Parliamentary Group Leader R. Sampanthan, Ilankai Tamil Arasuk Kadchi General Secretary Mavai Senathirajah, All Ceylon Tamil Congress General secretary G.G. Ponnampalam, Eelam People Revolutionary Liberation Front General secretary Suresh Premachandran and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization President Selvam Adaikalanathan were the TNA parliamentarians who met the Indian Foreign Minister Thursday.


TNA parliamentarians with Indian Opposition Leader L. K. Advani

11 journalists killed, 50 abducted since 2005 – UNP parliamentarian

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 13, 2009


“Eleven journalists have been killed while fifty have been abducted from 2005 up to now,” Joseph Michael Perera, Gampaha district parliamentarian and United National Party (UNP) Chief Whip said in Sri Lanka parliament presenting a special report Wednesday morning, sources in Colombo said. Meanwhile, five media organizations staged a protest demonstration Wednesday around 3:00 p.m in Colombo Vihara Mahadevi Park, condemning the abduction of and assault on journalist Bothala Jeyantha.

Hundreds of media persons along with opposition parliamentarians participated in the above demonstration which concluded around 4:30 p.m with a meeting held in J. R. Jayawardene Hall close by.

Five media organizations including Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), Ceylon Tamil Journalists Alliance (SLTJA) and Free Media Movement (FMM) had jointly organized the protest demonstration.

UNP Kurunagala district parliamentarian, Dayasiri Dayasekara, Mangala Samaraweera, convener SLFP(M), Dr. Vickrmabahu Karunaratne, leader of New Leftist Front were some of the prominent political personages who participated in the demonstration.




“State terrorism is threatening the media,” Mangala Samaraweera said in his speech.

Joseph Michael Perera extended a request in the Parliament Wednesday to appoint a special committee to investigate into the attacks on journalists.

He continued to say that eleven journalists have been killed and fifty journalists abducted since 2005 and added that the government had done nothing to protect the journalists and it had neither arrested nor produced anyone before the law in this issue.

Minister Anura Priyatharsana, however, in response said that there was no need to appoint a special committee as investigations are being made into the attacks against journalists.




Grounds for dissent in a KL coffee party

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 10, 2009


small_cup_of_coffeeKUALA LUMPUR, June 10 — Dressed in black, the colour of protest, 200 activists sat at cafe tables quietly drinking coffee — black, of course. Bewildered, police stood outside and watched the coffee drinkers without interfering.

The protest at three cafes in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, was their way around a ban on unauthorised protests. It was the latest twist in a row over the governing National Front coalition’s seizure of power in Perak state.

“Police were coming down hard on us and so we used this unique way to protest and tell people to demand an election in Perak,” said Wong Chin Huat, a protest leader and academic at the city’s Monash University campus. “We managed to send the message across.”

However, Sunday’s protest — which the academic called a “mild form” of civil disobedience — did not last long. Within half an hour, the managers of the cafes – outlets of the popular Old Town White Coffee chain — had ushered the protesters and other customers out the door. A spokeswoman said the three were shutting temporarily for “regular maintenance and renovations”.

She said it was unfair of protesters to use the chain’s outlets for the protest. “We have loyal patrons who are unhappy with so many people suddenly appearing all wearing black, which we associate with death. This is very bad for business.”

Undeterred, pro-opposition NGOs yesterday announced they would repeat the protest tomorrow — at seven Old Town outlets in the capital and Penang. The protesters, who announced the location of the protests via the social networking website Facebook, urged the coffee company not to close the outlets.

“We are only drinking coffee and paying for it,” one protest leader said. “They make money, we get our message across.”

This time, police will be waiting for them. “We are monitoring the targeted outlets and if necessary will arrest any person wearing black as they approach the outlets,” a police spokesman said. — South China Morning Post

Mercy plea for held US reporters

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 9, 2009


Journalists Euna Lee (L) and Laura Ling

The families of two US journalists held in North Korea have pleaded with the authorities there to set the pair free.

In a statement, relatives of Euna Lee and Laura Ling said reports that the women had been sentenced to 12 years in a labour camp were “devastating”.

They were convicted of entering the North illegally while filming at the Chinese border in March.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the government was “pursuing every possible approach” to free the women.

Their trial was held amid growing tensions over North Korea’s nuclear programme, but Mrs Clinton stressed that the two issues were “entirely separate”.

‘Show compassion’

The families of Ms Ling and Ms Lee said they were worried about the “mental state and wellbeing” of the two women.

In a joint statement, the families said: “We ask the government of North Korea to show compassion and grant Laura and Euna clemency and allow them to return home to their families.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visits a factory in Tanchon, in an undated photo released on 6 June

“We remain hopeful that the governments of the United States and North Korea can come to an agreement that will result in the release of the girls.”

The statement said Ms Ling suffered from an ulcer and that Ms Lee had a four-year-old daughter who was “displaying signs of anguish”.

“We believe that the three months they have already spent under arrest with little communication with their families is long enough,” the statement said.

After a short trial, the North’s official news agency KCNA said on Monday that the women had committed a “grave crime” and would be sentenced to 12 years of “reform through labour”.

KCNA gave no further details.

Bargaining chip?

The pair were arrested by North Korean guards on 17 March while working on the China-North Korea border on a story about refugees for California-based internet broadcaster Current TV.

Some reports have suggested that the women did not stray over the border but were seized by North Korean border guards who crossed into Chinese territory.

The pair have been held in detention since their arrest.

Tensions have increased in the region since North Korea conducted a nuclear test in May and then test-fired several missiles.

Another long-range missile test is believed to be planned for later this month.

The UN Security Council is discussing tightening sanctions against Pyongyang, and Mrs Clinton said on Sunday that the US was considering reinstating North Korea in its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Analysts believe the North may try to use the women as a bargaining chip in negotiations over their nuclear programme.

Obama’s speech to Muslims seeks the right balance

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 5, 2009


barack-obama-bw1(06-04) 20:48 PDT — President Obama sought in Cairo today to warm the Islamic world to the United States eight years after the 9/11 attacks, carefully targeting the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims in their prime time.


And Obama gave them a lot to listen to in his 55-minute speech at Cairo University, with a sprinkling of allusions, phrases and references that may have flown by many Western viewers – but were aimed at the heart of the Islamic experience.

“Very small things, like saying shukran (thank you) or salaam aleikum (peace be upon you) or quoting from the Koran … these are hugely significant things,” said Munir Jiwa, director of the Center for Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

Obama’s speech, delivered while most Americans slumbered, was billed as an open hand to the Islamic world, was wide-ranging, touching on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, globalization and modernity, women’s rights, history, war and stereotypes many Americans hold of Muslims – and vice versa.

But threaded through the address were words that resonated with many Muslims – references that are elementary and familiar to even young students of Islam but that were surprising to many when coming from a U.S. president.

President George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor, also made speeches seeking to bridge the gap to the Islamic world but he is remembered more for gaffes – such as referring to the war on terror as a “crusade” or dubbing the military response to the Sept. 11 attacks as operation “Infinite Justice,” which Islam teaches is the province of Allah alone. The name was changed to “Enduring Freedom.”

By contrast, Obama’s allusions were positive and relatively sophisticated, said Georgetown University professor John Esposito, author of “Who Speaks for Islam?”

“It’s what a good speaker ought to be able to do. You don’t just take your message, you craft the presentation to your audience,” he said. “(The speech was) clearly written by a president with a group of advisers who understand what Muslim concerns are, what Muslim hopes are.”

Some allusions were simple: Obama opened his speech with salaam aleikum and closed with “may God’s peace be upon you,” bookends commonly used by many in the Muslim world. He cited several Koranic phrases and recounted the history of American-Islamic relations, from Morocco’s recognition of America in 1776 to the modern experience of Islamic Americans.

Some experts also noted what Obama did not say: While he referred to extremists he did not use the word terrorism. Nor did he mention jihad, a complicated term that for many Americans is synonymous with terrorism to the frustration of Muslims who often use it in a positive sense of struggling for a personal goal.

“Jihad is a term of honor, and for many, many young Middle Easterners who yearn to fight what they see as oppression, to be a mujahid is a term of honor, of courage, of valor,” said Donna Lee Bowen, an expert in Islam and politics at Brigham Young University. “And we in the west use it as a derogatory term.”

Among Obama’s more sophisticated references was his mention of “Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.” The president did not elaborate but many Muslims would have recalled stories of the centuries when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in relative harmony in Islamic Spain.

“That’s exactly the resonance it has, some kind of golden age when everybody goes along,” said Nathan Brown, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “That’s how it’s remembered.”

Similarly, Obama’s closing reference to the Islamic story of Isra would have resonated in many Islamic ears. A popular tale often mentioned by Muslims in interfaith contexts, the story tells how the prophet Muhammad rode a magical steed – called al-Buraq– on a tour of heaven where he meets with Jesus and Moses.

In mentioning the three prophets’ names, Obama used the phrase “peace be upon them,” which several Islamic experts said showed not only familiarity with traditional Islamic honorifics, but also bridged the three faiths.

“It’s amazing. It’s an acknowledgement that Islam is part of this Abrahamic tradition, that it’s continuity and that he recognizes that (Jesus and Moses) are also prophets of Islam,” Jiwa said. “These things resonate with people.”

That could be seen in the nearly two-dozen times Obama was interrupted with applause, Esposito said, especially for his religious references. Thursday’s release of a new tape from Osama bin Laden was a coincidence that Esposito said suggests extremist groups are displeased with Obama’s efforts at bridge-building.

“They’re going to be apoplectic,” he said. “(The Bush administration) was a dream for jihadists who just said, ‘Look, this guy talks like a neo-colonialist hegemonic leader ….’ You can’t say any of that about the way the Obama administration is moving forward.”

But celebration of Obama’s speech was not universal in the Islamic world. While many bloggers and commentators cheered it, some said pretty words are meaningless unless they are followed by concrete policy changes in Iraq, Afghanistan and especially the Middle East.

“They throw in some Koranic quotations, and everybody is yeah, yeah, yeah … but in the meantime people are dying,” Bowen said. “Expectations are very, very high for Obama. And I think that cuts both ways…. They’ll say this is a good first step but they’re also going to say, where have you been?”

E-mail Matthew B. Stannard at

Avoid witch hunt, HRW tells Colombo

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 5, 2009


Noting that “Disappearances” of ethnic Tamils in the north and east and in the capital, Colombo, allegedly by members of the security forces or Tamil armed groups remain a serious problem, New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a press release issued today said, “[t]he Sri Lankan government needs to ensure that the abuses that occurred when LTTE strongholds fell in the past don’t recur,” and that Sri Lankan Government “should ensure that military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam does not result in new “disappearances,” unlawful killings or the jailing of government critics.”

Full text of the release follows:

The Sri Lankan government should ensure that military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam does not result in new “disappearances,” unlawful killings or the jailing of government critics, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Sri Lankan government appears from its statements to be preparing to take action against individuals and organizations that criticized it during the war, Human Rights Watch said. On June 3, 2009, the media minister, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardana, said the Defense Ministry was preparing to bring charges against journalists, politicians, armed forces personnel and businessmen who have assisted the LTTE.

“The last thing Sri Lankans need right now is a witch hunt,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The country desperately needs healing. The government should make clear to everyone, especially Tamils, that it will respect their rights.”

In addition to the media minister’s statement, in late May, the Army commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, said in a televised interview that the government would take action against journalists whose reporting benefited the LTTE, saying that they would be prevented from leaving the country and prosecuted for treason. Inspector General of Police Jayantha Wickremeratne accused unnamed Sinhalese media-freedom activists of being paid by the LTTE to generate false reporting intended to implicate the army in war crimes.

Sri Lankan security forces have long been implicated in enforced disappearances and unlawful killings following the capture of LTTE strongholds. In the 12 months after government forces captured the northern town of Jaffna from the LTTE in December 1995, more than 600 people, mostly young men suspected of having LTTE links, “disappeared.” Although several mass graves have since been uncovered, the fate of most of them has never been determined, and successful prosecutions of security forces personnel have been few.

Enforced disappearances and killings of people suspected of being LTTE supporters also occurred in association with the government’s taking of LTTE-controlled territory in eastern Sri Lanka in late 2006 and early 2007. Government security forces were implicated in the mafia-style killing of 17 humanitarian aid workers shortly after government forces retook the northeastern town of Mutur from the LTTE in August 2006. Human Rights Watch reported on numerous serious human rights violations in the east in late 2008.

“Disappearances” of ethnic Tamils in the north and east and in the capital, Colombo, allegedly by members of the security forces or Tamil armed groups remain a serious problem.

“The Sri Lankan government needs to ensure that the abuses that occurred when LTTE strongholds fell in the past don’t recur,” said Adams. “This is crucial for building trust between communities.”

The government announced victory over the LTTE on May 18 after a devastating 25-year conflict. The last months of fighting came at a terrible cost in civilian lives, estimated at more than 7,000 civilian dead and 14,000 wounded. Human Rights Watch reported on serious violations of international humanitarian law by both sides. However, a full accounting of abuses is not yet possible because of government restrictions on access to the conflict zone by the media and human rights organizations.

Since 2008, virtually all civilians who managed to flee the fighting to government-controlled areas have been sent to government detention camps in northern Sri Lanka. Almost 300,000 persons, including entire families, are currently in these camps, where they are denied their liberty and freedom of movement, either for work or to move in with other families.

In recent months, the government has also detained more than 9,000 alleged LTTE fighters and persons with suspected LTTE connections. The United Nations and other international agencies have had little or no access to the screening process, and the government has in many cases failed to provide families of the detained with any information. Many families still do not know the fate and whereabouts of their relatives.

Human Rights Watch urged the Sri Lankan government to take steps to ensure the safety of both civilians and LTTE fighters taken into custody. This includes registering and providing public information about all persons who have been in LTTE-controlled areas, and allowing international humanitarian agencies to participate in processing them. Those detained should have prompt access to family members and legal counsel.

The Sri Lankan government has rejected calls from opposition politicians to end Sri Lanka’s state of emergency and to repeal the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, which has been used to arrest and indefinitely detain suspected LTTE supporters and government critics.

Human Rights Watch called upon the Sri Lankan government to treat internally displaced persons in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and respect their basic human rights.

“The government should recognize that respecting the rights of all its citizens, including political opponents and critics, displaced civilians and captured combatants, will have important long-term implications for Sri Lanka’s future,” Adams said.

20 years on: Memories of Tiananmen

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 4, 2009


Tiananmen memories

On 3-4 June 1989, hundreds – possibly thousands – of Chinese protesters were killed when their call for democracy on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was brutally crushed.

Here some of the people affected by the massacre describe their experience to the BBC in video and text.


Bao Tong

What I feel most guilty about is that the 4 June incident happened while I was one of those tasked with bringing in political reform.

Bao Tong was a senior Communist Party official with a reformist agenda. He was arrested shortly before the Tiananmen crackdown, and remains under house arrest.


Wuer Kaixi

If I had known the result would be so bloody, would I have still done the same? The answer is perhaps not.

Protest organiser Wu’er Kaixi fled China following the demonstration, and remains a political commentator and democracy activist.


Tiananmen Mothers' leader Ding Zilin

I said to my husband and son, something’s going to happen today. But my son… said there were still so many people on the square that he wanted to go.

Ding Zilin is one of hundreds of parents whose children were killed in the Tiananmen massacre.


Han Dongfang

If we see this as a boxing match, yes somebody hit our face, we got a broken nose. But that match is not finished yet.

Han Dongfang, a railway worker, became the spokesman for China’s first autonomous workers’ union, set up in the square on 19 May 1989.


Photographer Jeff Widener

Suddenly this man walks out with his shopping bags. My first instinct was: “He’s going to mess up my composition”.

Jeff Widener took the image of the lone Tiananmen protester who stood in front of a convoy of tanks – probably the most iconic image of the crackdown.



There isn’t any information about this in any of our textbooks for primary and middle school students. But this is something that we cannot forget.

This eyewitness was in Beijing throughout the protests and saw many injured people. He is still afraid of speaking out about what he saw.

China’s unofficial leader at the time, Deng Xiaoping, said the crackdown was necessary because the government was dealing with “a number of rebels” and people who were “the dregs of society”. Click here to read a speech he made shortly after the massacre, explaining the government’s actions.


Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 4, 2009


Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Ong San Soo Chee), Burma’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate, symbolises the struggle of Burma’s people to be free. She has been detained for over 13 years by the Burmese regime for campaigning for human rights and democracy in Burma.

She is currently facing trial in Burma. She was on arrested on May 14th and is now being held in Insein Prison, a prison notorious for its terrible conditions and horrific treatment of prisoners. Aung San Suu Kyi is being tried for breaking the terms of her house arrest, which forbids visitors, after an American man, John Yettaw, swam across Inya Lake and refused to leave her house. Her trial began on 18th May.

Aung San Suu Kyi has committed no crime, she is the victim of crime, yet is currently facing a sentence of 3-5 years. The United Nations has ruled that Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention is illegal under international law, and also under Burmese law. The United Nations Security Council has also told the dictatorship that they must release Aung San Suu Kyi.

Political prisoners in Burma are routinely subjected to torture and often denied medical treatment. There are serious concerns for Aung San Suu Kyi’s health in these conditions, particularly as she has recently been seriously ill.

About Aung San Suu Kyi

She was born on June 19th, 1945 to Burma’s independence hero, Aung San, who was assassinated when she was only two years old. Aung San Suu Kyi was educated in Burma, India, and the United Kingdom. While studying at Oxford University, she met Michael Aris, a Tibet scholar who she married in 1972. They had two sons, Alexander and Kim. On March 27 1999, while Aung San Suu Kyi was in Burma, Michael Aris died of cancer in London. He had petitioned the Burmese authorities to allow him to visit Suu Kyi one last time, but they had rejected his request. He had not seen her since a Christmas visit in 1995. The government always urged Suu Kyi to join her family abroad, but she knew that she would not be allowed to return.

image Aung San Suu Kyi had returned to Burma in 1988 to nurse her dying mother and was immediately plunged into the country’s nationwide democracy uprising. Joining the newly-formed National League for Democracy (NLD), Suu Kyi gave numerous speeches calling for freedom and democracy. The military regime responded to the uprising with brute force, killing up to 5,000 demonstrators. Unable to maintain its grip on power, the regime was forced to call a general election in 1990.

As Aung San Suu Kyi began to campaign for the NLD, she and many others were detained by the regime. Despite being held under house arrest, the NLD went on to win a staggering 82% of the seats in parliament. The regime never recognized the results of the election.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been in and out of arrest ever since. She was held under house arrest from 1989-1995, and again from 2000-2002. She was again arrested in May 2003 after the Depayin massacre, during which up to 100 of her supporters were beaten to death by the regime’s militia. Her phone line has been cut, her post is intercepted and National League for Democracy volunteers providing security at her compound were removed in December 2004.

She has won numerous international awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament and the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has called on people around the world to join the struggle for freedom in Burma, saying “Please use your liberty to promote ours”.

The Mighty Pen says: All world leaders including the President of the United States are cowards who preach what they don’t practice! These world leaders are not able to provide justice to this great freedom fighter! In short, we say loudly and clearly to all the world leaders…DO NOT ISSUE FALSE STATEMENTS ANYMORE! SHOW THE WORLD THAT YOU CAN FIGHT THE BURMESE JUNTA AND REINSTATE HER AS THE REAL LEADER OF THE BURMESE PEOPLE!

High security in Tiananmen Square

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 3, 2009


A woman takes a picture as Chinese paramilitary policemen march past on Tiananmen Square on June 3, 2009.

Chinese policemen mix with tourists on Tiananmen Square

China has boosted security in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, ahead of Thursday’s anniversary of the killings in 1989.

Many dissidents say they have been told to leave Beijing or are confined to their homes.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people died in the Tiananmen crackdown, and open discussion of the events of 20 years ago remains taboo in China.

Even in Hong Kong, where freedom of expression is guaranteed, some dissidents have been denied entry.

Xiang Xiaoji, now a US citizen, was trying to come to Hong Kong on Wednesday to join commemorative events being held to mark the anniversary. But he was refused entry and returned to New York.

Turned away

On the eve of the anniversary, police have been examining visitors at checkpoints dotted around Tiananmen Square, and checking the bags and papers of people in the area.

Tiananmen Mothers' leader Ding Zilin

Some journalists say they have been turned away from the site.
Ding Zilin, the head of a group called Tiananmen Mothers – made up of women whose children were shot dead in the crackdown – has reportedly been blocked from leaving her home, as has the wife of jailed dissident Hu Jia.

Bao Tong – a former official who was purged for sympathising with the Tiananmen protesters – was escorted out of Beijing last week.

The Chinese Communist Party has never held an official inquiry into what happened in and around the square 20 years ago, and discussion of the issue is banned on the mainland.

In the run-up to the anniversary, the authorities are also blocking social networking sites such as Twitter and Flickr.

Even the architect of Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium, Ai Weiwei, says his blogs have been blocked.

“Three of my blogs have all been shut down,” he told the BBC. “I don’t know the exact reason, but I can sense it’s about the coming-up anniversary.”

Influence from Beijing?

In Hong Kong, too, there is evidence of pre-anniversary sensitivities.

Members of the HK Federation of Students on hunger strike at Times Square, Hong Kong, 1 June 2009

HK students are on hunger strike to press China to re-examine 1989

While one exiled Tiananmen leader, Xiong Yan, was allowed into Hong Kong at the weekend, another student leader, Xiang Xiaoji, and a Danish sculptor who made a statue entitled Pillar of Shame were both denied entry.

As a former British colony, Hong Kong is guaranteed autonomy and freedom of expression by the Chinese, but bans on Mr Xiang and others are adding to a growing sense of unease over how solid the territory’s rights record really is.

According to the BBC’s Vaudine England in Hong Kong, the ruling elite of Beijing-appointed civil servants and powerful business figures believes closeness to Beijing is the only guarantee of survival.

Yet the majority of Hong Kong people consistently suggest in surveys that they want the freedoms they were promised.