What experts think about human rights violations in China

A panel on China’s human rights violations was held in Concordia University’s Faubourg building on Jan. 15.

The experts, who were invited by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS), expressed concerns about the Uyghur Muslim concentration camps in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in Western China. They also discussed the brutal repression in Hong Kong and Tibet, as well as China’s increasing influence on the Western world and its implication for the future of democracy.

The event took place just days after Human Rights Watch (HRW) executive director Kenneth Roth was denied entry into Hong Kong and HRW’s launch event for its World Report 2020 was disrupted by protestors, according to MIGS executive director Kyle Matthews.

“Human rights issues in China are nothing new,” said speaker Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, Senior Fellow at both the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy and the University of Alberta’s China Institute. She listed historical events such as the Cultural Revolution, the Xidan Democracy Wall, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre which she said “trampled on individual human rights in a myriad of ways.”

McCuaig-Johnston continued to explain that although China has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty since 1978, this is not the same as ensuring individual human rights. She described how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses detention as a pressure tactic against dissidents and the abusive conditions under which they are detained, which were revealed by HRW’s interviews with former prisoners. She also explained the social credit system, in place since 2014, and the CCP’s widespread interference in Western countries.

Both McCuaig-Johnston and Benjamin Fung, a Canada Research Chair in Data Mining for Cybersecurity and an Action Free Hong Kong Montreal activist, highlighted the CCP’s infiltration in Canadian academics and described the pressure on faculty and Chinese students to self-censor criticism of the Chinese government.

The CCP’s use of technology, such as facial and voice recognition for repression, was also extensively discussed by both experts. Fung additionally focused on Chinese companies’ goal to expand the 5G network––he explained that the CCP controls every large corporation in China and that technology companies are obligated to cooperate with Chinese intelligence units.

“It’s about trust, you trust Apple to update your iPhone because it is a private company,” Fung explained, adding that we cannot trust Chinese companies who would introduce malware into the 5G network if the CCP asked them to.

Fung also spoke in detail about China’s one country, two systems policy and the CCP’s broken promise: its decision to maintain control over Hong Kong’s government instead of allowing universal suffrage, which Fung asserts was promised in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. He described what he called an ongoing humanitarian crisis and a system of police brutality, lengthy prison sentences, sexual assault, and white terror––attacks on pro-democracy activists.

The situation in Tibet was discussed by Sherap Therchin, executive director of the Canada-Tibet Committee, who explained it has been 70 years since China illegally invaded Tibet, and the Western world seems to have forgotten about it. He described the CCP’s reflexive control strategy: how they have been feeding manufactured information about Tibet to target groups so consistently that the Western world now believes their narrative that Tibet was historically part of China.

Therchin continued to explain that in the Western world’s eyes, control over Tibet is now an internal issue––a problem for China to deal with without Western influence.

Finally, Dilmurat Mahmut, a Ph.D. candidate at McGill University’s Faculty of Education, talked about the Uyghur re-education camps in place since 2017. According to documents obtained through an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, an estimated 1 million Uyghur Muslims are detained in these camps, but Mahmut said these numbers could be as high as 3 million. He explained the history of the region of Xinjiang, originally East Turkistan, and the CCP’s labeling of all Turkic Muslims in the region as potential terrorists or pre-criminals.

Mahmut described the conditions in what the CCP calls vocational training centres, and explained that Uyghur children are being forcibly detained and sent to state-run orphanages where they are forbidden from learning the Uyghur language and, instead, only learn the Chinese culture—he called this cultural genocide. Mahmut finished his presentation with a warning from Roth on the dangers of not challenging Chinese human rights abuses and worldwide interference.


Photos by Brittany Clarke


Canadian Universities urge exchange students in Hong Kong to come home

Protests have been ongoing since June amid Chinese government attempts to amend the extradition law

Canadian universities have been urging their exchange students in Hong Kong to return home as the tension between government officials and protestors continues to escalate.

While Concordia University hasn’t released official statement asking students to return early or to put off their exchange, it has been making sure students are up to date on the current political climate of the area.

“We make sure that the students are properly informed of the situation before they go,” said Christine Archer, manager of Concordia’s Education Abroad Programs. “We go according to the travel bans on the Canadian Immigration and Citizenship (CIC) website,”

There are currently no travel bans to Hong Kong on the Canadian Travel website, however, the organization warns any travellers to be extremely cautious.

The protests began in June when the local government attempted to amend extradition laws, allowing criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. This was seen by many as China’s attempt to gain more influence over the semi-autonomous territory, which was interpreted as a risk to Hong Kong’s independence.

Originally a British colony, Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997, when it was decided that while the territory would belong to China and it would have its own legal and political autonomy. They have been functioning under the motto “one country, two systems.”

The protests started off peacefully, but have since become violent. On Nov. 12, protests moved from the streets to many of Hong Kong’s university campuses.

On Nov. 17, protesters and police clashed at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, causing a nine-day siege. Since then, most protestors have escaped, surrendered or have been captured by the police reported the CBC.

Some Canadian students in Hong Kong have been cutting their exchanges short and leaving the territory early.

“We did have one student there this semester,” said Archer. “Her host institution ended classes on Nov. 15 and she came home right after.”

According to Archer, currently all of the Concordia students who had planned to study abroad in Hong Kong have changed their minds and have asked to be placed elsewhere.

“Back in 2015, it was stable and I really enjoyed it there,” said former Concordia exchange student Étienne Crête of his exchange to Hong Kong. “It’s one of my favourite cities in the world, but I wouldn’t go back right now. Not until the situation calms down.”

While the situation has gotten better recently, universities across Canada continue to closely monitor the situation, looking out for the best interest of their students.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

Briefs News

World in Brief: Health emergency in India, a bloody weekend, and “Wexit”

India’s capital New Delhi has been under heavy smog and dust since Friday, prompting authorities to declare a health emergency. The Associated Press reported that such air conditions arise yearly around Nov. 1 because of fireworks during a Hindu festival and the burning of agricultural fields. Schools will be closed until Nov. 5 and construction activities are to be paused temporarily to control the dust in the air.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the death of 49 Malian troops on Friday and the explosion causing the death of a French soldier, corporal Ronan Pointeau, on Saturday. The Malian Armed Forces said Friday’s attacks also injured three Malian soldiers of the military outpost targeted by the attack, reported the Agence France Presse. Saturday’s incident happened as the armoured vehicle Pointeau was travelling and hit an improvised explosive device while escorting a convoy.

A man shouting pro-Beijing slogans went on a stabbing rampage in Hong Kong on Sunday leaving five wounded, including a politician with an ear bitten off, reported The Guardian. Andrew Chiu, a local pro-democracy councillor, attempted to subdue the attacker before getting his ear bitten off. The attacker was allegedly shouting pro-Beijing slogans during another day of protests on the main Hong Kongese island.

Following the Canadian federal elections, a new wave of western separatism emerged, and “Wexit” attracted hundreds in Edmonton last Saturday. Wexit Alberta Leader Peter Downing said he will make Alberta great again after seceding from Canada, which he referred to as “the leech,” reported the CBC. Downing said that despite the movement being associated with Conservative politics, it is neither left-wing nor right-wing, but “it is open to everybody, except for eastern Canada.”


Graphic by @sundaeghost


China and the NBA: Lebron enters the fold

In light of the events leading to a frigid disconnect between the NBA and its connections with China, Lebron James was once again the one left to speak up for the players.

James publicly reprimanded the timing of Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who on Oct. 4, tweeted “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” The problem with Morey’s tweet is not that he was supporting freedom for a foreign country under a communist government, but rather that he did so while two teams, the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers, were in the thick of that very regime in China; where they were to play two exhibition games.

Ever since James spoke publicly about Morey’s terrible timing, he’s been under fire for being a supporter of censorship. People are saying his comments are financially motivated, as he doesn’t want to lose all the endorsement money that Nike makes him in China. Fox News paints him as “unamerican” in his position against Morey, who is simply speaking freely, and supporting freedom, as Americans do. HURRAH. This is so typical in more ways than one… Leave it to the USA to impose their constitution on countries halfway across the world, and to dumb down the issue at hand, using ideology as an excuse.

Let’s take a step back and look at this in a rational, practical way.

James doesn’t hate free speech – all of his actions say otherwise. The man founded and funded a public elementary school in his home town of Akron, Ohio, and promises free college tuition to every graduate. He is constantly a voice for the disenfranchised, a philanthropist to those in need, and is openly liberal. What James hates is loose-lipped executives sitting in their ivory towers far, far away, who stir the pot while he’s sitting in it. Despite the tweet only existing for several minutes before being deleted, it sparked a controversy in a country with a population of over 1.3 billion people.

The controversy caused outrage, and hostility. Lebron and his team, as well as the Nets, were simply there to play basketball, and grow the game on an international level. All of a sudden, they’re on the front lines of an international conflict and media storm, where they could have potentially been in political, or even physical danger. What if the Chinese government wouldn’t let them leave? What if Chinese loyalists became violent?

Now, thankfully, those things didn’t happen, but they very well could have. Instead, they experienced a different kind of backlash: The wrath of corporate China. The Chinese broadcast of the two games on their network, CCTV, was cancelled. Tickets became hard to come by.  All corporate logos were taken off the hardwood. Community events involving the players were cancelled. Chinese apparel brands suspended their relations with the NBA. The Chinese Basketball Association, run by Rockets legend Yao Ming, severed all ties with the Rockets. Chinese streaming service Tencent banned Houston from their service. The team’s official apparel is no longer available in China. China has basically censored the hell out of the NBA.

Like many NBA superstars, Lebron James has been visiting China in the offseason for over 10 years on behalf of Nike, who carries his signature shoe and apparel lines. Of course it benefits him financially, why shouldn’t it? Would you spend weeks in China doing promotion for free? I didn’t think so. I assure you the league doesn’t mind either, because it popularizes their sport in a massive market.

More important than money, James is the most impactful ambassador for the sport since Michael Jordan made the NBA an international phenomenon. He cares more about the state of the game than he does his bank account, which is doing fine, I promise. The complete destruction of all the inroads the NBA has built into China is more likely what doesn’t sit well with him. All that time spent globalizing the game, and instilling its values in parts of the world that need them, evaporated in a moment’s notice with a seven word tweet.

But wait, here’s the cherry on top: In an attempt to either limit the damage, or save face with China, the NBA has censored the game in their own way. Fans holding up “Free Tokyo” signs in Philadelphia and Washington have had their posters taken from them by stadium officials. Reporters have been silenced in asking questions about the controversy in Houston. Hypocrisy at its best, right? How is James the one being criticized for being an advocate of conciliatory speech, when the league is clearly guilty of that very thing?

This is why sports and politics should never intersect. Sports bring people together, politics have a tendency to be divisive. James wants Morey to let the game speak for itself, and so do I.


Graphic by Salomé Blain


Colour Commentary: The Rocky State of the NBA in China

Remember when the NBA’s biggest storylines during the off-season involved tampering, trade requests, and Lebron’s “Taco Tuesday” trademark denial? Now, America’s most progressive sports league faces its biggest challenge since the Donald Sterling scandals of 2014.

On Oct. 4, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted an image in support of the protests taking place in Hong Kong that read, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Morey deleted the tweet shortly after but had failed in avoiding conflict with China.

The NBA’s initial statement acknowledged the tweet as offensive to Chinese friends and fans, but ultimately created more confusion as it failed in representing a definitive stance. On Oct. 8, NBA commissioner Adam Silver cleared the air when he specified the NBA would not regulate what its employees and owners say, supporting Morey’s right to freedom of expression.

In response, China Central Television, CCTV, showed immense dissatisfaction, saying “remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.” In addition, the company suspended all NBA broadcasting. Rights holder of the NBA in China, Tencent, blacklisted Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets. Sponsors were forced to cut ties with the team and its players to avoid potential blowback.

The NBA-China rift is an ongoing process that is showing no signs of faltering. A single tweet derailed a Chinese partnership that generated millions in yearly revenue for the NBA, unequivocally one of its largest international markets.

The bottom line is prominent figures need to provide unsolicited content frequently to appease the public interests, often resulting in posts that are imprudent.  Morey’s tweet shows the volatility a post can possess and stresses the importance of taking precaution when sharing online in a society that encourages spontaneity, with consumers who are obsessed with immediate satisfaction.

This notion was emphasized in the backlash received by coach of the Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr, when he was asked about the topic. Kerr has been outspoken to the media on American political issues in the past but admitted he did not have enough knowledge to formulate an opinion on Chinese politics.

Kerr was criticized by fans and was called out by President Donald Trump in a hearing on Oct 9, who labelled Kerr a hypocrite that “was like a scared little boy”. The Warriors’ coach effectively showed self-awareness in wanting to think before he speaks, which is unfortunately an ostracized attitude in 2019.


World in Brief: Shooting, whistleblowers and deadly protests

Four people were killed and five injured in a shooting last Sunday in Kansas City. Police said the two suspects opened fired in a busy bar around 1:27 a.m. following a disturbance or fight. According to an article in The Washington Post, the four victims were all Hispanic men, but the police refused to add further comments.

A second whistleblower surfaced on Sunday morning supporting previous allegations on Donald Trump’s exchanges with Ukraine’s president. While they haven’t filed a complaint with the inspector general, attorney Mark Zaid said in an interview with the Associated Press that the whistleblower has “firsthand knowledge that supported” the original claims.

Protest in Iraq over unemployment and corruption are still raging since Oct. 1. The death toll was estimated at 106 on Sunday – five days after the first confrontations between the police and protesters. According to an article in Reuters, the Iraqi government agreed to a plan that increases subsidized housing for the poor, stipends for the unemployed and training programs and small loans initiatives for unemployed youth.

Protesters in Hong Kong defied the law prohibiting marching with a masked face. According to an article in the Agence France Presse, the crowds were “condemning the government for deploying emergency powers to ban face masks at public gatherings.” What started as a peaceful march quickly turned into violent confrontations as police dispersed the crowd with tear gas and physical force.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


The Umbrella Revolution is being left out in the rain

Why the protesters shouldn’t look West for help, and won’t get it

The pro-democratic civil disobedience campaign in Hong Kong has reached its zenith. At the time of writing, protesters are flocking to the financial district in droves in an attempt to force Beijing to democratize the electoral process. The forthcoming election in 2017 for Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s Chief Executive is set to be fought between three candidates approved by a committee of pro-Beijing business leaders, making a mockery of the democratic process.

The likelihood that Beijing will acquiesce to the popular will of the masses remains in question. While Hong Kong possesses many of the democratic characteristics of a civil society, China, however, does not. Beijing fears that any greater concessions to Hong Kong may empower China’s population to not be as docile as they perhaps have been since the 1989 bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square. But for those restive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, Beijing is anxious not to set a dangerous precedent which separatist activists would seek to emulate.

“Protests have erupted in Hong Kong over the demand for a free and democratic election. The protesters have dubbed their dissent the ‘Umbrella Revolution’, in reference to the umbrellas they used to deflect tear gas cannisters. (Source: Doctor Ho / Flickr)”

For the time being the Hong Kong police force have, on separate occasions, both shown restraint on occasion and aggression; they have certainly yet to collude with the protesters in solidarity against Beijing. On Sept. 29, they stood off from protesters after being criticized for their heavy-handedness the previous evening. Nevertheless, for the time being, they have certainly remained loyal to their pro-Beijing paymasters. In fact, as recently as Oct. 3, the Hong Kong police were criticized for failing to protect the protesters from pro-Beijing mafias who attacked the peaceful, pro-democratic masses.

In a disturbing reality, British businesses are in fact facilitating the suppression of these protests; British company Chemring recently sold 4,000 inert crowd control grenades to the Hong Kong police force, according to The Guardian. If our Western governments really advocate the continued democratization of the world, in areas untouched by Third Wave Democracy, then they ought to rescind the licenses for military grade lethal and nonlethal weapons — such as those that have been granted to the Hong Kong Police force and many other organizations and states that engage in suppression.

Under the “two systems, one country” agreement that Britain negotiated with China in the ‘80s in advance of the 1997 transferal of sovereignty, Hong Kong’s citizens reserve the right to many liberties unimaginable on mainland China. The rights of both free speech and the freedom to protest are enshrined in Hong Kong’s legal system, although it stops short of allowing residents to directly elect their own government. This begs the question that Britain perhaps ought to have done more to ensure democratic rights for the post-colonial society, like they did in other parts of their old empire.

Beijing is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they were to crack down on the protests it would provoke widespread international condemnation and risk capital flight from the financial business hub (which is a now indispensable component of China’s plan to liberalize and modernize their economy). Failure to suppress the pro-democratic movement, or indeed to give in to the will of the masses, would certainly place mainland China on a path of tolerance and liberalism which Xi Jinping’s government is seeking to avoid.

The West ought to be doing more to alienate China for its human rights abuses on the mainland and for stifling Hong Kong’s democratic maturation. Realpolitik, however, demands that the West maintains a working relationship with Beijing. So for the time being, it would appear, the protestors on the streets of Hong Kong are the sole agents of prospective change.

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