Dec 9, 2010

On eve of Nobel ceremony, China cracks down and lashes out

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 9, 2010

BEIJING, Dec. 9 - Restaurant and bar owners in China have been summoned to local police stations and warned against allowing large gatherings on Friday. Some lawyers, writers and academics have been stopped at airports from boarding their flights; others have been forcibly taken to the countryside. Known activists are under house arrest. And today, several foreign media Web sites and television stations were blocked.
Chinese police have said they were taking these actions to guard against a threat to national security. The threat, apparently, is the 54-year-old bespectacled intellectual Liu Xiaobo, currently serving an 11-year prison sentence in China's northern Liaoning province for the crime of "inciting subversion of state power."
Liu in October was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Since neither Liu nor any of his family members are being allowed to leave China to attend Friday's ceremony in Oslo, the Nobel committee organizers said he will be represented by an empty chair.
It will be the first time the award will not be presented to the laureate since 1935, when imprisoned German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky was prevented by the Nazi regime from attending.
China's Communist government has lashed out ferociously since the award was announced, each day ratcheting up the rhetoric. Foreign embassies in Norway have been warned not to attend the Nobel ceremony or risk unspoken "consequences." China has already broken off trade talks with Norway. The foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, denounced the Nobel committee members as "clowns" and accused them of "orchestrating an anti-China farce."
Thursday's edition of the Global Times newspaper - the English-language tabloid published by the ruling Communist party's main mouthpiece, People's Daily - continued the drumbeat of criticism, in a lead editorial that asked, "Is there a 'plot' among the Western countries against China?"
"The West has shown great creativity in conspiring against China," the editorial said. It added, "the West has not ceased harassing China with all kinds of tricks like the Nobel Peace Prize."
But for all the fury directed outwardly, the fiercest reaction has been internal. Scores of activists, lawyers, professors -- even the family members and aging parents of jailed dissidents - have been prohibited from leaving the country in recent days, or placed under house arrest, with their telephone and Internet lines cut. As the date of the Nobel ceremony drew closer, some were also told not to speak to reporters.
Mao Yushi, one of China's foremost economists, was prevented from boarding a flight last week to attend an academic conference in Singapore, even though he protested that he had no visa for Norway and no plans to attend the Nobel ceremony.
He and other activists said the Chinese government's harsh crackdown has had one unintended, opposite effect - that of visibly underscoring the need for political reform that Liu was awarded the prize for championing.
"This way of doing things is stupid and the government actually is losing face by doing it, " Mao said. "I applaud Liu's award. This incident of not allowing me to go abroad just proves why it makes sense that Liu got the award."
Ai Wei Wei, an outspoken artist often critical of government policies, was stopped at Beijing's airport after he had already gone through immigration and was seated in the waiting room about to board a flight to South Korea. He said the police officers who removed him from the airport had a document saying he might violate national security if allowed to travel abroad.
"They limit lawful citizens from leaving," Ai said. "That means this nation by definition is a jail."
He added, "If the Chinese people …don't know why this prize should be given to Liu Xiaobo, now they should understand."
A member of the Beijing film academy was prevented from traveling to a film festival in Italy. Lawyers were blocked from attending an international lawyers meeting in London.
"The obsessive focus on preventing activists from traveling to Oslo is completely irrational," Renee Xia, the international director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said in an emailed statement. "The more people are barred from leaving the country, and the harder the government works to stifle news of the Nobel ceremony domestically, the more meaning the event takes on for the curious ordinary Chinese."
Xia said many of China's 400 million-plus Internet users would find ways to circumvent the government's "Great Fire Wall" censorship controls to follow news of the Nobel ceremony on-line.
Earlier Thursday, Web sites of the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC), Cable News Network (CNN), Channel 4 in Britain, and Norwegian television NRK all were blocked, preventing live streaming. Thursday night, BBC went off the air for televisions that have satellite dishes.
In addition to those barred from leaving China, some have been told to leave Beijing - and forcibly taken away when they refused.
Tang Jitian, a human rights lawyer, said four Beijing security policemen forced him into a car while he was on his way to the hospital. Together with security policemen from his hometown of Yanbian, the officers sent him on a night flight back to northeastern China.
"The present situation is very tense, and you have to leave Beijing," Tabg recalled the police telling him. Interviewed by telephone from Yanbian, Tang said the local police warned him not to return to Beijing for now.
Some Beijing café and restaurant owners have been warned by police not to allow any Nobel celebrations or demonstrations at their establishments, not to take any bookings of large groups of Chinese for Friday evening, and to be especially watchful of people coming in carrying banners.
One café owner, who asked not to be quoted by name, was called to the local police station in the Gulou, or Drum Tower, area, and warned that "overseas reactionary forces" might try to "instigate" some actions on Friday night.
Seeking to discredit the Nobel prize, a previously unknown group with links to China's ministry of culture held a hastily called ceremony in a hotel Thursday to award the first "Confucian Peace Prize," which the organizers said was a response to the Nobel being awarded to Liu.
The winner of the Confucian Peace Prize was Taiwanese former vice-president Lien Chan, who the group said beat out Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former South African president Nelson Mandela, among others.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 402-to-1 on Wednesday for a resolution praising Liu Xiaobo. At a regularly scheduled briefing Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the U.S. resolution "confuses right and wrong, and flagrantly interferes in China's internal affairs."
Jiang said American lawmakers should "change their arrogant and unreasonable attitude."
China's foreign ministry has boasted that the peace prize has been discredited because a large number of countries agree with China and will boycott the ceremony. So far, China has listed 18 other countries not attending, including fellow Communist regimes Cuba and Vietnam; Arab monarchies and authoritarian regimes including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia; and China's allies Venezuela, Pakistan, Sudan, and neighboring Russia and Kazakhstan. Iran, Colombia and Ukraine also said their ambassadors will not attend.
The biggest surprise on the no-show list was the Philippines, whose newly-elected president, Benigno ("Noynoy") Aquino III, is the son of the slain opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr.
Aquino Jr. was a political prisoner during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. The current president's mother, Corazon C. Aquino, was elected president and became known as an icon of democracy.
The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch sharply criticized the Philippines' decision.

Dec 2, 2010

Article about AAI's Peace Caravans in Manila Bulletin

When the youth gather for peace

By Nesreen Cadar Abdul Rauf, Contributor
December 2, 2010, 8:46am
STANDING PROUD – Young lumads get together to embrace their cultures and promote equality and peace. (Photo from
STANDING PROUD – Young lumads get together to embrace their cultures and promote equality and peace. (Photo from

MANILA, Philippines — Muslim, Moro, Manobo, Igorot, Christians.

Utter these words and stereotypes, biases, prejudice, and discriminatory impressions are sure to follow.

We are all guilty. Many of us have been either victims or perpetrators of labeling according to ethnicity and religion.

“Behave or a Moro will take you away and sell you off,’’ parents would tell their misbehaving children. “You’re like a Badjao,” is often told to kids who like to play with dirt.

Even in schools, bullies ridicule their Igorot or Manobo classmates, even cruelly calling them “unggoy na walang buntot (monkeys without tails),” or their Muslim classmates for not eating pork, or associating them with groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.

As a result, children learn to harbor hatred and generalize members of a group. Some even defend themselves with physical violence.

Psychology proves time and time again that childhood is a crucial time for the formation of life-long values and characters.

This is the guiding principle of the non-government organization called Asia America Initiative (AAI), as they started their peace caravan last year.

AAI aimed to make young people understand and appreciate diversity through interaction and sharing when it gathered 40 young Muslims, Christians, and Indigenous People (IP) last October in Benguet State University (BSU), La Trinidad, Benguet. Facilitating were the young professionals and student volunteers of AAI Catalysts for Peace, in partnership with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

Struggles of the minorities
The majority rules in a democratic country. But in a true democracy, the minority has the same rights as the other citizens.

Jason Roy Sibug is the president of Tuklas-Katutubo, a national organization of young indigenous leaders in the Philippines.

He reveals that some indigenous people or acceptably called “lumad,” do not assert their identity because of the wrong perception about them. “They are either referred as backward, or supporters of the National People’s Army (NPA), ever discriminated in social opportunities such as employment, and subject for humiliation in media,’’ Jason remarked.

Common street terms used to describe them are wild tribes, pagan, primitive, uncivilized, ignorant, beggar, and tagabundok, Jason added.

“We are beyond our gongs and attire. We’re not just performers,” lamented Jason, who is a Manobo. He added that lumads number to 13 million, or 10 to 15 percent of the total Philippine population, not including those who write Christian or Muslim as their religion.

He related that some young Manobo students are discouraged to go to school. “They are called Manobo instead of their names.”

But for Jason who founded Tuklas-Katutubo at the age of 17, being an IP is a solution itself. For instance, the organization believes in Balik Tribo programs, hence, it opened an IP-led school in North Cotabato. It is an alternative education for day-care and elementary IP children and is being handled by IP teachers. It is accredited by the Department of Education.

Moreover, Jason divulged that for the lumads, peace is neither about silence nor the absence of bullets. “There can only be peace when we have our own land, basic needs, and absence of discrimination and exploitation.”

Meanwhile, Alnasser L. Kasim, the chairman of the Young Moro Professionals Network (YMPN) and the speaker on Islam faith, said that the situation of the IPs is not far from the Muslims who only form five percent of the country’s population.

“We thought we Muslims are the most marginalized sector in the country.”

A Muslim participant, Alrashid H. Abdulmunat, 24, disclosed, “I just knew about IPs now. I thought Christians hate Muslims but I found out they’re kind and they don’t have bad intentions to Muslims and IPS. Every religion is important and their unity. In the Holy Quran, Almighty Allah mentioned the tribes or ‘qabail’. Peace cannot be achieved if the other tribes are not included.”

Volunteers as social doctors
For Arjie Aguas, 23, a registered nurse, a simple smile and a thank you wash all his sacrifices away as a volunteer.

Sweetheart Peralta, 18, a student in University of Caloocan City, said that volunteering is also a venue to learn and develop skills.

“If my parents were still alive, I am sure they’ll be proud of me for helping in an NGO,’’ said Mercy Gaddi Villarba, 19.

Moreover, working in an NGO is like being a social doctor, or a culture broker. “It entails greater responsibility because everything that you do will stay in the minds and hearts of the people for a lifetime,” said AAI Programs and Resource Mobilization associate Marlon T. Jinon, 23.“Our problems related to peace, he said, are way beyond what the government can handle. All of us in the civil society must do our responsibilities.

Don't be afraid of soldiers
The Peace Caravan link and mobilize various organizations. Aurelio Ravancho Jr. Ujebon, 36, of the 7th Civil Relations Group of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that people must not be afraid of soldiers who help in maintaining peace. “Nakikidigma kami sa pagtulong. Hindi iyong pakikidigma na may namamatay.”

The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Assistant Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations Jose Demar A. Pauly put in that no organization is complete. Human resource is the best resource that organizations must share.

As for Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, 27, the AAI Philippine country director, creating positive change that leads to peace requires not just teamwork but collaboration and an inter-generational approach.

Peace is indeed a shared responsibility.

Let us plant it in our own yards.