News

A new way to protest?

Following on from yesterday’s post, it seems that the trend of self-immolation as a means of protesting has caught on in other ethnicities other than Tibetans.

This month an 81-year old Chinese woman, Wang, also set herself alight in response to the demolition of her home in Henan.

The elderly woman’s house was due to be demolished to accommodate for a tunnel project.

This case is allegedly one of many of this kind, all in protest of house demolitions.

Wang’s relatives, who were later detained, had also doused themselves in petrol, threatening the demolition workers with setting themselves alight. But before they could, Wang had already gone ahead.

China is ranked 66th for the highest number of suicides by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is reasonably low considering the pressure to succeed and culture of saving face that Chinese people have.

In a country where opposition and protest are often suppressed, the Chinese people seem to be trying to find alternative ways to speak their mind. A way which will not end with being arrested.

The first I had heard of self-immolation was in Iran and Afghanistan. Women who could not bear to live any longer with their wicked husbands, would self-immolate.

Now it has become a trend in China too.

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Authoritarian regime to chair ASEAN in 2014

Will allowing Burma to chair the ASEAN regional bloc in 2014 help or hinder further ‘opening up’ of the authoritarian government?

 

After Burma’s prisoner release last month, ASEAN seems to feel that Burma has earned its place as chair of the association for its attempts at being more democratic.

The rotating responsibility of being chair to ASEAN, which had in the past been denied to Burma due to their poor human rights record, has been unanimously voted to Burma for 2014.

A move needed to be made as an incentive to Burma, to show that moves towards Democracy are rewarded with diplomatic inclusion.

Yet Burma will need to continue with these moves in order to gain the trust of the West, and to maintain the trust of Asian nations.

The new leadership in Burma, which was also responsible for freeing Aung Sang Suu Kyi, has removed legal obstacles that used to stand between the Democratic League of Burma and them gaining leadership.

Now Aung Sang Suu Kyi and her party are giving thought to re-entering the political scene.

Though the new leadership is showing good signs of improvement, it is still ultimately an authoritarian government, which has always been known for being defiant.

Rewarding Burma too early on may also hinder more progress to becoming a democratic state.

The 600 to 1,000 political prisoners who remain locked up will need to be let go before a remarkable reduction of isolation can happen for Burma.

Releasing only a fraction of the political prisoners in Burma is still not going to be enough for the likes of the US.

Their sanctions on Burma remain the same until significant change has occurred inside Burma.


First ‘turban-wearing’ peer in House of Lords

As the House of Lords is joined by Indarjit Singh, their first ‘turban-wearing’ peer, we are reminded of the importance of the turban.

Baron Singh of Wimbledonbecame a member of the House of Lords in September this year. He has presented in various shows for BBC Radio stations. Among many other publications he has written for the Guardian and the Independent, and is the editor of the Sikh Messenger.Darsem King, a Sikh peer appointed back in 1999, had decided against wearing a turban in the chamber, along with all the Sikh MPs in the House of Commons.

His peership shows the changing nature of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, as it attempts to appoint more non-party affiliated peers. Reforms this year also look to rid the chamber of all hereditary peers.

As the director of the Network of Sikh Organisations UK, Mr.Singh is also a representative of the UK’s 340,000-strong Sikh community. He also sets an example for religious cooperation in a Multicultural Britain as an executive committee member of the Interfaith Network UK.

Indarjit Singh says, “”It gives me a new opportunity to do what I have always tried to do: to work with people of all beliefs to increase tolerance and understanding, and work for greater social and political justice in our society,” according to an article in The National.

Symbol of Sikh identity

It’s much more than the comical ‘man-pag, pag-man’ sketch from Goodness Gracious Me, in which a Father explains to his troubled son that “You got pag. You got man. You put pag on man…Sikh!”

The turban, known as pag or dastar in Punjabi, is symbolic of being a Sikh. One of the five objects which Sikhs should be adorned with is kesh, uncut hair. This goes hand in hand with the turban, which is meant to

cover, honour and protect the hair.

One of the 12 Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, had taught that Sikhs should stand out from the crowd by wearing a turban because they were following the unique path of the Gurus. This means that a turbaned Sikh is usually considered to be more devout than a non-turbaned Sikh.

It is also a symbol of respectability, and of one who upholds and practices Sikh morals.

Anoop Singh, a student at the University of Kent, says that wearing a pag has practical, spiritual and personal significance. He goes on, ” personally, its a solid reminder of the path i follow, it is like a flag for all those around to know i follow this path.”

Baron Singh of Wimbledon is someone for young Sikhs to look up to, at a time when many are disregarding their turbans in the name of
‘modernity’.

Photo: Paul Gooddy

Gujarat violence: A truly just sentence?

As 31 are sentenced to life imprisonment over the 2002 Post-Godhra riots in Gujarat, India, the families of some of the approximate 1,000 victims can be at peace. But what about the rest?

31 of those responsible for killing hundreds of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

Lack of evidence allowed 11 of the accused had to be exonerated, along with 31 were asked to pay 25,000 rupees (£315).

The violence in 2002 that lasted for months had erupted in response to 59 Hindu pilgrims dying of smoke inhalation on a train after a militant Muslim group was alleged to have set it alight.

Approximately 1,000 people were killed during the riots that followed the train burning, most of whom were Muslims, according to the BBC.

Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi was last month acquitted of accusations that he did not take sufficient action to stop the riots and may have encouraged them.

Yesterday’s court hearing was the first post-Godhra riot case of its kind.

 

Unreported details: Unbalanced sentencing

The Banerjee Commission, set up by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, speculated that the train fire in Godhra could have been an accident.

The sentencing of 11 Muslims to death and 20 to life imprisonment this year ended discussions over the origin of the fire.

But members of Bajrang Dal, a militant Hindu organization, were alleged to have been provoking a response from the Muslim group in Godhra, prior to the burning, according to reports by the Hindu.

According to India News Agency, during post-riot probing Mr.Vakil, a Government lawyer, admitted that protocol had dictated that records of related telephone calls and police movement logs had to be destroyed.

The sentencing for the Godhra train burning was much harsher than the sentencing for the post-Godhra riots, in which 100 times as many people were killed.

None of those convicted for the riots were sentenced to death, as opposed to the 11 who were for the train burning.

The minds of only a handful of the riot victims’ families will be able to find peace, as the majority of the accused were acquitted.

World ‘peace’ cyclist reaches England

World cyclist Saurab Dahal, 22, begins the European chapter of his journey in Folkestone, Kent.

Having finished Asia, his plan is now to cover Europe, Africa, the Middle East, North and South America by bicycle.

England is the 39th country he has visited, which will be followed by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland if all goes to plan.

While most 13 year old boys are still in school, Saurab decided to embark on a mission to cycle through 205 countries, aiming to “flow Peace to all in the world.” The message of Peace which underlies Saurab’s journey started in the context of the Nepalese Civil War.

He was also inspired by the poor and uneducated children in his region of Nepal, Jhapa. He wanted to show them that even if a person has only 25 rupees (20p) in their pocket, as he had when he left home on 28th February 2002, one can still do what they desire to do.

For the entire duration of his trip so far, he has relied on the hospitality and kindness of local people. “If you have motivation, you can do anything in this world,” he says.

But he has also overcome many hurdles, including being detained in Pakistan, facing language barriers and having his bicycle stolen in India, China and Vietnam.

Nepalese communities and the Nepalese Embassy have often helped him pick himself up again. The struggles he comes across highlight the main obstacles to peace, including crime, ignorance, language and money.

Though he is not actively fundraising for poor and educated children, he saves any money given to him on his way, to go towards stationary, computers, clothing and food.

The funds he has saved have gone towards helping over 2,000 children across Asia, from Bihar, the poorest state in India, to South Korea and Australia.

Depending on weather and road conditions, Saurab cycles around 40km per hour and 150km per day.

He had been staying at the Sir John Moore barracks in Shorncliffe road, home to the Royal Gurkha Rifles. On Monday, he started peddling to London to meet Mayor Boris Johnson.

Australian immigration issues re-emerge after boat tragedy

A boat holding seventy Afghan, Iranian and Pakistani asylum seekers, bound for Australia, sank yesterday off the unpatrolled coast of Java.

The death toll of the incident has risen to 8 after the body of a nine year old Iranian boy was found in the sea this morning.

Fourty eight have been reportedly rescued, but the remaining people are feared drowned.

The tragedy has renewed the controvertial debate over the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott is encouraging a vote on the changes to the Migration Act, which would allow the processing of offshore asylum seekers.

A change like this could prevent the deaths of many more asylum seekers, attempting to reach Australia.

There have been two thousand nine hundred and ten irregular maritime arrivals to Australia this year alone.

This is partially because taking the UN  program route can leave asylum seekers waiting in camps in Malaysia and Indonesia indefinitely.

Those who do reach Australia face detention. Just last week a Sri Lankan refugee in a Sydney detention centre committed suicide after being detained for 2 years.

The refugee, who was awaiting security clearance, had allegedly been denied the right to perform a Hindu ritual.

“HK government treats domestic workers as social benefits”

 

Anyone who has been to Hong Kong should be familiar with the image of crowds of Filipinas and Indonesians filling the streets every Sunday.

But if the controversial abode law is finally passed, this could all change.

Last Wednesday, a second judge ruled to uphold September’s verdict, giving Evangline Vallejos permanent resident status, after 25 years working in Hong Kong.

Domestic Workers have become a fundamental part of most families in Hong Kong, enabling both parents to work, whilst the children and elderly are cared for at home.

But they are currently the only group who do not have the right of abode, while other nationalities can gain it after 7 years.

Aaron Ceradoy from the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrant Workers tells us that it is wrong to manipulate the rights of domestic workers for the benefit of others.

He continues, “The Hong Kong government treats foreign domestic workers as social benefits for the local people.”

The Hong Kong immigration office has reported a surge in the number of applications for permanent residency status in the past month, from 1 per month to 20.

But the human rights lawyer Mark Daly, who represented the Evangeline Vallejos in the controversial abode case last month, doubts the Immigration department’s figures.

16,000 signatures were collected last week in protest of the potential abode law passing, and thousands of protesters marched from Wanchai to the Tamar government site in Central to show their outrage.

A research recently carried out by the Mission for Migrants showed that only 54% of the domestic workers in Hong Kong are eligible for permanent residency.

“No judge or ruling law can make this eviction just”

 

This morning the eviction of the illegal site on Dale Farm in Basildon has begun, however the Travellers and their supporters are putting up a strong resistance. It was announced on Monday that they would not be able to appeal against last week’s decision.

“No judge or ruling law can make this eviction just” a banner read being held by a protestor standing between the site and riot police. The police and supporters of the Travellers have clashed over the eviction of Dale Farm illegal site this morning. The police have allegedly resorted to the use of tazers and there have been numerous reports of beatings.

There have been claims that the Travellers and their supporters were also throwing bricks, however many of them concentrated on protecting their children and belongings. Tony Balls, councillor of Basildon, has reiterated that the police have acted in a way they deemed necessary to ensure public safety.

He said in an interview with the BBC earlier that there are 8 authorised sites in St.Helens available to the Travellers, however they say that this is the first they are hearing about them.

The Travellers say that they chose to settle down after laws against stopping on roadsides prevented them from travelling. Settled residents of Dale Farm are complaining at the rise in crime that has resulted from the Traveller community. But supporters of those living illegally in Dale Farm uphold that there is no evidence of this.

Assange ‘steals the show’ at Anti-War Assembly

Ten years and a day after the US/UK invasion of Afghanistan, thousands of people gather in Trafalgar square to demonstrate against the continuing occupation of Afghanistan.

Freedom for Palestine, Syria and Libya, and a reminder of those left in Guantanamo Bay, were among the other messages of the protest, organised by the Stop the War Coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the British Muslim Initiative.

A line-up of prestigious people, including John Pilger and George Galloway, shared their condemning thoughts of war. Contrary to the report by AFP, the protest in Trafalgar square today was not led by Julian Assange of Wikileaks and Jemima Khan of the Independent.

The demonstration actually began with speeches from Joe Glenton, a former soldier who had been punished for refusing to serve in Afghanistan, and Grace McCann, famous for the attempted citizen’s arrest of Tony Blair in 2010.

While Jemima repeated the messages which all prior speakers had, the crowd was distracted by Julian Assange on the sideline.

Assange, who stole the show for many in the crowd, says “wars are the result of lies” while referring to the Vietnam War, the Second World War, and the war in Somalia.

To clear up what AFP also wrongly reported, Assange actually said, “Let us ask ourselves of the complicit media, which is the majority of the mainstream press. What is the average death count attributed to each journalist? When we understand that wars come about as a result of lies peddled to the British public…, then who are the war criminals? It is not just leaders, it is not just soldiers, it is journalists. Journalists are war criminals.”
According to statistics from the Stop the War Coalition, £18,000,000,000 have been spent on the war since 2001, 380 British soldiers have died, and ISAF forces have killed 9,300 Afghan civilians, not counting those killed by other actors.
The main message of the demonstration was that the UK and Afghanistan cannot afford another 4 years of war in Afghanistan, and that troops should withdraw now.

Another resonating message from speakers was that the money spent on war could be spent on education and healthcare in the UK.

For the full speeches by Julian Assange, George Galloway and John Pilger, please return to this blog in a day or so.

Kurds demand attention from UK Media

A group of Kurdish protesters breached security and staged a demonstration at the Guardian office in London last week.

They were reacting to what they felt had been a lack of coverage of the Kurdish plight from the Western media.

According to the New York Times, last Friday’s was one of two demonstrations in Europe in the past week. Another similar protest was held in Cologne in Germany, at the RTL studio.

Hilary Osborne at the Guardian tweeted, “One of the PKK protesters sneaked through the barrier on my pass. They are now reading a statement to the newsroom.”

A New York Times blog also referred to the protesters as being affiliated with the PKK. The Guardian says that the group were members of a Kurdish Youth group, based in London.

The Kurdish population is currently split predominantly between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The Kurdish people remain the largest ethnic group in the world without its own state, according to scholar Jean Allein.

Abode changes threaten status quo

The proposed changes to the abode law for domestic workers in Hong Kong have not only intensified fears amongst Chinese locals, but also non-Chinese locals. Domestic workers have become embedded in Hong Kong society, as locals who work long hours rely on them to look after children and the elderly. The predominantly Filipino and Indonesian group are not entitled to earn the minimum wage and currently have a near-impossible route to gaining citizenship.

For other ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, making up approximately 5% of the population, this change could mean a negative change in the status quo. Local Indians for example, who came to Hong Kong during British rule, traditionally worked as police. More recently they are bound to jobs in security and delivery driving. If the abode law falls through, Filipinos, with their generally higher level of education, could push other local minorities into the bar and catering sectors, generally dominated by Filipinos. Due to language and cultural differences, it is difficult for non-Chinese locals to succeed in professions other than these.