A Chinese court rules on Thursday whether to award damages to a man who spent a year in a labor camp for an online joke about now disgraced leader Bo Xilai, although experts say compensation, if given, is likely to be low to avoid a flood of new grievances.
Fang Hong, a blogger and former forestry official, said he is demanding 367,000 yuan ($59,000) for psychological suffering after being sentenced in 2011 to a year of re-education in a labor camp at the height of Bo’s campaign against organized crime in the city of Chongqing, where he was Communist Party boss.
“Although there is no precedent for this in China, if you want to rule the country according to the law … how else can you provide compensation aside from with money?” Fang said in a telephone interview this week.
His conviction was overturned last year, a few months after Bo was sacked under a cloud of lurid tales of corruption and his wife’s murder of a British businessman.
Bo’s time in office was marked by popular social projects but also a crackdown on crime overseen by his then police chief Wang Lijun, which won him many fans but also accusations of heavy-handedness and serious miscarriages of justice.
Fang was sentenced for posting a scatological poem mocking Bo and Wang for their abuse of the city’s justice system, an egregious example critics say of how Bo stifled dissent.
Fang said he was “not necessarily hopeful” that the court would offer him the full amount, but that he expected some money for damages, based on regulations that allow for meager daily compensation rates for loss of freedom in such cases.
Joshua Rosenzweig, a Hong-Kong-based independent human rights researcher, said the risk of emboldening victims of similar cases made the prospect of a large sum being awarded slim.
“I think it is reasonable to expect that the government might impose some limits on compensation claims to keep a control on the flood gates that might open,” Rosenzweig said.
There are no hard and fast figures on the number of cases of legal redress, but more are expected to emerge as Bo’s downfall is cemented by his own trial and likely conviction. He was last seen in public last March and is being held in custody.
One prominent lawyer, Chen Youxi, has said over 700 people were convicted as part of Bo’s anti-crime gang campaign, including over 70 who were executed.
Hu Cheng, a veteran petitioner who blames Wang Lijun for months of illegal detention after his home was seized by a politically connected developer in Chongqing’s Beibei district, said people implicated in Bo’s campaign are waiting for his conviction.
“Once they are convinced it is safe, they will come back and demand compensation. It will take years to sort out,” Hu told Reuters in Beijing.
Bo, 63, was widely seen as pursuing a powerful spot on the ruling Communist Party’s elite inner core before his career unraveled after Wang fled to a U.S. consulate for more than 24 hours last February and alleged that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, had murdered British businessman Neil Heywood.
Gu and Wang have both since been convicted and jailed.
Fang’s case, magnified by the high-profile Bo scandal, also has been used by lawyers and activists in a recent surge of calls for reform to China’s re-education through labor system.
The system, in place since 1957, empowers police to sentence petty criminals to up to four years’ confinement without going through the courts. China’s domestic security head Meng Jianzhu said earlier this month reforms were a priority.
As China’s new leaders prepare to take up the reins of state power at the annual meeting of parliament in March, they are likely to face an outcry if attempts to address the claims of wrongful convictions in Chongqing are not perceived as swift and just.
“Re-examining and correcting these cases of miscarriages of justice and informing the people in a timely manner is absolutely necessary for restoring judicial authority and public confidence,” said Tong Zhiwei, a law professor at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai.
“If these cases aren’t handled well, then the people won’t have any confidence in the system,” he said.
Source: Reuters “China court to rule on compensation for man jailed for Bo joke”
Reblog of Ernest Kao’s blog at SCMP on Wednesday, 30 January, 2013,
Since Xi Jinping took the reins as the party chief last year, he has made several pledges to fight corruption in China. Those who don’t make the cut, he has stressed, will be purged.
The epic Bo Xilai saga aside, “violations of party discipline” (a fancier name for graft) have so far revolved around many of the same offences, namely embezzlement, bribery, nepotism and abuse of power.
While 2011 was all about misbehaving fuerdai (rich second generation) political brats crashing sports cars, 2012 was all about officials getting grilled for possessing ridiculous amounts of personal assets such as property, money and recently, expensive watches. Fake hukous seem to be the “it” corruption offence of late.
Sex scandals are also on the rise, and because of Sina Weibo, they are becoming increasingly humiliating for exposed officials. China blog Danwei billed 2012 the annus horribilis of the “trial by Weibo” of government officials.
SCMP.com has been tracking mischief on its Corruption Watch since the 18th party congress ended in November. At least four cases of corruption in the last three months involve sex tapes, sexy mistresses or sexed-up photos.
It should come as no surprise then that the Crisis Management Research Centre at Renmin University found that 95 per cent of allegedly corrupt officials kept mistresses.
The study, which analysed the 24 cases of corruption in 2012 that were exposed on the Chinese internet, found several recurring patterns amongst them. Danwei reported:
• Twelve out of 24 were over the age of 50.
• The youngest of the 24 officials was 25 years old, a village official from Sichuan.
• The oldest of the 24 officials was 63, which turned out to be Bo Xilai.
• Eight out of 24 officials were accused of crimes involving women.
• Sixteen of the 24 corrupt officials were implicated on economic crimes.
• The shortest length of time from exposure to dismissal was 12 hours.
• The longest time from exposure to dismissal was 40 days.
• Most of 24 corrupt officials held a rank of party secretary or higher.
The centre’s full report was published in the Yanzhao Evening News on Tuesday.
Source: SCMP’s Earnest Kao’s blog “Revealed: emerging trends behind China’s anti-corruption drive”
Three advanced Chinese warships left port on Wednesday for naval drills and war games in the Western Pacific, and the fleet will likely pass through disputed waters in the East and South China Sea, state media said.
The official Xinhua news agency described the maneuvers as routine, but they come as China is engaged in an increasingly bitter, high stakes dispute over maritime territory with Japan and with several Southeast Asia nations.
“The fleet will carry out more than 20 types of exercises including naval confrontation, battle drills far out at sea, the protection of maritime rights and command and control,” Xinhua cited the Defence Ministry as saying in a statement.
“These exercises on the high seas will take in the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, the South China Sea, the Miyako Strait, the Bashi Channel and the seas to the east of Taiwan.”
President Hu Jintao has made boosting the navy a priority, especially in trying to turn it into a blue-water fleet able to operate far from China’s shore, and Chinese ships have participated in anti-piracy missions off Somalia.
But China’s growing defence budget, military advances and perceived lack of transparency have alarmed its neighbors and the United States. China is developing stealth fighters and last year launched its first aircraft carrier.
On Sunday, the government said it had again tested emerging military technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air.
China says it has no hostile designs and that it is simply updating its outdated forces.
The Pacific drills are “a normal way of exercising to raise the fighting ability of the navy”, Xinhua cited a naval officer as saying, adding that it was common for other navies to drill in seas far from home.
Source: Reuters “China to conduct naval drills in Pacific amid tension”
China needs to move beyond a narrow focus on oil issues in South Sudan and help tackle that country’s larger political disputes with Sudan, the outgoing U.S. special envoy to the two African states said on Wednesday.
Ambassador Princeton Lyman said he had worked closely with Chinese officials more than two years, during which time South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 to become the world’s newest nation.
China is Sudan’s biggest ally and is the largest investor in the oil industry there and in South Sudan – a position that Western diplomats say gives Beijing the best chance of defusing tensions between Khartoum and Juba over sharing oil wealth and ending violence on both sides of their shared boundary.
But Lyman said the disputes, which have shut down landlocked South Sudan’s oil output, underscore the limits of staying aloof from political problems.
“They have weighed in very significantly on the oil issue. But what China doesn’t like to do is to get involved in some of the underlying political problems that are keeping the oil from flowing,” he told reporters in Washington.
“Without that stability and (with) the danger of conflict on the border, the chances of having a long-term productive oil sector is threatened, so they can’t just concentrate on the oil and just pretend that the other things aren’t bearing on it,” he said.
China has long held up as its foreign policy mantra non-interference in countries’ internal affairs, a principle it first enunciated in 1954 – long before it was an economic power with interests around the globe.
Source: Reuters “China’s narrow focus on oil in South Sudan won’t work: U.S. envoy”
China’s foulest fortnight for air pollution in memory has rekindled a tongue-in-cheek campaign by a multimillionaire with a streak of showmanship who is selling canned fresh air.
Chen Guangbiao, who made his fortune in the recycling business and is a high-profile philanthropist, on Wednesday handed out soda pop-sized cans of air, purportedly from far-flung, pristine regions of China such as Xinjiang in the northwest to Taiwan, the southeast coast.
“I want to tell mayors, county chiefs and heads of big companies: don’t just chase GDP growth, don’t chase the biggest profits at the expense of our children and grandchildren and at the cost of sacrificing our ecological environment”, Chen said.
China’s air quality is closely watched as it fluctuates dramatically from day to day but in recent weeks has registered far into the unhealthy zone.
Air pollution is measured in terms of PM2.5, or particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which are absorbed by the lungs and can cause heart and lung disease. The World Health Organisation recommends a daily PM2.5 level of 20 and says that levels greater than 300 are serious health hazards.
Beijing’s air quality frequently surges past a level of 500, and on January 12 soared to 755, the highest in memory.
“I go outside, walk for about 20 minutes, and my throat hurts and I feel dizzy”, Chen told Reuters in an interview on a busy Beijing sidewalk.
He handed out green and orange cans of “Fresh Air”, with a caricature of himself on them saying, “Chen Guangbiao is a good man”.
“Be a good person, have a good heart, do good things,” reads a message along the bottom of each can.
The 44-year-old entrepreneur, whose wealth is estimated at $740 million according to last year’s Hurun Rich List of China’s super-wealthy, is an ebullient and tireless self-promoter.
He is something of a celebrity in China, with more than 4 million followers on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular Twitter-like microblogging platform.
He concedes that his canned-air effort is tongue in cheek, but says it’s a way to awaken people to the importance of environmental protection. His campaign is attracting bemusement but also plaudits from the media and from people desperate to escape the smog.
“Beijing’s air really needs to improve, so we need a good man like him to appear,” said a 21-year-old resident surnamed Hu. “It reminds people to use less fuel and do what they can for Beijing’s air”.
The cans of air were free on Wednesday, but usually sell for 5 yuan (80 cents) with proceeds going to poor regions of China, and places of historic revolutionary importance.
Sales, which had been moderate, took off after the recent streak of bad air days, with 8 million cans sold in the last 10 days, Chen said.
Source: Reuters “Chinese millionaire fights pollution with thin air”
SCMP reports: “Communist Party chief Xi Jinping said China would never waive its legitimate rights on the international stage but vowed that the nation would stick to its peaceful development path.
“Xi made the comment as relations between Beijing and Tokyo remained strained amid a territorial dispute over a group of islands in the East China Sea.”
“Speaking at a Politburo study session on Monday, Xi said China would never pursue development by harming other countries’ interests, Xinhua reported yesterday.
“Xi added that other countries should also follow this development path.
“‘We will never sacrifice our core national interests,’ he said. ‘No country should presume that we will compromise over our core interests, or that we will swallow the bitter fruit of harming our sovereignty, security or development interests.’”
For details, please visit SCMP website at:
A billionaire real estate tycoon from Hunan province has come forward to reveal that he paid 320,000 yuan ($51,400) in bribes to more than 300 provincial people’s congress deputies in a failed attempt to win a seat on the body.
The province’s top anti-graft committee had acknowledged that “parts” of the allegations were true, and an investigation was underway, the Guangdong-based Southern Metropolis Daily reported yesterday.
Huang Yubiao, 67, told the South China Morning Post by phone yesterday that officials with the local congress instructed him to bribe the delegates, which he was led to believe would improve his chances of winning a seat on the congress. He said he paid at least 1,000 yuan to more than 300 delegates, but later found out that many recipients did not vote for him.
“The local government threatened me not to make the matter public, and said I could be charged because I bribed public officials,” he said. “But I only did that because they told me to in the first place. And they told me the bribe was a ‘work expense’.”
After losing the election, Huang said, he demanded that recipients of his money refer him via a bank transfer, so he could keep the transactions as evidence. He also said he secretly videotaped those who returned the money to him in person.
The local disciplinary committee and People’s Congress representatives could not be reached for comment yesterday. But Lu Qun, deputy director of the Bureau of Corruption Prevention in Hunan, confirmed the investigation on his microblog account and said the results would be made public.
Huang said no one from the local disciplinary watchdog had contacted him since he reported the matter earlier this month.
The tycoon also claimed that some candidates paid 2,000 yuan to each people’s congress delegate to win a seat in the election.
Most mainland provinces and cities completed their local people’s congress sessions in recent weeks. However, the delegates comprise what is widely considered a ceremonial parliament, as hand-picked delegates are expected to agree with decisions made by the Communist Party.
Huang’s bribery allegations have generated much online criticism of the closed-door system used to select congress deputies.
“One has to spend millions of yuan to be elected as a village head, but now this person wants to spend only hundreds of thousands [of yuan] to become a provincial-level congress deputy,” lawyer Yuan Yulai joked on his microblog. “How ridiculous is that?”
Source: “Hunan tycoon discloses attempt to buy seat on provincial congress”
Highways closed and flights cancelled as Beijing records extremely high levels of air pollution
Thick smog covered almost one seventh of China yesterday, causing traffic chaos on highways and disruptions at airports.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection said satellite images showed smog covering an area of 1.3 million square kilometres by 10am, a third more than on Monday and spanning more than 10 municipalities and provinces.
Serious air pollution was recorded in northern cities such as Beijing and Shijiazhuang and southern cities such as Wuhan and Chengdu .
It was the first time the ministry had released satellite data on the extent of smog, which had also plagued China on three other occasions this month, but it did not release the actual images.
Satellite images released by the US space agency Nasa drew millions of clicks from mainland internet users.
In Beijing, the government’s air pollution index topped 400, three times higher than the national health guideline. The worst reading, 454, was taken at the National Olympics Sports Centre in the Chaoyang district at 4pm, with levels of PM2.5 – fine respirable particulates – reaching 421 micrograms per cubic metre, nearly 17 times the maximum recommended by the World Health Organisation.
The US embassy’s air quality index reading for Beijing stood at 475 and “hazardous” at noon after reaching 517 – “beyond index” – at 6am.
There was traffic chaos in many regions. The Ministry of Transport said Beijing shut down nine highways. Hebei closed five as visibility in some areas dropped below 50 metres, and Hubei shut one highway after three cars crashed in Wuhan due to poor visibility, killing one and injuring 15.
Airlines were also affected. Beijing Capital International Airport reported the cancellation of more than 50 flights. At Xinzheng International Airport in Zhengzhou , Henan, nearly 400 flights had been delayed or cancelled over the past two days.
Source: SCMP “Thick smog closes airports and highways across China”
Party chief calls end to wastefulness at officials’ dinner tables as report reflects public distaste
Communist Party chief Xi Jinping has again called for efforts to curb wasting of public money on extravagant meals.
All government agencies, military units, institutions, state-owned enterprises, non-profit organisations and officials at all levels should set exemplary standards of frugality when holding receptions and put an end to extravagance with public money, China Central Television quoted Xi as saying.
Xinhua said Xi was commenting on an internal report it had circulated to senior officials showing that internet users wanted to see an end to wastefulness at officials’ dinner tables.
Xi, the party’s new general secretary, said the report showed that wastefulness was a problem people opposed strongly, especially when it involved spending public money. He was sad to see it, given that so many people were living in poverty.
He called for the stepping up of a propaganda campaign honouring thrift and disgracing extravagance in all walks of life, and urging people to follow the fine Chinese tradition of “being diligent and thrifty”.
Xi first called on officials to curb extravagance and live a thrifty lifestyle at a Politburo meeting in December in which he asked them to cut back on bureaucratic visits and meetings.
During his tour of Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan and Guangzhou in December, Xi set an example by not ordering the closure of roads to make way for his official motorcade and eating buffet dinners with fewer dishes.
Xi told a meeting of the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection last week that officials should conduct all their undertakings industriously and thriftily, and stand fast against lavishness, hedonism and extravagance.
The effects of the campaign have been visible at meetings of local people’s congresses and people’s political consultative conferences, with no flower arrangements in meeting rooms, no liquor on the dinner tables and no baskets of fruit.
The head of the finance bureau in Qiongzhong county, Hainan, was sacked last week after an inspection team visited a restaurant and found an invoice for 15,000 yuan (HK$18,400) issued to the government that was actually for three private banquets held by the chief.
Source: SCMP “Xi Jinping calls for curbs on lavish official banquets”
Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng urged the United States on Tuesday not to let business concerns prevent it from pressing China over human rights, saying America must never “offer the smallest compromise” on its principles.
Chen is a self-taught legal advocate whose escape from house arrest last April and subsequent refuge in the U.S. Embassy XXX embarrassed China and led to a diplomatic tussle that ended with him leaving China to study in New York.
He used a speech at a human rights award ceremony in Washington to call on the world to hold China to account for repression and to urge ordinary Chinese to look to the example of Myanmar as they struggle to win their rights.
“I sincerely hope that everyone – petitioners, human rights workers, civil rights groups, national governments and especially the United States government – will come together to encourage progress in human rights,” said Chen.
“There should be no compromise, even if there are large business interests at stake – dignity, freedom and justice are more important,” he said in translated remarks read in English by actor and Tibet advocate Richard Gere.
Chen received the 2012 Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize, named after a California congressman who was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the U.S. Congress. Lantos died in 2008.
The activist, now studying law at New York University, said he felt a “profound resonance in my heart” with Lantos from their shared experience escaping persecution and dictatorship.
“We must not only remember the atrocities of the fascists, but also recognize that today authoritarianism is firmly entrenched, and that the barbarism of the authoritarian system is the greatest threat to civilized societies,” said Chen.
Chen endured 19 months of harsh house arrest in his home village in Shandong province before his escape, but said his family members and contacts continued to suffer. Chen’s nephew Chen Kegui was jailed for 3 years after using knives to fend off local officials who burst into his home after Chen’s escape.
“Recently, many friends and neighbors who I have been in touch with by phone have been taken into custody by the authorities for questioning. They have been threatened and made to describe what our conversations have been about,” he said.
CHINESE PEOPLE “MAIN ACTORS”
The United States bore a special responsibility to uphold and promote its basic founding principles, despite economic weakness that has prompted some deference to fast-growing power China over human rights in recent years, he said.
While “it is clearly difficult to shift attention away from issues of finance and the economy, remember that placing undue value on material life will cause a deficit in spiritual life,” said Chen.
“You must establish a long-term plan for human rights and not compromise on it, ever,” he added.
China rejects outside criticism of its human rights record as unwarranted interference in its internal affairs.
Chen, whose dramatic escape last year won him a wide following on China’s social media networks, said ordinary Chinese must be the “main actors” in achieving their rights.
“Democracy, freedom and justice don’t just happen. We must strive for them through action,” he said.
“Last year, Myanmar lifted the ban on political parties, and last Friday it abolished media censorship. What the people in Myanmar do, we can do, too,” said Chen.
The New Hampshire-based Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice has given previous annual awards to the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Holocaust survivor and activist Elie Wiesel, and Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan hotel manager who hid and protected more 1,200 refugees during Rwanda’s genocide.
Source: Reuters “Blind dissident urges global pressure on China over rights”