Oct 262012

On Thursday, the New York Times published an investigative article chronicling the dramatic increase of wealth Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s relatives have experienced during Jiabao’s tenure. Journalist David Barboza’s wrote:

 Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives — some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal making — have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.

Unsurprisingly, Chinese officials did not welcome the news.  Within hours, the Chinese government blocked access to the Times.  According to the Times:

By 7 a.m. Friday in China, access to both the English- and Chinese-language Websites of The Times was blocked from all 31 cities in mainland China tested. The Times had posted the article in English at 4:34 p.m. on Thursday in New York (4:34 a.m. Friday in Beijing), and finished posting the article in Chinese three hours later after the translation of final edits to the English-language version.

This is not the first time the Chinese government has tangled with the Times, and in recent months, Chinese regulators have also targeted companies including Google and Bloomberg.  China’s censorship and government control have prompted many Western companies, including Google, to move their business assets (i.e. web servers) outside of mainland China.  Perhaps even scarier for most Americans, Human Rights Watch notes that Chinese government still ensures that their nation remains Facebook and Twitter-less.

Obviously, maintaining these Human Rights and Free Expression restrictions does not bode well for the nation’s long-term success.  (In fairness, China has made some progress by recently passing their first mental health law.)

However, this issue also directly affects international business relations.  In addition to trade regulations, investment policies, etc., the Chinese government’s restrictive policies on expression pose challenges for foreign companies and investors.  As Western businesses, such as the New York Times, continue to explore the Chinese market, they risk damaging the integrity of their brand in exchange for access to a very large/emerging population.

For the most part, western media outlets have not succumbed to Chinese pressure and have, in my opinion, adopted a long-term strategy that hinges, at least in part, on expanding Chinese freedoms.

This struggle has not only been seen with the Times, Google, and Bloomberg, but also with corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, Time Warner, and the Walt Disney Company.  For instance, media companies such as Disney finds themselves working to end piracy while attempting to introduce their characters/products to the Chinese market.

I believe, or at least hope, that Western business advancements in China will ultimately help provide Chinese citizens with greater freedoms and more transparency.  As always, the greatest champion of expanding free expression and personal liberty is access to information.

Aug 272012

As you may be aware, Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid deportation/trial/etc.  In the Christian Science Monitor, Kantathi Suphamongkhon makes a case for how Assange could be arrested without breaking international law.  “How to arrest Julian Assange without violating international law” is an interesting read.

In other news, Russia warns the United States against “violating” international law in the Syria conflict.  While this is not solely a human rights issue and the United States does not have a stellar human rights record, it is always ironic to to be lectured by Russia, China, Syria, and the like.  Free Pussy Riot, anyone?

Jul 252011

Human rights advocates are furious once again at the Chinese government and its continual targeting of it’s citizen’s privacy.  Many Chinese citizens have enjoyed some freedom to surf the internet at public places such as cafes, hotels, and restaurants; however, a new Chinese law now requires businesses to install costly software that tracks the web usage/traffic of each user.  This has an obvious chilling effect on speech and diminishes personal privacy.  It is another example of China’s continual assault against their citizen’s liberties.

While this development is not surprising, it should not go unnoticed.  The full story here.

May 122010

Many in India have  grown impatient over whether the US will allow Indian officials to interrogate Mumbai terrorist suspect David Headley.  According to the Times of India, “US ambassador Timothy Roemer… promised India’s direct access to.. Headley… in the weeks ahead.”  The full article is here.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that Headley will talk.  If he does, he could potentially provide incriminating evidence, thus hindering his US defense.

Yesterday I highlighted a story about two Chinese lawyers whose licenses were revoked after representing a client the Chinese government deemed part of an “evil cult.”  Human rights stories often dominate the news, and another newsworthy story concerns Bita Ghaedi.  Ghaedi fled from Iran to the UK to escape a forced marriage and in fear that her family would discover that she had a hidden lover.  Both are offenses under Iran’s sharia law, and Ghaedi fears death either by the government or her family (an honor killing).  The UK temporarily suspended Ghaedi’s deportation while she files a renewed application for judicial review.  More at the Guardian.

Ghaedi’s case showcases the ongoing challenges Western countries face as foreign nationals flee oppressive laws/regimes and seek protection in more liberal societies.  Frequently, petitioners are granted protection from sharia law.  Hopefully democracies will increasingly protest harsh treatment of women, minorities, and others under sharia law.

May 112010

When flipping through this morning’s copy of the New York Times, I noticed the following in the World Briefing Section:

China: 2 Lawyers of a Practitioner Of Falun Gong Have Licenses Revoked

Two lawyers who represented a follower of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement have had their licenses revoked… the charge was based on a 2009 trial in which they defended a practitioner.

I quickly shifted to the computer to learn more.

According to a more in-depth article by Edward Wong and Xiyun Yang, Tang Jitian and Liu Wei had their law licenses permanently revoked for disrupting “the order of the court and [interfering] with the regular litigation process.” The allegation stemmed from the lawyers defense of a religious practitioner who’s organization was deemed an “evil cult” and banned by the Chinese government.  Mr. Jitian and Mr. Wei learned of the court’s decision via an internet posting; no notice was sent to them directly.

According to the New York Times article, the license revocation is unusual even if the Chinese government’s crackdown on practitioners is not.  The Times says,

In July 2009, the government shut down the offices of Gongmeng, a prominent legal research organization in Beijing. Also known as the Open Constitution Initiative, lawyers at Gongmeng had been taking on increasingly controversial projects, including representing parents whose children died from tainted milk and putting out a report that questioned the central government’s policies in Tibet. Mr. Tang and Ms. Liu had done some work with Gongmeng.

This story highlights the struggles of many practitioners around the world, most notably those involved with human rights issues.