PEN International /Report of the Writers for Peace Committee at the zoom conference on
Dear colleagues and friends,
How our world has changed in the last two years. Alone this online form of conference explained everything. The world is still in danger; it is not only threatened by the Covid-virus, but also overshadowed by the violence, the war and the tremendous climate change.
The Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari has written in his popular science trilogy about the Homo Sapiens (2014-2018). In “A Brief History of Tomorrow”, he announced that humankind has conquered the war, the epidemic and is going to master nature. He said that humankind is facing a futuristic biotechnological great leap forward. Yet, the reality does not match his prognostications. On the contrary, things happen that are against our consciousness, belief and intelligence.
Today, I want to pick up two examples, one on China and one on Burma/Myanma to explain how history is developing backwards.
There are 5 issues which I’d like to talk about
1.Pandemic and Its Victims
China is the origin- country of Covid-pandemic, the virus was found in Wuhan city almost 2 years ago. The government has ruthlessly locked down the city with its 11 million population and fought rather successfully against the virus. Within 60 days, the virus was eliminated. At the moment, China is not a virus ground zero land, yet compared with other countries, the pandemic situation is mostly under control.
In China, there are many people who have been persecuted because they have practiced their freedom of expression and posted online information about the coronavirus situation during the lockdown in Wuhan last year.
The Writers in Peace Committee and the Writers in Prison Committee have issued a joint statement in April to name 5 cases of persecuted journalists during the pandemic because of their brave whistleblower deeds. Three of the journalists have disappeared since they posted the realistic scenario in Wuhan last year. They are probably under strict police detention or under house arrest. Till today, we don’t know their whereabouts.
The two women victims: the journalist Zhang Zhan was sentenced to 4 years for her reports about the true situation of the besieged city Wuhan. Ms. Geng Xiaonan, a publisher, was sentenced to 3 years. The most recent information from the New York Times about Ms. Zhang was alarming. The 37 years old journalist refused to accept the accusation of the court and therefore refused to eat regularly in prison. It is said that she has lost so much weight (less than 40 kilos), that her life is in danger.
2. The Suppressed Ethnic Groups- the Uighur, the Tibetan, the Mongolian
The Uighur is a Islam ethnic in China. Xi Jinping- government declared that many of the Uighurs are terrorists. Over one million Uighurs are detained in the so-called “vocational training centers”, which the international media called “concentration camps”. The detainees have to go through the brain-washing process, to learn the Chinese language, accept the communist ideology and worship the CCP and its leaders. USA, Canada, England, Netherland and Lithuanias have described this act against the Uighurs as genocide.
The same thing happened in Tibet and Inner Mongolia where the ethnics have to give up their own culture and language. Millions of Han-Chinese are immigrating into those areas so that the original ethic groups become the minority in their homeland.
3. Hong Kong Is Falling
The so-called “security law” has been imposed on HK since last July. The rule of law and freedom of press are strangled. The liberal newspaper “Apple Daily” was shut down. Lawyers, journalists, democratic members of the councils, members of the Labour Union are arrested. NGOs are forced to close. Hong Kong is no more a free harbour and city. It is besieged and mourned under the Chinese authoritarian regime.
4. Taiwan under Military Threat
After Hong Kong is under total control through the CCP, the Xi-government strengthens the military threats toward Taiwan. In regular rhythm, Chinese air forces send fighter jets to fly around the island. The military destroyers are circling around Taiwan Street. China wants to swallow the democratic and prosperous island country.
5. Mass Digital Surveillance
The Social Credit System is mandatory starting from 2020. The Chinese government is monitoring its citizens through the Internet, cameras and other digital devices. The number of surveillance cameras has topped over 626 millions. The corona pandemic has accelerated the implementation of mass surveillance. It is said that the police can catch everyone they want within 7 minutes. The “big brother” is not only watching you, he has got you in his sack already.
The situation in Myanmar is still very precarious. The military coup on 1st of February this year, has turned the country to terror and anxiety. The National League for Democracy (NLD) won the election last November. Yet the militaries declared the election invalid, accusing it fraud and detained the president Win Mint and state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. The two politicians and others were charged, supposedly for having broken the laws and illegally used communication devices (such as walkie-talkie), which is forbidden in Myanmar because it is for military -related use only. After the military seized power in February, the commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing declared a year -long state of emergency. That means the military has uncontrolled power to impose restrictions, curfews and limits to gatherings. They can throw disobedient people into jail without legal procedure.
Mass protests have been taking place in the whole country since the military putsch in February.
People of all kinds of professions are among the protesters. Common citizens, teachers, students, lawyers, workers, employees, medical personnels and even monks went to street to protect the result of the election. Yet the “security forces” used water cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse the protesters. Hundreds were killed or injured by the armed forces. Till August 18th, about 1006 people died during the protest actions.
The military started to arrest the oppositions and the irrepressible people. Thousands of people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, such as Thailand. But they are illegal refugees, they do not have any travel documents. There are many camps at the border. The living conditions, the healthcare are miserable. It is said that over 90,000 refugees are living in the camps today. The Myarmar’s military sometimes attacks these camps and Thailand authority has not granted protections to the refugees. Dissidents among the refugees are especially vulnerable. Sometimes they could be arrested and sent back to their home country and severe punishment is waiting for them there. There are uncountable number of dissidents are hiding somewhere in Myanmar or in Thailand.
The crackdown on Rohingya
Myanmar considers the ethnic Islam Rohingya as illegal immigrants and denies them citizenship. Over decades, many have fled the country. The recent mass displacement of them in 2017 has killed thousands and more than 700,000 fled to Bangladesh. The crackdown has been declared internationally as crime against the humanity, and defined as genocide. The Islamic states Malaysia and Indonesia do not welcome the Rohingyas. Other countries like India, Thailand do not want to have them either. Today, there are around 200,000 Rohingyas living in refugee camps in Bangladesh under miserable conditions.
So, I conclude my report here. If I may compress the critical and troublesome situation in some of the Asian areas: the key problem is democracy versus totalitarian. The right of personal liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and world peace can only be guaranteed under the democratic system and in a democratic society.
Thank you for your attention.