Agam's Gecko
Saturday, December 10, 2005

appy birthday, Universal Declaration of Human Rights! Today is a big day for you -- your 57th birthday! Although it seems you were misnamed at birth, as there was nothing particularly universal about you either then or now. Human rights are universal, the Declaration was, and is not so. Mrs. Roosevelt and the many other of your laudable parents may have better given you the grand, all-encompassing term as a middle name instead. The Declaration of Universal Human Rights would sound more suitable for you.

As if to mark the special day (along with Mr. el Baradei getting his Peace Prize), the Chinese Communist Party has held a special event this week. For the first time since the Beijing Massacre of 1989, Chinese police have shot and killed a number of village protesters in southern Guangdong province. Dongzhou village, a small town near the city of Shanwei had seen public protests in recent weeks over confiscation of property by the government for the purposes of industrial development, offering the villagers only meager compensation. One fellow quipped that "it wasn't even enough to buy toilet paper." There had been recurrent sit-ins and public demonstrations over the injustice in Dongzhou. This phenomenon has been noted to be on the increase in recent years as official corruption and governmental unaccountability continues to generate issues which people across the country are becoming more bold in demanding their rectification. There were more than 74,000 "riots" or "social disturbances" last year according to the government's own figures, a huge jump over the previous year.

Although these incidents are so numerous, very few of them attract the attention of outside media. One similar case took place in Taishi village, also in Guangzhou province, during the past summer (wai Gateway Pundit who has more links on the current incident and others). The Dongzhou shooting seems to have been reported first in the western media on Friday, although the incident itself apparently happened on Dec. 6. Authorities acted quickly to cover up the crime:
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper on Saturday quoted villagers who said authorities were trying to conceal the deaths by offering families money to give up bodies of the dead.

"They offered us a sum but said we would have to give up the body," an unidentified relative of one slain villager, 31-year-old Wei Jin, was quoted as saying. "We are not going to agree."

Police were carrying photos of villagers and trying to find people linked to the protest, the newspaper said, citing villagers.
As in any similar event reporting from China, we must keep in mind that tight restrictions on communications are instantly imposed by the communist authorities and can be extremely effective. Since the event, no one has been allowed to leave or enter the village, so whatever information being reported is generally acquired by telephone and is often third or fourth hand hearsay. Foreign journalists on the scene -- or near to it -- can also sometimes be unreliable, as in the earlier mentioned Taishi event when a Guardian writer greatly embellished the beating of a democracy activist there, and reported that the man was certainly beaten to death. He wasn't, and continues his democracy work. No Guardian writers were used or harmed in writing this article.

But there are several corroborative stories online today which seem to confirm that police fired their weapons into a crowd of unarmed people (some may have used fireworks to shoot back - see below), killing a number of them and wounding many others. Reuters spoke by phone to one man in the town:
"Now the authorities are coming to the village to detain people," said one villager, adding his brother was among those shot dead during the demonstrations.

"My parents and my sister-in-law are kneeling in front of the house to ask the government officials to explain the killing," he said in a telephone interview.

He put the number of dead at more than 10.


The resident said police were chasing away family members who tried to claim the bodies of those who were killed, describing the scene as "chaos" and pleading for help.

"Please send somebody to help us," he said. Noise in the background was so loud it was difficult to hear.
The New York Times had an extensive story this morning, and I hope this link to the "printer friendly" version will work (Times is notorious for links to their stories going into endless redirections...).
"From about 7 p.m. the police started firing tear gas into the crowd, but this failed to scare people," said a resident who gave his name only as Li and claimed to have been at the scene, where a relative of his was killed. "Later, we heard more than 10 explosions, and thought they were just detonators, so nobody was scared. At about 8 p.m. they started using guns, shooting bullets into the ground, but not really targeting anybody.

"Finally, at about 10 p.m. they started killing people."


Everybody, young and old, "went out to watch," said one man who claimed his cousin had been killed by a police officer's bullet in the forehead. "We didn't expect they were so evil. The farmers had no means to resist them."
Authorities claimed the people had started the whole thing, attacking them with pipe bombs. Villagers claimed that they had no weapons and that the police started shooting without provocation, but that some of their own number were holding fireworks:
"The organizers didn't have any money, so someone bought fireworks and placed them there. At the moment the trouble started many of the demonstrators were holding them, and of those who held fireworks, almost everyone was killed."

Other witnesses estimated that 10 people were killed immediately in the first volley of automatic gunfire. "I live not far from the scene, and I was running as fast as I could," said one witness, who declined to give his name. "I dragged one of the people they killed, a man in his 30's who was shot in his chest. Initially I thought he might survive, because he was still breathing, but he was panting heavily, and as soon as I pulled him aside, he died."

The witness said that he, too, had come under fire when the police saw him coming to the aid of the dying man.
This incident recalls another in Shengyou village last June, where gangs of thugs were sent in to break up a similar demonstration. No guns, but they apparently beat at least six people to death with pipes and clubs. One of the Shengyou villagers had managed to videotape that attack, which was seen in some western media. This week in Dongzhou (continuing from the NYT)...
Villagers said that in addition to the regular security forces, the authorities had enlisted thugs from local organized crime groups to help put down the demonstration. "They had knives and sticks in their hands, and they were two or three layers thick, lining the road," one man said. "They stood in front of the armed police, and when the tear gas was launched, the thugs were all ducking."
Radio Free Asia had apparently been following the Dongzhou dispute before the wireservices or big media were paying attention, and in their latest coverage posted this morning, has more details on the official cover-up:
Others were still waiting for news of missing loved ones. Estimates of those dead, feared missing, were between 20 and 30, with many unconfirmed reports circulating that bodies had been destroyed.

"Some people said they saw police dressing up three of the villagers' bodies in police uniforms and taking photos of them," one man said. "Some also said that several bodies had already been taken to the crematorium and that they had also been changed into police uniforms."

No reports have emerged of the incident in mainland Chinese media so far: The online transcript of Thursday's regular foreign ministry press briefing had questions about the Shanwei troubles edited out.

"The officials have been warning us---perhaps it's because some journalists have arrived---not to 'speak carelessly'," the Dongzhou woman said. "We are supposed to say that the dead were killed by our own during the violence, and not to mention that they were shot by the police."
This stuff begins to remind me of General Suchinda's goons during the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators here in Bangkok, in May 1992. There were the dead, there were the wounded, and then there were the large number who simply went "missing," never to be heard from again. Reports of bodies having been loaded on trucks and taken out of the city to be disposed of, and grainy night photos of such trucks with a barely discernable tangle of limbs sticking out from beneath the canvas. That was the end of military rule -- even behind a facade democracy as it was at the time -- once and for all.

Only a few days before the brutal attack in Dongzhou, on December 4 up to a quarter million Hong Kong people took to their streets demanding full democracy, and there have been other massive democracy protests in that city as well. Surely some of their neighbours, still living under Communist Party rule outside the "Special Administrative Region" must be aware of these events, and perhaps take some courage from them. Guangdong province is the area which completely surrounds the Hong Kong SAR, and Dongzhou appears to be not too far along the coast to the northeast. A friend of mine, originally from Hong Kong, once told me prior to its handover back to the PRC "motherland" that Hong Kong would be a "poison pill" which would sooner or later kill the one-party communist rule on the mainland.

The best way for the CCP to mark the goal of Universal Human Rights would be to admit that they have no intention of honouring the country's signature on that non-universal declaration, admit that their eternal monopoly on power in that country is the main hindrance in attaining China's eventual status as a modern state, declare a full and nationwide freedom to organise political parties, and set a date for democratic elections. Without such a valve, the pressure will continue to increase until it explodes -- and nobody wants that, surely not even the CCP. Allow the Chinese people's creativity and innovation to finally come forward, let a thousand flowers bloom. It would be a radical shift, but it seems too late now to expect this development to succeed at the present, timid pace before the lid will blow off.

Check out Between Heaven and Earth, a new blog on China originating from my old B.C. stomping grounds (Victoria, to be precise). Wai China e-Lobby for the tip. And here's another interesting site from an expatriate American based in China (he has more on the Dongzhou incident too) -- Daai Tou Laam Diary. Best wishes for Human Rights Day, especially for those who don't have them, and for whom it must appear to be a huge uphill battle to get them. By the way, it's a special day in Thailand also. December 10 is the day we mark as Constitution Day (Wan Pra Ratchathan Rattathammanoon)

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