East Asia Theater

China allows first pollution suit under new law

China's Qingdao Maritime Court on July 27 ruled that a lawsuit against ConocoPhillips China and China National Offshore Oil for a 2011 oil spill can proceed. The suit was brought by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation and it the first case to proceed since the country revised a law (LoC backgrounder) allowing NGOs to directly sue polluters in the public interest. The Chinese government has already fined the companies approximately $258 million for the spill. Other cases are also pending under the law, which became effective on Jan. 1.

Protests as Japan moves toward remilitarization

Japan's lower house on July 16 approved legislation that would allow an expanded role for the nation's Self-Defense Forces in a vote boycotted by the opposition. The vote came one day after Prime Minster Shinzo Abe's ruling LDP-led bloc forced the bills through a committee despite intensifying protests. Opposition lawmakers walked out after their party leaders made final speeches against the bills. Abe cited China's growing military presence in the region in support of the legislation. The bills were drafted after his Cabinet last year adopted a new interpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution. Opponents counter that the new interpretation is unconstitutional. A criticism of the reform is that it is unclear what the new legislation actually does, but it is clearly intended to permit Japanese troops to be deployed on combat missions for the first time since the end of World War II. The package will now be passed on to the upper house of the Diet, and could be approved as early as next week.

China detains human rights lawyers

At least five Chinese lawyers from a human rights law firm were detained on July 11 after being accused of running a criminal syndicate and smear campaign against the Communist Party. The arrests come amid President Xi Jinping's attempts to discredit the rights defense movement which has been challenging the government through protests and litigation. Amnesty International reported that it is believed that more than 50 human rights lawyers and activists have been targeted by authorities for detention and questioning since a nationwide crackdown began last week.

China adopts new national security law

China's top legislature, the NPC Standing Committee, on July 1 adopted a controversial new National Security Law that increases cyber security powers. At its bi-monthly session, 155 members of the committee voted on the measure. The law will increase overseeing of the Internet in China, and authorities will now take tougher measures against cyber attacks, thefts and the spread of "harmful information." The law is one of three adopted in recent months to improve China's security and "strengthen ideological control over the public." The law also includes a cyberspace "sovereignty" clause, which covers assets and activities in space, the deep sea and the polar regions. Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the NPC, stated that the law is extremely important due to increasing security problems within China.

China: ex-security chief sentenced to life

China's ex-security minister Zhou Yongkang was found guilty June 11 of bribery, abuse of power and disclosing state secrets, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was also stripped of his political rights for life and has had his assets confiscated. A year after Zhou's retirement in 2012, he was put under investigation as part of President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign. In a trail that was largely kept secret, Zhou was found to have accepted bribes of about 130 million yuan ($21.3 million) in return for leaking five highly confidential documents. Senior officials convicted of serious crimes within China are typically sentenced to death. This was apparently waived due to Zhou's cooperation in returning all monies.

Sichuan repression signals fear of social explosion

Tens of thousands in China's southwestern city of Linshui marched May 16, to be attacked by riot police, leading to street clashes that  continued long into the night. The protest was called to demand that a proposed rail line linking Dazhou to Chongqing pass through the city in central Sichuan, which currently has no rail access or airport. Authorities recently announced that the route will instead go through Guangan, seemingly chosen because it is the birthplace of Deng Xiaoping. Epoch Times puts the number of demonstrators at 30,000, and Hong Kong's The Standard reports that five are dead—including a schooolgirl. Radio Austrailia has amazing video footage of brutal police charges, which have apaprently been making the rounds on Weibo and other social media in China. Photos at Revolution News (similarly taken by citizen journalists) show the march filling the streets—with big professionally made banners. Even the most complete English-language account, at South China Morning Post, does not make clear who called and organized the march.

Prominent China rights lawyer formally indicted

Chinese prosecutors on May 15 said that prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang has officially been indicted on charges of fanning ethnic hatred and provoking unrest for comments that he posted online. He has already been detained for one year. A more severe charge of inciting divisions and a charge of illegally obtaining personal information were dropped by prosecutors. In a statement the Beijing prosecutors' office said that the human rights lawyer should face criminal prosecution for comments he made on social media and his microblog, which has since been shut down by authorities as a disruption of social order. The US State Department urged Chinese authorities to release Pu earlier this month and respect his rights in accordance with the country's international human rights commitments, but China refused to release him. According to one of Pu's lawyers, the charges could result in a maximum sentence of 10 years, though it is unlikely that such a sentence will be imposed. Pu continues to reject the charges and maintain his innocence, asserting that the case is baseless and politically motivated.

Taiwan: drop criminal charges against protesters

Amnesty International (AI) on Feb. 10 urged the Taiwanese authorities to "drop criminal charges against people solely for participating in or organizing peaceful demonstrations...after more than 100 people were charged for protesting during the so called "Sunflower Movement." AI claims that while the students and activists involved in the movement are being charged, the "police and politicians who may have carried out human rights abuses ... get away without any...investigation." They assert that it is a fundamental right to be able to demonstrate peacefully, and that "the peaceful intention of organizers...must be presumed unless there is compelling...evidence that [they] intend to use, advocate or incite imminent violence." According to AI, these actions on behalf of the authorities, in line with the Parade and Assembly Act , are in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (PDF), formally adopted by Taiwan in 2009.

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