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Blog: Umbrellas cast shadow over ‘open’ trial in China

9 Aug

A spectator is surrounded by journalists Thursday after exiting the Hefei City Intermediate People's Court where the trial of Gu Kailai for murder takes place. (AP/Eugene Hoshiko)

We cover all kinds of censorship here at CPJ. Recently we documented the cunning application of scissors to prevent readers from accessing China-related articles in hard copy magazines. But it’s been a while since we’ve had chance to write about one favored implement of information control in China: the umbrella. 

Longtime China watchers may remember security officials brandishing parasols in Tiananmen Square on June 4 in 2009, apparently trying to deflect reporters covering the 20th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on anti-government protesters. While they may have obstructed a few standard shots of tourists in the square, the footage of serious-looking security forces toting the colorful barriers in front of the cameras more than made up for the blocked shots. 

Men who were likely plain-clothed security officials employed the same tactic outside the murder trial of Bo Xilai’s wife, Gu Kailai–whose name is sometimes rendered as Bogu Kailai, perhaps to emphasize her connection with her husband, the flamboyant former Communist Party chief of Chongqing. Gu and an aide are on trial for poisoning British citizen Neil Heywood over an unspecified “economic dispute”–she did not contest the charge of intentional homicide in the courtroom today, according to local and international news reports. News of the murder emerged amid corruption accusations against Bo which led to his dismissal, not just from his post, but from the running for top leadership positions opening up when current Politburo Standing Committee members retire at the end of this year.

State media has presented the criminal case against Gu as “irrefutable,” but appears hesitant to draw a connection to the background corruption scandal, which may be a sign that the leadership is reluctant to expose any wrongdoing by Bo Xilai himself. Still, Bo overshadows the proceedings. It was his supporters outside the court who prompted the umbrella black-out, to prevent journalists from photographing them, according to Voice of America and other international news outlets. “Initially there was some undercover police, it looked like some undercover thugs who tried to block cameras with their umbrellas,” VOA quoted reporter Shannon Van Sant saying. When that didn’t prove effective, security forces switched up a gear, beating individuals and bundling at least two supporters into vehicles and driving them away, Van Sant told VOA.

It is deeply ironic to witness a former political star undergoing the kind of treatment that journalists and dissidents face when they are tried for trying to expose official misconduct, but contain your schadenfreude. The umbrellas, ineffective as they seem, are an indication that media control remains the leadership’s top priority during what they have repeatedly touted as an “open” trial–even inviting U.K. officials to attend, according to Bloomberg News.  Xinhua proudly announced that “more than 140 people attended the trial,” including “people from all walks of life.”

Use of the umbrella in this context may be entertaining, but we don’t welcome its return to China’s panoply of censorship apparatus. It hugely undermines the transparency and due process which every defendant–not just the wife of a disgraced leader– deserves. If security officials are willing to flout media freedom at such a public event, what hope is there for open coverage at trials of the lesser-known? 

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Bahrain – Peaceful protests calling for self-determination violently suppressed in Bahrain

9 Aug

9 August 2012

Bahraini policemen arrest protesters during a demonstration in the village of Bani Jamrah

Bahraini policemen arrest protesters during a demonstration in the village of Bani Jamrah


(BCHR/IFEX) – 3 August 2012 – On the night of 2 August 2012, Bahrain witnessed numerous peaceful protests calling for democracy and freedom which were called by the February 14th Coalition in Bani Jamra, Bilad AlQadeem and AlDair and have spread in other areas under the slogan “The People Demand Self-Determination”.

All protests have been suppressed violently; police have used tear gas, stun grenades and birdshots. BCHR has received reports of protesters suffering numerous serious injuries, with some being struck in the head. Since the hospitals have been under military control for over a year now, protesters are unable to receive proper treatment for fear of being arrested. Hospitals have been ordered to report any injury related to protests to the police. Instead, demonstrators have had to manage with home-based treatment.

Police have continued to use an excessive amount of tear gas in residential areas even after dispersing the protests. Reports show that they continue to target houses directly with tear gas. In addition, the helicopter of the ministry of interior was seen lobbing tear gas canisters on residential areas from the air.

More than 35 protesters have been arrested either on the streets or after their houses were raided without any arrest warrant; some were released after being severely beaten. There are several reports of violence against women, as well as objects being stolen during the raids.

According to an eyewitness, those arrested from Bani Jamrah were taken to the stable, which is known to be the location of an unofficial torture centre. The families of the people who were arrested yesterday say that their detained relatives have obvious marks of beating. They have now been moved to the Fort Prison, which has a hospital.

Families that gathered at Samaheej and Bani Jamrah police stations to demand the release of their sons were attacked by security forces and forced to leave. There are continuous reports of protesters being arrested, beaten, having their phones stolen and then released.

The process of documenting the arrests of the night of 2 August is still on-going but the BCHR estimates the number to be between 30-40. The known detainees from last night are listed at the end of BCHR’s report, which also contains a number of videos.

In addition, the head of Women’s Affairs at the AlWefaq political society, Ahlam Alkhuzaei, was arrested last night at the Bahrain airport on her way to an Amnesty International conference in Tunisia. She was released earlier this morning.

DPA/EPA photojournalist Mazin Mahdi, who previously has been stopped during protests, was assaulted by a motorist while he was covering a protest staged by Zainab AlKhawaja on Alqadam roundabout. The security forces were watching but ignoring the on-going assault. While the motorist was allowed to leave the scene, Mazen’s work ID-card was confiscated and he was asked to pick it up from the police station.

BCHR strongly condemns the government’s fierce crackdown on whoever exercises their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and the attack on journalists and activists for exposing the crimes committed in Bahrain by the authorities. We immediately demand the release of all detained activists and protesters, putting an end to the use of violence against peaceful protesters and granting Bahrainis their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.


Bahrain Center for Human Rights
info (@)
Phone: +97 33 9633399
Fax: +97 31 7795170

via IFEX

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