Chinese strollers, Egyptian bloggers, Comic footballers

I spotted an interesting story in The Scotsman this morning (also reported in the Guardian) about a petrochemical factory in China that is due to be relocated after thousands of local residents marched in protest.A storm caused a breach in a dyke protecting the plant, near the city of Dalian, sparking fears of toxic spills. Residents reacted and organised online, leading to a ‘mass stroll’ in the city. Reportedly people carried placards demanding the relocation of the plant. But what’s really striking is that riot police stood by and watched the peaceful protest go through the city. Without arresting the protesters. Quite unusual in China.Of course I shouldn’t be too quick to praise. It wouldn’t be unusual for the authorities to chase down those who organised the demo in the next few days and lock them up. But for now, it’s a positive story about Chinese people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest being respected.A couple of pages later in my copy of the Scotsman, I spotted a story about Aung San Suu Kyi starting her political tour of the country, the first time she’s left Rangoon since her release from house arrest. Again it’s too early to start praising the Burmese Junta but at least, and at last, this is a start. There’s still a long way to go though: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is no longer confined to her home, but past abuses need to be addressed by the international community – Amnesty’s asking people to lobby countries from Sweden to Italy and urge them to support a UN Commission of Inquiry into the abuses committed by the Burmese authorities. Later on in the same paper (I’m in Edinburgh working at the festival, hence my choice of news source) I read about how the Syrian authorities are responding to their own protests: gunboats. Firing on a city. The city of Latakia reportedly saw 10,000 people take to the streets in recent weeks demanding political change, and the response is typical of the way that the government has responded to protests – with extreme violence. A lesson in how not to respond to protests. Ditto the Egyptian authorities’ prosecution of a blogger for ‘defaming’ the military on Twitter.The right to freedom of expression is why I’m here at the festival: Amnesty’s spent the last 50 years trying to protect people’s right to fee speech, so where better to showcase that work than at a festival where thousands of people are enjoying that right every night?We’re campaigning in Edinburgh to “Free the UAE 5”, five men who are detained in Abu Dhabi after they called online for more democracy and questioned how their country’s run. Yesterday we hosted the annual ‘comedians vs critics football match’ and had both teams playing in shirts emblazoned with the “Free the UAE 5” slogan – read our match report here and get involved in the campaign here.

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