A plague of inverted commas in China (plus bomb plots, protesting monks and some executions)

To coin a phrase that may become rather common in the run-up to 8 August, there’s a lot of news about China at the moment.

First there was the ‘terrorist plot’ by ‘Uighur terrorists’ that the authorities ‘foiled’. Why the plague of inverted commas around these phrases? Some people are saying that there’s no proof of a terrorist plot at all and that it’s all a ruse to justify repressive security measures. It seems that no evidence has been revealed publicly of any plot, though some rumours are now doing the rounds online.

It wouldn’t be a new tactic – the threats of ‘separatism’ and  ‘terrorism’ have been used extensively to justify repression of the mainly-muslim Uighur population in the north-western Xinjang region – books have been banned, mosques closed and people arbitrarily arrested. Uighur businesswoman and activist Rebiya Kadeer (pictured) was a long-standing Amnesty case after she was locked up: now she’s free, living in exile and voicing her opinions on the story publicly.

(I should probably add that China’s not exactly unique in using the threat of terrorism to justify repression: closer to home there’s Guantanamo Bay and our very own Control Order regime.)

Next there’s the Tibetan protests in Lhasa and elsewhere – the former of which have been quashed by the authorities. This quote from the Times story sounds particularly ominous:

Qin Gang, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters “Yesterday afternoon some monks in Lhasa, abetted by a small handful of people, did some illegal things that challenged social stability…they have been dealt with according to the law."

I wonder how many others will be ‘dealt with according to the law’ for ‘doing some illegal things’ in the next few months? (And might Mr Qin be a bit more specific about what they are next time?)

On what may be a more positive note, the Guardian and Death Penalty News carry a story about a possible reduction in executions. Xiao Yang, chief justice of the supreme people's court, has assured us that only ‘extremely vile criminals’ were executed last year. State media said that China's Supreme Court rejected 15 percent of all death sentences handed down by lower courts in 2007 due to a lack of evidence, injustices and illegal court procedures. Some groups are saying the drop may be as high as 30 per cent.

The difficulty, of course, is that the real figures remain a state secret. So while I’d love to take the Chief justice’s word for it and believe whatever state media tells me, I’m going to have to wait for some official data. Hopefully not until after the Olympics (it’s one of the reforms we’re asking China to make as part of its commitment to improve human rights in the run-up to the Games).

Finally, to illustrate how the Olympics is indeed helping to bring news about China’s human rights record to new audiences, have a look at College Candy, where you can read the first in a series of articles about human rights in China, as well as features on the Sex and the City film and a reader quiz on ‘whether you’d make out with a good guy friend’.

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