Saturday, October 23, 2010

Orlando Zapata Tamayo & Anatoli Marchenko: Symbols of resistance

"I am convinced that publicity is the sole effective means of combating the evil and lawlessness which is rampant in my country today." - Anatoli Marchenko

Orlando Zapata Tamayo & Anatoli Marchenko

On the eve of the 8 month anniversary of the death of prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010 the impact of his life and death are still reverberating around the world.

When Guillermo Fariñas Hernández learned that the European Parliament had awarded him the Sakharov Prize On October 21, 2010 he announced: “This prize I dedicate in particular to Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Pedro Luis Boitel. These two martyrs died from hunger strikes in protest against the dictatorship of Fidel Castro. I dedicate this prize to all the Cubans who have died for freedom and democracy in Cuba.”

Communism is an international phenomenon that demonstrates common patterns of repression regardless of geography and ethnicity. The tactics used to break down the person are the same whether in the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China or the Republic of Cuba under the Castro brothers.

On October 23, 2010 Orlando Zapata's family and friends gathered at his tomb

The patterns of resistance to communist repression share common patterns around the world. Before there was an Orlando Zapata Tamayo there was an Anatoli Marchenko. The parallels between the two are uncanny both were uncompromising human rights defenders who came from working class background. In the Introduction to his book My Testimony written about his time in prison in the 1960s Anatoli described how he survived the brutal conditions:
"When I was locked up in Vladimir Prison I was often seized by despair. Hunger, illness, and above all helplessness, the sheer impossibility of struggling against evil, provoked me to the point where I was ready to hurl myself upon my jailers with the sole purpose of being killed. .. One thing alone prevented me, one thing alone gave me the strength to live through that nightmare; the hope that I would eventually come out and tell the whole world what I had seen and experienced. .. And I gave my word on this to my comrades who were doomed to spend many more years behind bars and barbed wire."

Nevertheless, the commitment to the defense of human rights and not abandoning his homeland when told to by representatives of the Soviet regime would prove fatal. Soviet dissident Anatoli Marchenko was a worker-turned-human rights activist of Ukrainian origin. As a result of his human rights activism he spent 20 years in prisons and labor camps, whose cruel conditions he later described in his books.

One way in which he highlighted human rights problems in the then Soviet Union was through hunger strikes. The last one began on August 4, 1986 when he refused food demanding an end to the torture of political prisoners in the USSR and that they all be released. There was little reaction to his hunger strike from the world press. He died on December 8, 1986 at the age of 48 after being hospitalized the day before. Months later in 1987 Gorbachev announced the liberation of all political prisoners. One year later in 1988 Anatoli Marchenko was awarded the Sakharov Prize along with Nelson Mandela and to date the only one to win the award posthumously. Three years later in 1991 the Soviet Union was dissolved.

The dictatorship in Cuba knows this history and fears the legacy of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. They are trying to pressure his family into leaving Cuba making their lives unbearable.

The news media that ignored the suffering and torture that Orlando Zapata Tamayo was subjected to and who ignored his hunger strike but reported on his death now recognize its importance. CNN on October 10, 2010 reported the fact that: “International pressure grew when one jailed dissident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died earlier this year following a prolonged hunger strike protesting inmate living conditions. The Cuban government responded by promising to free the group by November in the largest release of political prisoners in more than a decade.”

Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s name appears as a symbol of resistance to the systematic denial of human rights in Cuba and the need for all political prisoners to be freed and the laws changed. His sacrifice was not in vain, and the 2010 Sakharov Prize although awarded to Guillermo Fariñas Hernández would not have been awarded to a Cuban if not for the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010. Like Anatoli Marchenko before him, Orlando Zapata Tamayo with his record as a human rights defender and his death on hunger strike denouncing torture and demanding freedom for all political prisoners has shaken the dictatorship and forced it to release the largest number of political prisoners since Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit.

Now the question remains will the patterns of resistance and regime reactions continue to unfold in a similar pattern? If it does then it means that the dictatorship’s days may be numbered.

Regardless, Orlando Zapata Tamayo is in the thoughts and prayers of many Cubans remembering that 8 months ago today he died to demonstrate the brutal nature of the dictatorship so that others might live.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Sakharov Prize: Who is it named after?

"I will never abandon the fight for human freedom. Peace depends on the freedom of each and every man." - Andrei Sakharov, 1986

Guillermo Fariñas Hernández was awarded the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament on October 21, 2010. Who was Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, the man the award is named after? A nuclear physicist, he was considered the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, and later a human rights activist who won the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize. In his Nobel Lecture on December 11, 1975 (read by his wife Elena Bonner, who also accepted the prize, - he was not allowed to leave the Soviet Union) Sakharov made the case for the linkage between peace, economic development and human rights. Let him tell you in his own words about this remarkable journey.:

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov: An Autobiography

Translation from the Russian text

I was born on 21 May 1921. My father was a well-known teacher of physics and the author of textbooks, exercise books and works of popular science. I grew up in a large communal apartment where most of the rooms were occupied by my family and relations and only a few by outsiders. The house was pervaded by a strong traditional family spirit - a vital enthusiasm for work and respect for professional competence. Within the family we provided one another with mutual support, just as we shared a love of literature and science.

My father played the piano remarkably well, in particular Chopin, Grieg, Beethoven and Scriabin. During the civil war he earned a living by playing the accompaniment to silent films at the cinema.

I am especially grateful for the memory of my grandmother, Maria Petrovna, who was the family's good spirit. She died before the war at the age of 79. My grandmother brought up six children and when she was around 50 years old she taught herself English all on her own. Right up to the time of her death she read English works of fiction in the original. From when we were quite small she read aloud to us, her grandchildren. I still have the most vivid memory of her reading to us those evenings. It would be Pushkin, Dickens, Marlowe or Beecher-Stowe, and in Holy Week, the Gospel.

The influence of my home has meant a great deal to me, particularly because I had my first lessons at home and later experienced the greatest difficulty in adapting myself to my classmates. I took my final school examination with distinction in 1938 and at once began to study at the Faculty of Physics in Moscow University. Here too I passed my Finals with distinction, in 1942 when because of the war, we had been evacuated to Ashkhabad.

In the summer and autumn of 1942 I lived for some weeks in Kovrov where I had originally been sent to work after my graduation. Later I worked as a lumberjack in a desolate rural settlement near Melekess. My first bitter impressions of the life of the workers and peasants in that very hard time are derived from those days. In September 1942 I was sent to a large munitions factory on the Volga where I worked as an engineer and inventor right until 1945. At the factory I made a number of inventions in the field of production control. But in 1944, while still employed at the factory, I wrote some scientific articles on theoretical physics and sent them to Moscow for appraisal and comment. These first works were never published, but they gave me the self-confidence so essential to every researcher.

In 1945 I began to read for my doctorate at the Lebedev Institute, the department of physics in the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. My teacher there was the great theoretical physicist, Igor Evgenyevich Tamm.

He influenced me enormously and later became a member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and a winner of the Nobel Prize for physics. In 1947 I defended my thesis on nuclear physics, and in 1948 I was included in a group of research scientists whose task was to develop nuclear weapons. The leader of this group was I.E. Tamm.

For the next 20 years I worked under conditions of the highest security and under great pressure, first in Moscow and subsequently in a special secret research centre. At the time we were all convinced that this work was of vital significance for the balance of power in the world and we were fascinated by the grandeur of the task. In the foreword to my book Sakharov Speaks, as well as in My Country and the World, I have already described the development of my socio-political views in the period 1953-68 and the dramatic events which contributed to or were the expression of this development. Between 1953 and 1962 much of what happened was connected with the development of nuclear weapons and with the preparations for and realization of the nuclear experiments. At the same time I was becoming ever more conscious of the moral problems inherent in this work. In and after 1964 when I began to concern myself with the biological issues, and particularly from 1967 onwards, the extent of the problems over which I felt uneasy increased to such a point that in 1968 I felt a compelling urge to make my views public.

Thus it was that the article Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom came into being. In reality these are the same themes which seven and a half years later were to become the title of my Nobel Lecture ("Peace, Progress and Human Rights"). I consider these themes to be fundamentally important and closely interconnected. My public stand represented a turning point for me and my entire future. The article very quickly became known throughout the world. For a long time the Soviet press contained no mention of the Progress, and later references were either disapproving in the extreme or else ironic. A great many critics, even if sympathetically disposed towards me, regarded my reflections in this work as exceedingly naive and speculative. Today, however, after eight intervening years, it seems that much of what may be termed important both in Soviet politics and in international politics is connected in one way or another with these thoughts.

From 1970 onwards the defence of human rights and the defence of the victims of political trials became all-important to me. Together with (Valery) Chalidze and Tverdokhlebov, and later with (Igor) Shafarevich and Podyapolski I shared in running the Committee for Human Rights, thus making my position quite clear. I feel bound to recall the fate of two of them. In April 1976 Andrei Tverdokhlebov was sentenced to five years exile for his social work, and in March Grigori Podyapolski was lost to us through his tragic premature death.

As early as 1950, Tamm and I were the joint originators of a Soviet work on controlled thermonuclear reaction (the thermonuclear reaction of hydrogen isotopes either for the production of electrical energy or for the production of fuel for nuclear reactors). Great advances have now been made in this work. A year later, at my initiative, experiments were started on the construction of implosive magnetic generators (devices by which chemical or nuclear reactions are transformed into magnetic field energy). In 1964 we attained a record with a magnetic field of 25 million gauss.

From July 1968, when my article was published abroad, I was removed from top-secret work and "relieved" of my privileges in the Soviet "Nomenclatura" (the privileged class at the top of the system). Since the summer of 1969 I have again been working at the Lebedev Institute where I studied, as an assistant, for my doctorate from 1945 to 1947 and began my scientific work. My present work concerns the problems connected with the theory of elementary particles, the theory of gravitation and cosmology and I shall be glad if I can manage to make some contribution to these important branches of science.

Nevertheless, it is the social issues which unremittingly demand that I make a responsible personal effort and which also lay increasing claims on my physical and mental powers. For me, the moral difficulties lie in the continual pressure brought to bear on my friends and immediate family, pressure which is not directed against me personally but which at the same time is all around me. I have written about this on many occasions but, sad to report, all that I said before applies equally today. I am no professional politician - which is perhaps why I am continually obsessed by the question as to the purpose served by the work done by my friends and myself, as well as its final result. I tend to believe that only moral criteria, coupled with mental objectivity, can serve as a sort of compass in the cross-currents of these complex problems.

I have stated in writing many times already that I intend to refrain from making any concrete political prognoses. There is a large measure of tragedy in my life at present. The sentences lately passed on my close friends - Sergei Kovalev (who just exactly at the time of the Nobel Prize ceremony was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment and three years' exile) and Andrei Tverdokhlebov - represent the clearest and most unequivocal evidence of this. Yet, even so, both now and for always, I intend to hold fast to my belief in the hidden strength of the human spirit.

[The following is from the Nobel Committee]

After receiving the prize, Sakharov continued to work for human rights and to make statements to the West through Western correspondents in Moscow. Early in 1980, after he had denounced the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he was exiled to Gorky. In 1984, Elena Bonner joined him, also under sentence of exile. Isolated from family and friends, they continued to be persecuted by the KGB. Sakharov resorted to hunger strikes to secure medical treatment for Bonner, who was finally given permission to leave the Soviet Union for heart surgery in 1985. After Mikhail Gorbachev came to power with a policy of liberalisation, they were freed and allowed to return to Moscow in 1986. Despite the measure of freedom now possible, which enabled him to take up a political role as an elected member of the Congress of the People's Deputies, Sakharov was critical of Gorbachev, insisting that the reforms should go much further. He died in Moscow on December 14, 1989.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2010

Press Freedom Index 2010

The 15 countries with worse press freedoms according to Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2010 out of 178 countries. ranked in order from worse to least worse. Eritrea was the worse below is the rest of the lousy 15:

178. Eritrea
177. North Korea
176. Turkmenistan
175. Iran
174. Burma
173. Syria
172. Sudan
171. China
170. Yemen
169. Rwanda
168. Laos
167. Equatorial Guinea
166. Cuba
165. Vietnam
164. Tunisia

The only Latin American country to make the bottom 15 was Cuba at #166 . The country with the most press freedom in 2010 was Finland at #1 with the United States ranking 20th just after the United Kingdom.

Ten countries where it is not good to be a journalist

In recent years, Reporters Without Borders drew particular attention to the three countries that were always in the last three positions – Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan. This year, a bigger group of ten countries – marked by persecution of the media and a complete lack of news and information – are clumped together at the bottom. The press freedom situation keeps on deteriorating in these countries and it is getting harder to say which is worse than the other. The difference between the scores of the “best” and worst of the last 10 countries was only 24.5 points this year. It was 37.5 points in 2009 and 43.25 points in 2007.

It is worth noting that, for the first time since the start of the index in 2002, Cuba is not one of the 10 last countries. This is due above all to the release of 14 journalists and 22 activists in the course of the past summer. But the situation on the ground has not changed significantly. Political dissidents and independent journalists still have to deal with censorship and repression on a daily basis.

Freedom is not allowed any space in Burma, where a parliamentary election is due to be held next month, and the rare attempts to provide news or information are met with imprisonment and forced labor.

Finally, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Mexico, countries either openly at war or in a civil war or some other kind of internal conflict, we see a situation of permanent chaos and a culture of violence and impunity taking root in which the press has become a favorite target. These are among the most dangerous countries in the world, and the belligerents there pick directly on reporters such as French TV journalists Stéphane Taponier and Hervé Ghesquière, who have been held hostage in Afghanistan for the past 300 days.

What will it be like when Fidel Castro dies?

The 1991 film The Inner Circle offers an insight into the last few months of Josef Stalin's life and death. The film is based on the account given to the filmmaker by Alex Ganchin, who was the private projectionist and a KGB officer for Stalin between 1939 and 1951, and is described in the opening credits of the film as a true story.

Roger Ebert in his February 9, 1992 review of the film quotes the conversation between the filmmaker and the projectionist decades earlier:
"I want to find out what the censors say about my film," Andrei Konchalovsky whispered to the projectionist. "I'll give you a bottle of brandy if you eavesdrop after the screening, and let me know what their objections are." "Why not?" said the projectionist, and the next day, he reported their deliberations to the movie director. "But this was nothing," the projectionist added. "You should have heard what they said about the movies in Stalin's day." "In Stalin's day?" asked Konchalovsky.

"Yes. I was his projectionist." Konchalovsky unscrewed the cap from the brandy he had brought along and settled down in the Moscow projection booth. "Tell me more," he said.
And the projectionist did, talking for hours about the glorious days of his youth, when he was Josef Stalin's private projectionist, showing him the latest Russian, European and Hollywood movies - and the newsreels that reported the progress of World War II.

"We could write a book," Konchalovsky told him. "We'll sell it to the Americans. We'll make $100,000." "I don't know how much money I'll get," the projectionist said, "but I can tell you how many years I might get in the gulag." Konchalovsky, who was then one of the leading Soviet film directors, remembered the conversation for many years.

The Inner Circle is directed by the Russian filmmaker who spoke directly to the projectionist. Andrei Konchalovsky who has an extensive filmography and at 73 remains active. His own take on the film:
“I think the film came out too early. Not many in Russia understood what it was about. Yes, enough has been said about the atrocities of stalinism and about how much suffering people had to go through at the time. But the essence of stalinism, its gnoseology, its reasons have never been uncovered. Why did it have to emerge in no other country but in Russia? My film is about the essence of stalinism. Without my Ivan who is a naïve, honest man like millions of others in Russia, Stalin wouldn’t exist. “Ivanism” gave birth to “stalinism.”

This film is recommended viewing for those that want to understand the psychology of human beings living in a totalitarian state and what happens when Big Brother dies, and for now you can watch it online:

Monday, October 18, 2010

World Youth Day for Democracy: October 18, 2010

"Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Alexandra Joner (above left) Cuban-Norwegian girl (age 19) bitten by Cuban diplomat in Oslo. Above right brothers Nestor & Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina activists who have been detained, beaten and imprisoned for their human rights activism in Cuba.

The dictatorship in Cuba is run by elderly men in their 70s and 80s who distrust the youth of the country. They have diplomats that are not diplomatic that insult and bite Cuban youth in other countries. This is what they do in free countries where this behavior is unacceptable:

Imagine what they are doing to young people in Cuba. Thanks to twitter you don't have to and there is now a clearer idea of what goes on in real time. Imagine on a Friday afternoon while many young people are preparing for a night on the town others like Luis Felipe Rojas and Jose A Triguero find their homes surrounded by Cuban state security and under surveillance. Check out Luis Felipe's blog translated to English here.

Blogger Luis Felipe Rojas suffers detentions, harassment and state security surveillance in Cuba.

As Saturday approaches a Guantanamo family made up of Rogelio Tabio, his wife Rosaida Ramirez and their two children are subjected to days of physical violence and intimidation in an act of repudiation taking place at their home with over 500 people bussed in by the dictatorship. When young activists tried to demonstrate their solidarity with the victims of this repression they were detained.

Cuban youth leader Rolando R. Lobaina is detained in Santiago, Cuba at 8pm on a Saturday night by five Cuban state security G2 officials and his friends don't know where he is being held.

Signing a petition for human rights to be respected in Cuba or obtaining a scholarship to study at university abroad can get you expelled from school and subjected to a mob attack.

2009 WYMD regional essay contest winner from Cuba Cristian Toranzo denied by Cuban dictatorship permission to travel to World Movement for Democracy Assembly in Jakarta

Unlike most youth of the world young Cubans cannot travel the world freely but have to obtain the dictatorship's permission to enter and exit their own country. Cristian Toranzo was a 2009 Latin American regional winner for the World Youth Movement for Democracy essay contest and was not allowed to travel to attend the World Movement for Democracy in Jakarta, Indonesia unlike other winners from around the world. Please read Cristian's winning essay here which offers an insight into the thinking of a young Cuban activist in Cuba who has suffered beatings and detentions for his defense of human rights and democratic values.

On this World Youth Day for Democracy October 18, 2010 please take a moment out of your day to think about these brave youth confronting a totalitarian dictatorship.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A few sentences that brought down a communist dictatorship

“Words, so innocent and powerless…when standing in a dictionary, how potent for good or evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Jiří Křižan & Václav Havel in 2009

In the summer of 1989 Jiří Křižan and Václav Havel drafted "A Few Sentences" Petition calling for the release of political prisoners and respect for human rights. Tens of thousands of Czechoslovakians signed the petition and it contributed to the Velvet Revolution and the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. Jiří Křižan died of a heart attack on October 13, 2010 in the eastern village of Branky in the Czech Republic. Below is an English translation of this historic petition.

"A Few Sentences"

The first months of 1989 have once again clearly shown that even if the current Czechoslovak leadership very frequently incants the words "rebuilding" and "democratization," in reality they quite hopelessly resist all that creates democracy or at least distantly suggests it. Citizens' petitions and initiatives that the leadership did not organize themselves are refused as the events of pressure groups. They break up people's peaceful assemblies and do not allow the public to have a say in the preparation of new laws. The same months, however, have shown at the same time that the public is now liberating itself from its lethargy, and more and more people have the courage to express in public their desire for societal change. Motion in society is starting to ever more seriously clash with the motionlessness of power, societal tension is growing and the danger of an open crisis is starting to be a threat. None of us wishes for such a crisis. For this reason we call on the leadership of our country to understand that the time has come for real and thorough systemic change and that this change is in free and democratic discussion. The first step toward any kind of meaningful change starts with a new constitution and ends with economic reform, and must therefore be a change in the societal climate in our country, into which the spirit of freedom, trust, tolerance and plurality must return.

In our opinion, what is necessary is:

1. The immediate release of all political prisoners.

2. That freedom of assembly ceases to be limited.

3. That various independent initiatives cease to be criminalized and persecuted and begin to finally be understood by the government as being what they have long since been in the eyes of the public, which is as a natural part of public life and a legitimate expression of its diversity. At the same time, obstacles should not be placed on the creation of new civic movements, including independent labor unions, alliances and federations.

4. That the media and all cultural activity be relieved of all forms of political manipulation, as well as hidden censorship both before and after the fact, that it be open to a free exchange of ideas and that the media independent of official structures that have thus far been active be legalized.

5. That the justified demands of all religious citizens be respected.

6. That all planned and implemented projects which are to permanently change our country's environment and thus preordain the lives of future generations be immediately presented for general evaluation by experts and the public.

That free discussion begins not only about the 1950s, but also about the Prague Spring, the invasion by 5 states of the Warsaw Pact and the subsequent normalization. It is sad that certain countries whose armies once interfered in Czechoslovakia's development are now starting to dispassionately discuss this topic, while in Czechoslovakia it is still a major taboo, only so that those people from political and state leadership responsible for 20 years of decline in all areas of societal life will not have to step down.

Everyone who agrees with this standpoint can support it with their signature.

We call on the government to not treat it in the way they have been accustomed to treating uncomfortable opinions until now. It would strike a fatal blow to the hope with which we are led, and that is a hope for real societal dialogue as the only possible way out of the dead-end street Czechoslovakia is in today.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Requiescat in pace Jiří Křižan, Co-Founder of the Civic Forum & 1989 Velvet Revolution leader

Prague Daily Monitor

Screenwriter Jiří Křižan, Havel's former aide, dies
15 October 2010

Prague, Oct 14 (CTK) - Award winning Czech film scriptwriter Jiří Křižan, who was an adviser to former Czech president Vaclav Havel, died all of a sudden on Wednesday aged 68 years, CT24 TV news channel reported Thursday.

Křižan died of heart attack in Branky near Valasske Mezirici, north Moravia, junior ruling TOP 09 regional manager Petr Jan Krystof told CTK.

Křižan was unsuccessfully running as unaffiliated for TOP 09 in the May general election.

In 1989, Křižan helped Havel draft the "Several Sentences" manifesto that called on the communist authorities to release political prisoners and observe fundamental human rights and freedoms.

"I am deeply touched by the sudden death of Jiří Křižan because we were very close friends. Since the spring of 1989 he has belonged to my closest aides, he co-organised the Several Sentences petition and he was in the inner leadership of the Civic Forum (OF) (the main force behind the fall of the Communist regime in late 1989). He helped me very much as my adviser at the Prague Castle," Havel, 74, told CTK.

He added that in Křižan Czech society had lost a strong personality with firm stances.

Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra, former dissident, also expressed regret at Křižan's sudden death.

"My friend and one of the closest people of mine from the breakthrough year of 1989 has left. The Several Sentences manifesto would never have been so successful without him," Vondra told CTK.

Křižan was born on October 26, 1941, in Valasske Mezirici. His family's was persecuted by the Communist regime. His father was sentenced to death on the basis of fabricated charges in a show political trial and executed in 1951. Křižan was expelled from a grammar school before the school-leaving exams in 1958.

In 1964-1968 he studied at the Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague. He worked as a journalist for a couple of years and then he wrote film manuscripts.

From 1986 he was actively involved in the anti-communist dissident movement. In January 1989 he established the petition committee for the release of Havel from prison.

Along with Havel and Vondra he was a co-author of the Several Sentences petition that was signed by tens of thousands of Czechs, including some popular culture personalities, and contributed to the fall of communism.

During the November 1989 Velvet Revolution Křižan was a constituent member of the Civic Forum that associated all anti-communist forces. After Havel was elected Czechoslovak president in December 1989, Křižan became one of his main advisers.

In 1992-1994, he occupied the post of deputy interior minister. In 1995 he returned to screenwriting and he was also lecturing at FAMU.

Thirteen films based on Křižan's script have been shot, including Signum Laudis (1980, directed Martin Holy) and Shadows of a Hot Summer (Stiny horkeho leta, 1982, directed by Frantisek Vlacil) that won the main awards at the International Film Festival in Karlovy Vary, west Bohemia.

In 1998, Křižan received the Czech Lion film award for the best script for the film Sekal Has to Die (Je treba zabit Sekala, directed by Vladimir Michalek).

Křižan's novel Exercicia was publishes in the Netherlands and in Sweden 1971.

Prague, October 15, 2009 - Theatre on the Balustrade.
Meeting of the main leaders of the Civic Forum after 20 years.
Vaclav Havel, Jiri Křižan, Michael Zantovsky and Alexandr Vondra.

Havel, the former president, likened the meeting to their first gathering in November 1989. They were in the same theater, which was crowded, microphones did not work, translator not heard ... Vaclav Havel, also remembered his beginnings in theater - where he worked as a lighting technician and stagehand. Jiri Křižan speaks in the above video beginning at 4:21

[Please if you speak Czech translate what they are saying in comments below. Thank you]

The screenplay for the above film Pokoj v duši titled in English: Soul at Peace: A story of friendship and betrayal (2009) was written by Jiří Křižan. His filmography is available here.

A great artist and defender of human rights the world is a lesser place with his absence. Requiescat in pace

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet is a Cuban Prisoner of Conscience: Help him now!

"If a man voluntarily allows himself to be crushed, he yields the oil of moral energy which sustains the world." -Mohandas Gandhi

"Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

A medical doctor, a disciple of the apostles of non-violence, and a prisoner of conscience Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet has suffered beatings, cigarette burns from state security agents, and has spent more than a decade behind bars for his non-violent defense of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The dictatorship in Cuba has now offered him to complete the 25-year prison sentence, he is currently serving, or go into exile. He has chosen to remain in Cuba. Much has been written about him, and justifiably so, but it is best to let Dr. Biscet's words speak for him.

“To love one's neighbor is also to love one's enemy. Although in reality that qualifier-'enemy' does not exist in my vocabulary. I recognize that I only have adversaries and I have acquired the capacity to love them because in this way we do away with violence, wrath, vengeance, hatred and substitute them with justice and forgiveness.” - Oscar Elias Biscet, July 16, 1999

Dr Biscet Speaks by Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet González (Audio only in Spanish)

My inspiration is alive: God and the great teachers of nonviolence, present today now more than ever. As Martin Luther King said: "If a people can find among their ranks a 5% of men willing to voluntarily go to prison for a cause they consider just then there is no obstacle that can stop them." - Oscar Elias Biscet, June 1, 2003

"The people of Cuba have been suffering the scorn of a totalitarian tyranny, Communism, throughout four decades. Due to this inhumane treatment whereby the decorum of a people is violated, many Cubans are indignant and have risen up to pray and fast, beseeching the God of the Bible…we must expedite the achievement of these basic rights through civil disobedience and by putting into practice all methods to obtain our humanitarian aim. Here, in this dark jail where they force me to live, I will be resisting until the freedom of my people is obtained." - Oscar Elias Biscet, August 25, 2006

"I remember when I started preaching about Gandhi and Thoreau some said I would walk through the streets of Havana with a loin cloth like Gandhi. When I learned of these words spoken about me in a derogatory manner I just smiled because I knew I would be in these conditions but not in the streets of Havana. Rather in the infinite captivity that I would have through suffering. They had not been mistaken those who had made the joke to humiliate me. Because from the humiliation of a man in loincloth highlights the reflection of human dignity over barbarism." - Oscar Elias Biscet, July 15, 2009

The dictatorship in Cuba has equated Cuban dissidents like Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet with the Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo attacking both. The attacks are libelous nonsense but the observation that they are equivalent is spot on.

Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo on December 23, 2009 made his final statement at the trial that would condemn him to 11 years in prison for exercising his freedom of expression stating: “I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies.” It is a statement that shares the same principles stated by Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet throughout this posting.

Please sign the petition launched by Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet's daughter Winnie Biscet and help spread the word that this man has spent all but 36 days in prison since November 1999 and is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and a non-violent disciple of Gandhi and King. At the same time please sign the petition for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo sentenced to 11 years in prison on December 25, 2009 for his nonviolent defense of human rights and advocacy for democracy in China.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cuban Women in solidarity with Cuba's Ladies in White Brutalized by Regime Police

Beaten by police while in their custody over 7 hours with bones broken

Sonia Garro

Sonia Garro and Mercedes Fresneda carried out a march on Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 23rd Avenue in Havana with a sheet with the inscription "Down With Racism & Long Live Human Rights" when they were detained by police. According to Garro and Fresneda they were detained at the police station for seven hours where they were beaten. Sonia Garro suffered a fracture of the nasal septum and Mercedes Fresneda a broken left wrist among other injuries reported the EFE newswire.

Mercedes Fresneda

Spokeswomen for the Ladies in White Laura Pollán and Berta Soler, denounced the incident that occurred against Sonia Garro Alfonso and Mercedes Fresneda Castillo, of the group of the "Ladies in Support"[Damas de apoyo] stating that it demonstrates racism against black women.

This is not the first time the charge of racism has been raised with reference to the dictatorship in Cuba. In 2009 prominent African Americans made public an open letter in support of the civil rights struggle in Cuba in large part responding to Afro-Brazilian scholar and historical leader of the black movement in Brazil Abdias Nascimento who denounced racism in Cuba demanding the release of Afro-Cuban civil rights leader Darsi Ferrer. Rather than accept the criticism and mend its ways the regime responded with a counter-campaign.

The death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban of African descent and an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience like Darsi Ferrer, on February 23, 2010 exposed the brutality of the Castro regime and its disparate treatment of Cuban's of African descent who are human rights defenders. Sadly, with the assaults against Sonia and Mercedes the pattern of discrimination and repression continue. The international community needs to demand that the police officers that beat this women be held accountable.

*Photos copied from Marc Masferrer who obtained them from Cubanet

Liu Xiaobo and Illusions About China & Economic Determinism


Photo of the author Fang Lizhi

PHOENIX, ARIZONA — I heartily applaud the Nobel Committee for awarding its Peace Prize to the imprisoned Liu Xiaobo for his long and nonviolent struggle for human rights in China. In doing so, the committee has challenged the West to re-examine a dangerous notion that has become prevalent since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre: that economic development will inevitably lead to democracy in China.

Increasingly, throughout the late 1990s and into the new century, this argument gained sway. Some no doubt believed it; others perhaps found it convenient for their business interests. Many trusted the top Chinese policymakers who sought to persuade foreign investors that if they continued their investments without an embarrassing “linkage” to human rights principles, all would get better at China’s own pace.

More than 20 years have passed since Tiananmen. China has officially become the world’s second largest economy. Yet the hardly radical Liu Xiaobo and thousands of other dissidents rot in jail for merely demanding basic rights enshrined by the United Nations and taken for granted by Western investors in their own countries. Human rights have not improved despite a soaring economy.

Liu Xiaobo’s own experience over the last 20 years ought to be enough evidence on its own to demolish any idea that democracy will automatically emerge as a result of growing prosperity.

I knew Mr. Liu in the 1980s when he was an outspoken young man. He took part in 1989 in the peaceful protests at Tiananmen Square and was sentenced to two years in prison for his efforts. From then until 1999 he was in and out of labor camps, prisons, detention centers and house arrest. In 2008, he initiated the “Charter 08petition calling for China to comply with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Consequently, he was again arrested, this time sentenced to a particularly harsh 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” — even though China is a signatory of the U.N. declaration.

According to human rights organizations, there are about 1,400 people political, religious and “conscience” prisoners in prison or labor camps across China. Their “crimes” have included membership in underground political or religious groups, independent trade unions and nongovernmental organizations, or they have been arrested for participating in strikes or demonstrations and have publicly expressed dissenting political opinions.

This undeniable reality ought to be a wake up call to anyone who still believes the autocratic rulers of China will alter their disregard of human rights just because the country is richer. Regardless of how widely China’s leaders have opened its markets to the outside world, they have not retreated even half a step from their repressive political creed.

On the contrary, China’s dictators have become even more contemptuous of the value of universal human rights. In the decade after Tiananmen, the Communist government released 100 political prisoners in order to improve its image. Since 2000, as the Chinese economy grew stronger and stronger and the pressure from the international community diminished, the government has returned to hard-line repression.

The international community should be especially concerned over China’s breach of international agreements. Besides the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights, China also signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture in 1988. Yet, torture, maltreatment and psychiatric manipulation are extensively used in detention and prison camps in China. This includes beatings, extended solitary confinement, severely inadequate food, extreme exposure to cold and heat and denial of medical treatment.

As the regime’s power grows with prosperity, the Communist Party feels confident in its immunity as it violates its own Constitution. Article 35, for example, says that “citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Yet who can doubt that the government regularly violates these rights.

As the unfortunate history of Japan during the first half of the 20th century illustrates, a rising economic power that violates human rights is a threat to peace.

Thankfully, the courageous Nobel Committee has exposed this link once again in the case of a prospering China. The committee is absolutely right to make a connection between respect for human rights and world peace. As Alfred Nobel so well understood, human rights are the prerequisite for the “fraternity between nations.”

Fang Lizhi, a professor of physics at the University of Arizona, was a leader of the pro-democracy movement in China before fleeing the country in 1989.

Global Viewpoint / Tribune Media Services

Op-Ed published in the New York Times | International Herald Tribune on October 11, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

Chinese Dissident Liu Xiaobo: Without Enemies or Hatred

“This is for the lost souls of June 4th.” - Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia

Liu Xiaobo was told by prison authorities on October 9th that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. When he saw his wife Liu Xiaobo moved to tears dedicated the prize to the demonstrators killed in the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Liu Xia was placed under house arrest after returning home from visiting her imprisoned husband Liu Xiaobo, on obtaining his reaction to being honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. This was reported by her on Twitter on Saturday. Liu Xia is now unreachable by phone and Chinese state security blocked visitors from her home. Activists that wanted to gather and celebrate Liu Xiaobo’s award were also detained. Amnesty International has organized a campaign to demand Liu Xiaobo's freedom and an end to Liu Xia's restrictions on movement.

The dictators and tyrants of the world along with their apologists are trembling because the Nobel Committee granted the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned Chinese dissident and the Nobel Prize in Literature to Mario Vargas Llosa, a defender of freedom and critic of dictatorship.

Today, the dictatorship in Cuba equated Cuban dissidents with the Chinese dissident awarded the prize. The regime’s spokesman did not do this to celebrate Cuba’s democratic opposition but to join with their Chinese counterparts in slandering and libeling those who dare dissent from the official regime line.

Yet, like a broken clock, when the regime drew an equivalence between Cuban and Chinese dissidents, a simple truth was revealed. It is a truth that can be seen in the similarities between Charter 77, the Varela Project, and Charter 08. Documents that challenged totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe, Cuba, and China appealing to a process of reform to transition these regimes into democracies where human rights are respected.

Liu Xiaobo on December 23, 2009 made his final statement at the trial that would condemn him to 11 years in prison for exercising his freedom of expression stating:
“I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies.”
Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas addressing the European Parliament upon being awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in Strasbourg, France on the December 17, 2002 declared:
"The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me.”

On July 16, 1999 following 40 days fasting in protest of the Cuban dictatorship Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet stated:
“To love one's neighbor is also to love one's enemy. Although in reality that qualifier-'enemy' does not exist in my vocabulary. I recognize that I only have adversaries and I have acquired the capacity to love them because in this way we do away with violence, wrath, vengeance, hatred and substitute them with justice and forgiveness.”

Separated both by thousands of miles and different traditions yet there is a profound similarity in their rejection of hatred and the concept of “the enemy.” These dissidents are all living within the truth which Vaclav Havel in his 1978 essay The Power of the Powerless offered this definition:
"When I speak of living within the truth, I naturally do not have in mind only products of conceptual thought, such as a protest or a letter written by a group of intellectuals. It can be any means by which a person or a group revolts against manipulation: anything from a letter by intellectuals to a workers' strike, from a rock concert to a student demonstration, from refusing to vote in the farcical elections to making an open speech at some official congress, or even a hunger strike, for instance."
Over the past few days large scale acts of repudiation have returned to Cuba perpetrated by agents of the regime against non-violent opponents. At the same time thousands of miles away in China the secret police gather up dissidents who want to celebrate their compatriot's Nobel Peace Prize and his wife has her phone blocked and is kept under house arrest.

All these measures demonstrate the weakness of the regimes in power that seek to perpetuate themselves by living in the lie. History has demonstrated that sooner or later they will fail, but one factor that can speed up that process is international solidarity and scrutiny. Join Amnesty International in their campaign for this prisoner of conscience and in defense of free expression and freedom of movement.

When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always. - Mohandas Gandhi

Friday, October 8, 2010

John Lennon's statue in Cuba: An ironic memorial

"Everybody loves you when you're six foot in the ground."
John Lennon, from Nobody Loves You

John Lennon would've most likely turned 70 today if not for an assassin's bullet 30 years ago on December 8, 1980 and thats a tragic loss both for the world and his family. Listening to some of his music today and seeing a photo of the statue of him in Cuba led to the following train of thought.

In the 1960s and 1970s the Cuban dictatorship engaged in what amounted to cultural genocide banning musicians, musical groups and genres that were viewed as decadent or counter-revolutionary. Many great Cuban musicians were marginalized and their music censored, but it was not limited to Cubans. The Beatles and later on John Lennon's solo music were also officially banned for years.

In 2000 John Lennon was "politically rehabilitated" on the 20th anniversary of his death by no less than Fidel Castro who unveiled a statue (pictured above) and by regime spokesmen who would try to claim him as an ideological fellow traveler.

Although things are not as extreme as in the early years of the dictatorship even today songs and musicians that are critical of the regime are subject to censorship, banned from the airwaves and occasionally arrested.

In addition to his music John Lennon is remembered for his controversies on religion , disdain for Richard Nixon, and anti-war stand but his disdain for "violent revolution" has been downplayed.

John Lennon rejected the ideological basis of Castroism: a small band of armed guerrillas smashing everything down so that they can take over and hang on to power. Wonder what Lennon would say about old men hanging on to power and making life intolerable for rising generations? The answer is found in this excerpt from the 1969 interview where Lennon lays it all out:

"The militant revolutionaries, ask them to show you one revolution that turned out to be what it promised militantly. Lets take Russia, France anywhere that had it. What they do is smash the place down and they build it up again. The people who build it up hang on to it then they become the establishment. Now you guys are going to be the establishment in a few years. Its not worth knocking it down cause its convenient to have the rooms and the machinery." [...]

"The thing is to protest but protest non-violently because violence begets violence. You know if you run around wild you get smacked that's it. Its the law of the universe. they've got all the weapons and got all the money and they know how to fight violence because they've been doing it for thousands of years suppressing us. The only thing they don't know about is nonviolence and humor."

John Lennon, 1969 interview with 14-year old Jerry Levitan in Toronto, Canada

They'll love when your six feet in the ground and can no longer speak up for yourself, but at least with recorded interviews and his music John Lennon's message carries on along with his message of peace.

John Lennon's rock n roll descendants rock on in Cuba today subject to censorship and repression that they rebel against in a manner that would have give him at a minimum a good laugh as would have the Cuban regime's efforts to exploit him:

The fact of the matter is that John Lennon had always been critical of class warfare and towards the end of his life became even more prudent about even radical non-violent action observing: "There’s nothing new under the sun. All the roads lead to Rome. And people cannot provide it for you. I can’t wake you up. You can wake you up. I can’t cure you. You can cure you."

2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner: Liu Xiaobo & Charter 08

Chinese Dissident, Nobel Laureate and Prisoner of Conscience serving an 11 year sentence for exercising free expression

"China's political reform [...] should be gradual, peaceful, orderly and controllable and should be interactive, from above to below and from below to above. This way causes the least cost and leads to the most effective result." -Liu Xiaobo

Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth. -Liu Xiaobo, From his final statement I Have No Enemies

Liu Xiaobo (pictured above) co-authored Charter 08, a proposal for political and legal reform in China and was tried and sentenced to 11 years in prison on December 25, 2009 for exercising his freedom of expression. Today the Nobel Committee awarded this Chinese dissident and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience the Nobel Peace Prize despite threats from the Chinese regime. There are now two Nobel Laureates imprisoned for exercising their fundamental rights: Liu Xiaobo in China and Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.

Below is an English translation of the document that so terrified the Chinese dictatorship that it imprisoned Liu Xiaobo, a co-author of the document. Please read it and let others know about it as well. Its cost this man an 11 year prison sentence for engaging in free expression.

Charter 08 for reform and democracy in China


December 09, 2008

A group of 303 Chinese writers, intellectuals, lawyers, journalists, retired Party officials, workers, peasants, and businessmen have issued an open letter -- the "Charter 08" -- calling for legal reforms, democracy and protection of human rights in China. An English translation of the Charter by Human Rights in China is below.

"Charter 08"


This year is the 100th year of China’s Constitution, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the 10th year since China signed the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic, and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. A “modernization” bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature, and destroys human dignity. Where will China head in the 21st century? Continue a “modernization” under this kind of authoritarian rule? Or recognize universal values, assimilate into the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic political system? This is a major decision that cannot be avoided.

The monumental historic transformation in the mid-19th century exposed the decay of the traditional Chinese despotic system and ushered in the most “unprecedented and cataclysmic change in several thousands of years” in all of China. The Self-strengthening Movement (c 1861-1894) sought the improvement of China’s technical capacity. The defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) once more exposed the anachronism of the political system. The Hundred Day Reform touched upon institutional innovations, but was a failure in the end because of the cruel suppression of the die-hard clique. On the surface, the Xinhai Revolution (1911) buried the imperial system that had lasted for more than 2,000 years and established Asia’s first republic. But, limited by the historical factors determined by internal trouble and external aggression, the republican political system lasted only for an instant, and despotism quickly returned.

The failure of imitating mechanical innovation and institutional renewal prompted deep reflection among the people of the nation on the roots of this cultural sickness, which resulted in the “May 4” new culture movement under the banner of “science and democracy.” Because of frequent civil wars and invasions by external enemies, the course of China’s political democratization was forced to stop. The course of a constitutional government was initiated again after the victory in the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-1945), but the result of the civil war between the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party) and the Communist Party caused China to sink into the abyss of the totalitarianism of the modern era. The “New China” established in 1949 is a “people’s republic” in name only. In fact, it is under the “Party’s dominion.” The ruling power monopolizes all the political, economic and social resources. It created a string of human rights catastrophes such as the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, June 4, and attacks on non-governmental religious activities and on the rights defense movement, causing tens of millions of deaths, and exacted a disastrous price on the people and the country.

The “reform and opening up” of the late 20th century extricated China from the pervasive poverty and absolute power in the Mao Zedong era, and substantially increased private wealth and the standard of living of the masses. Individual economic freedom and social privileges were partially restored, a civil society began to grow, and the calls for human rights and political freedom among the people increased by the day. Those in power, as they were implementing economic reforms aimed at marketization and privatization, also began to move from a position of rejecting human rights to one of gradually recognizing them. In 1997 and 1998, the Chinese government signed two important international human rights treaties. In 2004, the National People’s Congress amended the Constitution to include language to “respect and safeguard human rights.” And this year, [the government] has promised to formulate and implement a “National Human Rights Action Plan.” However, this political progress stops at the paper stage.

There are laws but there is no rule of law. There is a constitution but no constitutional governance. And there is still the political reality that is obvious for all to see. The power bloc continues to insist on maintaining the authoritarian regime, rejecting political reform. This has caused corruption in officialdom, difficulty in establishing rule of law, and no protection of human rights, the loss of ethics, the polarization of society, warped economic development, damages in the natural and human environments, no systematic protection of the rights to property and the pursuit of happiness, the accumulation of countless social conflicts, and the continuous rise of resentment. In particular, the intensification of hostility between government officials and the ordinary people, and the dramatic rise of mass incidents, illustrate a catastrophic loss of control in the making, and the anachronism of the current system has reached a point where change must occur.

II. Our Fundamental Concepts

At this historical juncture of the future destiny of China, it is necessary to rethink the last 100 years of modernization and reaffirm the following concepts:

Freedom: Freedom is at the core of universal values. The rights of speech, publication, belief, assembly, association, movement, and to demonstrate are all the concrete realizations of freedom. If freedom is not flourishing, then there is no modern civilization of which to speak.

Human Rights: Human rights are not bestowed by the state, but are rights that each person is born with and enjoys. To ensure human rights must be the foundation of the first objective of government and lawful public authority, and is also the inherent demand of “putting people first.” The past political calamities of China are all closely related to the disregard of human rights by the ruling authorities.

Equality: Each individual, regardless of social status, occupation, gender, economic situation, ethnic group, skin color, religion, or political belief, is equal in human dignity and freedom. The principle of equality before the law and a citizen’s society must be implemented; the principle of equality of economic, cultural, and political rights must be implemented.

Republicanism: Republicanism is “governing together; living peacefully together,” □ that is, the decentralization of power and balancing of interests, that is comprised of diverse interests, different social groups, pluralistic culture and groups seeking religious belief, on the foundation of equal participation, peaceful competition, public discussion, and peaceful handling of public affairs.

Democracy: The most basic meaning is that sovereignty resides in the people and the people elect government. Democracy has the following basic characteristics: (1) the legitimacy of government comes from the people, the source of government power is the people; (2) government must be chosen by the people; (3) citizens enjoy the right to vote, important civil servants and officials of all levels should be produced through elections at fixed times; (4) the decisions of the majority must be respected while protecting the basic rights of the minority. In a word, democracy will become the modern tool for making government one “from the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Constitutionalism: Constitutionalism is the principle of protecting basic constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms and rights of citizens through law and a rule of law, delimiting the boundaries of government power and actions, and providing corresponding systemic capacity.

In China, the era of imperial power has long passed and will not return; in the world, authoritarian systems are approaching the dusk of their endings. The only fundamental way out for China: citizens should become the true masters of the nation, throw off the consciousness of reliance on a wise ruler or honest and upright official, make widely public civic consciousness of the centrality of rights and the responsibility of participation, and practice freedom, democracy, and respect for law.

III. Our basic standpoint

In line with a responsible and constructive citizens’ spirit towards the country’s political system, civil rights and various aspects of social development, we put forward the following specific standpoints:

1. Amend the Constitution: Based on the aforementioned values and concepts, amend the Constitution, abolishing the provisions in the current Constitution that are not in conformity with the principle that sovereignty resides in the people so that the Constitution can truly become a document for guaranteeing human rights and [appropriate use of] public power. The Constitution should be the implementable supreme law that any individual, group or party shall not violate, and lay the legal foundation for the democratization of China.

2. Separation and balance of power: A modern government that separates, checks and keeps balance among powers guarantees the separation of legislative, judicial, and administrative power. The principle of governing by laws and being a responsible Government shall be established. Over-expansion of executive power shall be prevented; the Government shall be responsible to the taxpayers; the separation, checking and keeping balance of powers between the central and local governments shall be set up; the central power authority shall be clearly defined and mandated by the Constitution, and the local governments shall be fully autonomous.

3. Democratize the lawmaking process: All levels of the legislative bodies shall be directly elected. Maintain the principles of fairness and justice in making law, and democratize the lawmaking process.

4. Independence of the judiciary: The judiciary shall be nonpartisan, free from any interference. Ensure judicial independence, and guarantee judicial fairness. Establish a Constitutional Court and a system of judicial review; maintain the authority of the Constitution. Abolish as soon as possible the Party’s Committees of Political and Legislative affairs at all levels that seriously endanger the country’s rule of law. Avoid using public tools for private objectives.

5. Public institutions should be used for the public: Realize the nationalization of the armed forces. The military shall be loyal to the Constitution and to the country. The political party organizations in the armed forces should be withdrawn. The level of military professionalism should be raised. All civil servants including the police shall remain politically neutral. Discrimination in employment of civil servants based on party preference should be eliminated and equal employment without any party preference should be adopted.

6. Protect human rights: Protection of human rights should be effectively implemented and human dignity should be safeguarded. A Commission on Human Rights shall be established that is responsible to the highest level of authority representing public opinion. [This Commission] will prevent government abuse of public power and violation of human rights, and especially protect the personal freedom of citizens. All persons should be be free from unlawful arrest, detention, summons, interrogation, and punishment. The system of Reeducation-Through-Labor should be abolished.

7. Election of public officials: The democratic electoral system should be fully implemented, with the realization of the equal voting right of one person one vote. Direct election of all levels of administrative heads should be institutionalized step by step. Free competition in the elections on a regular basis and citizen participation in the election of public officials are inalienable basic human rights.

8. Urban and rural equality: The current urban-rural household registration system should be repealed. The equal rights for all citizens guaranteed by the Constitution should be implemented. The freedom of movement for citizens should be protected.

9. Freedom of association: Citizens’ right to freedom of association shall be safeguarded. The current system for registration and examination before approval for civil society organizations should be changed to a registration and recording system. The ban on freely organizing political parties should be lifted. All activities of parties should be regulated by the Constitution and law. One-party monopolization of ruling privileges should be abolished. The principle of freedom of activities of political parties and fair competition should be established. The normalization of party politics and a rule by law should be realized.

10. Freedom of assembly: Peaceful assembly, protest, demonstration and freedom of expression are fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. They should not be subject to unlawful interference and unconstitutional restrictions by the ruling party and the government.

11. Freedom of expression: The freedom of speech, freedom of the press and academic freedom should be implemented. Citizens’ right to know and to monitor supervise should be protected. A press and publication law should be promulgated. The ban on freely publishing newspapers should be lifted. The current provision of "inciting subversion of state power" in the Criminal Law should be repealed and criminal punishment for speech should be eliminated.

12. Freedom of religion: Freedom of religion and freedom of belief should be protected. Religion and politics should be separated. Religious activities should be free from government interference. All administrative regulations, administrative rules and local regulations and rules that restrict or deprive citizens’ freedom of religion should be reviewed and repealed. Management of religious activities by administrative legislature should be prohibited. The current prior approval system in which religious groups (including places of worship) must be registered before obtaining legal status should be abolished, and instead, a new record-keeping system for religious groups and their worship places should replace the current one.

13. Citizen Education: Abolish political education and examinations that are deeply ideological and serve one-party rule. Promote citizen education that encompasses universal values and civil rights, establishes civil consciousness, and promotes the civil virtue of serving society.

14. Property Protection: Establish and protect private property rights, implement a free and open market economy, protect the freedom of entrepreneurship, and eliminate administrative monopoly; set up a state-owned property management committee that is responsible to the highest legislative agency, initiate property rights reforms legally and orderly, make clear the property rights of owners and obligors, initiate a new land movement, advance land privatization, and strictly protect citizens’, in particular, farmers’, land rights.

15. Fiscal Reforms: Firmly establish democracy in finance and protect taxpayers’ rights. Build a public finance system and operational mechanisms in which powers and obligations are clear, and create a reasonable and effective division of power in finance among all levels of government; implement major reforms in the tax system to reduce the tax rate, simplify the tax system, and achieve tax equity. The administrative departments should not be allowed to increase tax or create new tax arbitrarily without a social public choice and resolutions of the legislative agencies. Pass reforms on property rights, introduce diverse market subjects and competition mechanisms, lower the market-entry threshold in banking, and create conditions for the development of privately-owned banking to energize the financial system.

16. Social Security: Build a social security system that covers all of the citizens, and provide them with fundamental protections for education, medical care, elderly care and employment.

17. Environmental Protection: Protect the ecological environment, promote sustainable development, and take up responsibility to future generations and humanity; enforce the respective responsibilities of the state and government officials of all levels; perform the function of participation and supervision by civil organizations on environmental protection.

18. Federal Republic: Participate in and maintain regional peace and development with an equal and fair attitude, and create an image of a responsible great country. Protect the free systems of Hong Kong and Macao. Under the precondition of freedom and democracy, seek a settlement resolution on cross-strait relations by way of equal negotiation and cooperative interaction. Explore possible ways and an institutional design to promote the mutual prospects of all ethnicities with great wisdom, and to establish China’s federal republic under the structure of democracy and constitutionalism.

19. Transitional Justice: Rehabilitate the reputation of and give state compensation to the victims who suffered political persecution during past political movements as well as their families; release all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, and people who are convicted because of their beliefs; establish a truth commission to restore historical truth, to pursue accountability and to fulfill justice; seek a settlement of the society on this foundation.

IV. Conclusion

China, as a great nation of the world, one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and a member of the Human Rights Council, should contribute to peace for humankind and progress in human rights. But to people’s regret, among the great nations of the world, China, alone, still clings to an authoritarian political way of life. As a result, it has caused an unbroken chain of human rights disasters and social crises, held back the development of the Chinese people, and hindered the progress of human civilization. This situation must change! The reform of political democratization can no longer be delayed.

Because of this, we, with a civic spirit that dares to act, publish the “Charter 08.” We hope that all Chinese citizens who share this sense of crisis, responsibility and mission, without distinction between the government or the public, regardless of status, will hold back our differences to seek common ground, actively participate in this citizens’ movement, and jointly promote the great transformation of the Chinese society, so that we can establish a free, democratic and constitutional nation in the near future and fulfill the dreams that our people have pursued tirelessly for more than a hundred years.

List of signatories available here