Thursday, January 29, 2009

Behind The Great Firewall, Part II

Even in the darkness that covers the Chinese human rights landscape, much as thick pollution obscures great swathes of its physical landscape, there are occasional patches of light. The Washington Post has a story up today about Charter 08, a human rights manifesto developed over the last year and released a month and a half ago. The Charter calls upon the Communist Party to make overwhelming changes to its human rights and political policies including granting freedom of speech, the right to gather, and the end of one-party rule.

The writers of the document pulled no punches- here is an excerpt from the foreword:

The Communist Party of China seized control of all organs
of the state and all political, economic, and social
resources, and, using these, has produced a long trail of
human rights disasters, including, among many others, the
Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957), the Great Leap Forward
(1958-1969), the Cultural Revolution(1966–1969), the
Tiananmen Square Massacre (1989), and the current
repression of all unauthorized religions… During all this,
the Chinese people have paid a gargantuan price. Tens of
millions have lost their lives, and several generations
have seen their freedom, their happiness, and their human
dignity cruelly trampled.
Every Chinese citizen who chooses to sign this (over 8,100 have so far) runs the risk of being detained by the government- or worse. Many of the original drafters have been jailed, and seen their houses ransacked, families harassed, and bank accounts emptied. Although the internet censorship authorities are trying their hardest to erase every sign of it, the Chinese people are spreading it faster than they can handle for now. The first to sign it were mainly recognized dissidents who are no strangers to Chinese “justice,” but the Post notes that a number of recent signees are everyday citizens who have no history of tangling with the authorities.

Charter 08 also calls for establishing a federated republic, which would then “[seek] ways to find a workable framework within which all ethnic and religious groups can flourish.” Provisions like that are obviously welcome news to groups like the Tibetans and Uyghurs, which is probably why the Dalai Lama has joined a number of other noted exiled dissidents, scholars, and religious figures in endorsing it.

Still, for now all this amounts to is 0.000006% of the population signing a document on the internet. Gauging true support for something like this will always be a challenge, when Chinese citizens are well aware of what lengths the government will go to fight it. Luckily these are sacrifices that the Chinese democracy movement and it’s small but growing group of open supporters seem willing to make. Exactly how long Communist Party elders will allow this to spread before they truly take the gloves off is another mystery- some of those involved with creating and propagating Charter 08 are veterans of Tiananmen, and are thus well-acquainted with the amount of force the government has used to crush similar movements in the past.

It’s good to know that the Chinese democracy movement still lives, even if it faces an uphill battle. For what it’s worth, its writers are making their case well, including these lines which seem to mirror lines from Barack Obama’s inauguration speech:

“Authoritarianism is in general decline throughout the
world; in China, too, theera of emperors and overlords
is on the way out… The democratization of Chinese
politics can be put off no longer.”
Beijing managed, albeit poorly, to censor Obama. Can they manage the same now, with so many of their own citizens working against them?

1 comment:

  1. Crazy stuff. The courage of those who did sign it is pretty remarkable, I can't imagine what they're going through.