Asia Rights

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Picture of the month – March: West Papua

Posted in Articles, News, Pacific, Southeast Asia, This month's photo on March 10th, 2013

Police arrest a Papuan pro-separatist demonstrator in Jayapura on March 22, 2010 © AFP PHOTO / BANJIR AMBARITA

Police arrest a Papuan pro-separatist demonstrator in Jayapura on March 22, 2010.

© AFP PHOTO / BANJIR AMBARITA

The integration of mainstream and social media creates a more responsive news cycle

Posted in Articles, Southeast Asia on March 10th, 2013

See here for the original article.

The integration of mainstream and social media creates a more responsive news cycle

Ross Tapsell

tapsell1Media convergence makes it easy for Indonesian Facebook users to comment on and share mainstream media articles, Adhi Kusumo

Social media is perceived as playing a crucial role in political activism in Indonesia, mostly because of the growing number of Facebook and Twitter users in the country. The latest figures suggest that there are 43 million Facebook users in Indonesia, the second-largest number in any country in the world. The role of social media in distributing information means that devices such as the Blackberry are crucial for political activists, like those who used Facebook to publicise the ‘cicak versus buaya’  storm and the Prita Mulyasari case.  But a key reason why these particular issues became media ‘mega-spectacles’ was because they were taken up by mainstream media.

 

Mainstream media still plays an important role in distributing activists’ messages to the public, despite the increase in social media usage. On most occasions, activists like to see wide-ranging media coverage of their causes not only because mainstream media reports reach a wider audience, but also because of the authority that they afford certain issues. Mainstream media reports can give the concerns pursued by activists greater legitimacy, particularly if they make news headlines and become the daily news ‘event’.

In Indonesia today, the largely separate realms of social media and mainstream media are fast becoming connected into one large news cycle as a result of two forms of media convergence: the convergence of traditional media and new social media platforms, and the convergence of monopolised media and smaller forms of alternative, grassroots or citizen-directed media. This pattern means social media is now an important part of how ‘events’ become news. It also gives activists greater ability to get their issue into the news cycle via easily accessible social media platforms. But there is also the risk that news distribution through social media will soon be engulfed by the powerful forces who own and control the mainstream media.

Cartelisation and convergence

The mainstream media in Indonesia is owned by a small group of prominent businessmen and politicians. It has been described as a ‘cartel’. Today, twelve media groups control all of the national commercial television shares. These groups also own five of the six newspapers with the highest circulation and all of the four most popular online news media. Increasing cartelisation continued into late 2011 when Indonesia’s biggest online news media site, Detik.com, was purchased for $AU66 million by Chairul Tanjung, the owner of television stations Trans7 and TransTV. These companies also have business interests outside of the media. For example, Globe Media is owned by James Riady, owner and Deputy Chairman of Lippo Group, which is the largest property owner and developer in Indonesia and has business interests in banking, publishing and retail.

A key challenge faced by Indonesia’s media moguls is the uncertainty surrounding the future of media, particularly print media. According to media executive, John Riady (son of businessman James Riady), ‘There is decreasing circulation of newspapers in Indonesia. The future of newspapers is as bleak as it is in the US or Australia. Indonesia is just slow to react, and soon it will be all online and very different. But there will always be a market for news, but in what platform we will see in the future.’ A recent Roy Morgan poll shows that television is the most popular medium for Indonesian audiences with 99 per cent having watched ‘any television station in the past 7 days’ compared with 26 per cent of respondents reading ‘any newspaper in the last 7 days’. But Roy Morgan’s Debnath Guharoy wrote recently in The Jakarta Post that it is the internet is ‘where the action is. Where the innovation is focused. In the not too distant future the reality of convergence will make all moving pictures and sound, whether TV or internet sources, one and the same thing.’

Indonesia has already moved to an era where major media companies no longer specialise solely in print, radio or television. Indonesian media executives like Riady understand that their survival is dependent on their ability to combine traditional news content with content from new media platforms and sites, including social media commentaries and amateur videos captured from mobile phones. While they previously thought Facebook and Twitter were purely for ‘social’ purposes, they now consider these tools to be essential in the dissemination of news and commentaries.

The arrival of new platforms such as the iPad and the iPhone has forced media companies to diversify. Globe Media, for example, was transformed in late 2011 into Berita Satu Media Holdings to ‘better reflect the wide range of news brands it owns across multiple languages, multiple platforms and multiple news cycles’. The company’s media convergence includes broadcast, print, digital, online, social and mobile media, events and an online news portal with live streaming, mobile phone applications and a high-definition television channel that it plans to launch nationwide in late 2012.

Another company, Media Indonesia Group, which along with MetroTV is owned by Surya Paloh, who established his own political party (the National Democrats) after he lost the Golkar Chairmanship to media mogul rival Aburizal Bakrie in 2009. Media Indonesia Group has been particularly innovative in the area of convergent media. Its daily news and monthly magazines are available through iPads and can be purchased through iTunes. News is distributed not only in print, but through photo slideshows, video, audio or even interactive graphics. The newspaper, Media Indonesia, has an e-newspaper and website where readers can share the paper’s news stories through various social media and other links. Media Indonesia Chief Editor Saur Hutabarat explained in 2010 that the company is advocating for more open debate in Indonesian society, fuelled by social media: ‘We are creating public debate. People can give their view on all topics and we give space for that view so they can freely express their thinking. The better way to solve our hidden problems is to try to discuss them in an open and transparent way.’

Increasing public debate

As Hutabarat’s comments suggest, media convergence is more than simply a technological shift. New media platforms are helping push journalism in new directions and have the potential to open the space for public debate on social and political issues. On online news sites, readers can comment directly underneath articles. In the online edition of some newspapers, readers can comment via their Facebook profile. In the past, readers usually commented using an online alias name, for example ‘brandy283’. Now, Facebook profiles normally include a photo and various other information or affiliations. The result is a more ‘accountable’ commentary in the mainstream press, but also an indication that many Indonesians are happy to be more public in their opinions through mainstream news.

The transformation from print media to media convergence has been particularly stark for Kompas, Indonesia’s widest selling newspaper, which has a reputation for being cautious when discussing politics and religion. Although this reputation was founded during the Suharto era, in the post-New Order period many inside Kompas still believed that responsible journalism meant toning down reports on contentious topics such as race or ethnicity. But social and new media platforms are transforming this practice. Kompas Chief Editor, Rikard Bagun, believes that modifications are essential because the Indonesian audience was changing as a result of the introduction of social and new media platforms, noting that ‘We now have a very open society, where everybody is declaring criticism openly – through social media for example’. In response, Kompas is slowly altering its reporting philosophy. Bagun argues: ‘If the media doesn’t speak out about things, it is difficult to solve the issues.’

tapsell2.jpg
The kompasiana website allows users to produce content in the form of text, images and video
www.kompasiana.com

As part of its reinvention, the Kompas group created kompasiana, a medium somewhere between blogging and citizen journalism, which allows users to produce content in the form of text, images and video. It is promoted in Indonesia as another attempt at media convergence. It incorporates print, internet, television and radio news, online and social media commentary including blogs and microblogs as well as social media sites Facebook and Friendster. In addition, photos can be uploaded through Flickr and twitpic and videos through YouTube. It claims to already have 2.8 million visitors per month.

Through initiatives like kompasiana, views and events discussed on social media that gain enough popular momentum are more likely to be viewed by the mainstream media consumer, providing an avenue for political activists to increase their visibility. However, some political activists fear that the diversity of viewpoints that currently characterises social media could decrease as the ownership ‘cartel’ gains increased control over the social media agenda. In some instances this seems to be occurring. For example, activists who campaigned for greater compensation for those displaced by the Lapindo mudflow on the outskirts of Surabaya could not get their viewpoint published in the Surabaya Post. This was because the daily newspaper was purchased in 2008 by the Bakrie group in 2008, whose subsidiary company, Lapindo-Brantas, was seen as responsible for the mudflow.

A market for free expression

As John Riady said, there will always be a market for news. But it is still unclear how this market will evolve. In the lead up to the 2014 Presidential election, media owners with political ambitions may attempt to control the information placed on their now increasingly convergent media networks. However, the rapid and complex ways in which media convergence is transforming Indonesian news and commentary makes controlling such information more difficult. The more voices and platforms through which people can express opinions and disseminate content, the more difficult it may be for elites to control the agenda.

As events around the world have shown, citizen journalism has found ways to circumvent attempts at censorship and control. Since Reformasi, Indonesians have become used to expressing their opinions online. Should media cartels attempt to hinder freedom of expression through cartelisation and convergence, they may be in for a fight. And in the battle for the Indonesian media market, the convergent media company whose business model allows for the greatest freedom of expression, may end up being the company which makes the most money.

Ross Tapsell (ross.tapsell@anu.edu.au) is a lecturer in the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. He researches press freedom in Southeast Asia.


Challenges of racism in Japan

Posted in Articles, Japan, Korea, News on March 10th, 2013

These articles express the challenges of racism in Japan, but also highlight the difficulties faced by the many Japanese who are trying to combat these misunderstandings and attitudes.

Mr. Norman-Mikine Desaki, a Japanese American who worked as an English language teacher in Itoman City in Okinawa Prefecture has produced two videos on his experiences and concerns regarding racism in Japan among his students.

Video One: Racism in Japan

Video Two: Racism in Japan Part Two

See also an article in the Washington Post looking discussing this issue.

韓国の元慰安婦に「殺せ」の郵便物 日本のバンドからか

Posted in Articles, Japan, News on March 10th, 2013

韓国の元慰安婦に「殺せ」の郵便物 日本のバンドからか

朝日新聞2013年3月4日(月)20:20
 【ソウル=中野晃】元日本軍慰安婦の女性らが共同生活をするソウル近郊の「ナヌムの家」に、「売春ババア殺せ」などと記した歌詞などが日本から郵便で届いた。元慰安婦の女性8人は4日、脅迫や名誉毀損(きそん)の罪で送り主とみられる日本のロックバンドをソウル中央地検に刑事告訴した。「ナヌムの家」の安信権所長によると、郵便物は2月末に到着。韓国や韓国人を侮蔑する言葉が並んだ日本語の歌詞と、その歌を収めたCDが入っていた。送り主として記されたバンド名で、同じ内容の歌がネットの動画投稿サイトでも公開されていた。告訴した朴玉善さんは「殺せと言われ、気味が悪い」と話した。ソウル中央地検は2月、日本大使館前での元慰安婦らの抗議集会を記念する少女像を「売春婦」などと呼び、映像をネットで公開した日本人の男を名誉毀損(きそん)の罪で起訴している。
See here for the original article.

Help two men detained and feared tortured in Papua province

Posted in Articles, News, Pacific, Southeast Asia on March 10th, 2013

Daniel Gobay and Matan Klembiap are currently detained at the Jayapura district police station in Papua province. Police officers allegedly tortured them and five other men during interrogation about the whereabouts of two pro-independence activists. They have not received medical treatment and they have not had access to a lawyer since their arrest.

According to credible sources, plainclothes police officers arbitrarily arrested Daniel Gobay and Matan Klembiap on 15 February 2013 in Depapre, along with five other men. They were then forced to strip, were kicked in the face, head and back, and beaten with rattan sticks and wooden blocks. Police officers allegedly pressed the barrels of their guns to their heads, mouth and ears. They were interrogated until late at night and the morning of the following day.

On 16 February, five of the men were released without charge but Daniel Gobay and Matan Klembiap remain in police custody and are reportedly to be charged with “possession of a sharp weapon” under the Emergency Regulation 12/1951.

Demand Daniel and Matan receive medical treatment, lawyers and have their torture claims investigated. Go here to take action on Amnesty’s website.

 

Reporters Without Borders Documents the RISING TIDE OF MEDIA REPRESSION IN OUR REGION

Posted in Articles, News on March 10th, 2013

Reporters Without Borders’ newly released 2013 Press Freedom Index highlights alarming increases in suppression of freedom of speech in our region. North Korea continues to languish at the bottom of the table, and China is little higher, at no. 174 out of 179. Burma has risen from 169 to 151, but Malaysia has fallen to its lowest ever position because of restrictions on access to information. Japan’s position has fallen more sharply than that of any other Asian country (from 22 to 53) because of  “a lack of transparency and almost zero respect for access to information on subjects directly or indirectly related to Fukushima”. As Reporters without Borders notes “This sharp fall should sound an alarm”. For the full Index, click here.

FREEDOM OF HATE SPEECH: Abe Shinzo and Japan’s Public Sphere

Posted in Articles, Japan, News on February 20th, 2013

Tessa Morris-Suzuki

Japan’s diplomacy must always be rooted in democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. These universal values have guided Japan’s post-war development. I firmly believe that, in 2013 and beyond, the Asia-Pacific region’s future prosperity should rest on them as well. (Abe Shinzō, Prime Minister of Japan, proclaiming Japan “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond”, 27 December 2012) [1]

The vision is beautiful. Japan indeed has something to be proud of. Though its democratic constitution was partly composed by postwar allied occupiers, it has been embraced by the Japanese people and has stood the test of time.

Japan’s democracy is not perfect. (Which country has a perfect democracy?) The political system has been lopsided, and has generally failed to generate vigorous two-party competition; some topics of debate – particularly relating to the Emperor – have long been the subject of media self-censorship. All the same, freedom of thought has thrived for more than half a century, and Japan has developed an impressive array of small scale grassroots social movements, willing to take up challenging reformist and human rights causes. [2]

But now, ironically, the loud proclamations of “democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights” are being accompanied by the rise of practices that suggest the opposite. A combination of soft repression and hard hate speech is creating a troubling reality in Abe Shinzō’s Japan.

Previous Form: Abe, NHK and the Comfort Women

It was an ominous harbinger of things to come: a sad tale of political interference, self-censorship, denials, cover ups, revelations and resignations.

In 2000, groups from that vibrant Japanese world of grassroots human rights action organized the Tokyo Women’s War Crimes Tribunal. Their aim was to address wartime acts of violence against women by the Japanese military which had not been prosecuted by the official tribunals immediately after Japan’s defeat. In particular, the Tribunal focused on the fate of very large numbers of Asian women who were forced or tricked into working in a network of “military comfort stations” all over the wartime Japanese empire, where they were subject to extreme sexual abuse.

The 2000 Tribunal was an NGO event,  but followed the procedures of formal war crimes trials. It was conducted before judges from Europe, North and South America and Africa with extensive experience in international human rights issues. 64 surviving former “comfort women” gave evidence, and the event concluded with a judgment condemning the role of the Japanese state, the late Emperor Hirohito and wartime military leaders. [3]

The Japanese national broadcaster, NHK, made a documentary about the Tribunal, which was shown in January 2001. But shortly before the program went to air, something unexpected happened. Members of NHK’s senior management suddenly demanded drastic changes to the completed program, removing (amongst other things) testimony given by former Japanese soldiers and all mention of the Tribunal’s preliminary findings. (The final judgment was yet to be handed down.)

A Representative of the “Comfort Women” receives the Tokyo Women’s War Crimes Tribunal Judgment

Four years later, in the midst of a protracted lawsuit over the mangled documentary, the program’s chief producer revealed that these cuts had followed intervention from two senior government politicians, one of whom was Abe Shinzō, then Deputy Cabinet Secretary, now Japan’s Prime Minister.

Abe denied pressuring NHK to alter the program, but admitted that he had indeed contacted NHK senior management before the documentary went to air to express his “concerns” about what he saw as its likely “bias”. The program was broadcast at a time when there was increasing debate in Japan about the fate of Japanese nationals who were believed to have been abducted by North Korea (and whose abductions were soon to be confirmed by Kim Jong-il himself). As Abe explained, he “suspected that [the NHK documentary] might be part of an underground plan to quell [public reaction] to the abductee problem and portray North Korea as victim”. [4]

The broadcast also took place just as the government was determining its next tranche of funding to NHK, and, unsurprisingly, NHK management took the Deputy Cabinet Secretary’s concerns very seriously indeed.

Old Politics in the New Media

Two motifs form a constant refrain in Abe Shinzō’s political career. The first is his hawkish stance towards North Korea, and particularly in his response to the abduction of Japanese citizens. This is the issue that helped to bring him to political centre stage.

The second is his close association with those who wish to rewrite Japan’s textbooks to remove references to the darker episodes of the wartime past – and who react particularly sharply to any mention of the “comfort women” issue. Abe and his associates do not deny the existence of the “comfort station” system – the evidence is too overwhelming for that – but they do seek to deny that women were forcibly recruited to the system by the Japanese army. Lobbying by right wing groups has in fact already resulted in all references to the “comfort women” disappearing from junior high school textbooks, but a further bête noire of the right survives: the cautiously-worded apology on the subject made by Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Kōno Yōhei in 1993. Steps towards retracting the Kōno Statement were taken under Abe’s first Prime Ministership in 2006-2007, but domestic and international outcry persuaded Abe to back down. Now, following Abe’s re-election, the issue is back on the agenda.

While the core of Abe’s political program remains constant, the nature of the media has undergone far reaching changes since the 2001 NHK incident. The greatest change, of course, has been the massive growth of the Internet, accompanied by a proliferation of chat and blog sites where anonymous users post social and political comments ranging from the anodyne to the eccentric to abusive diatribes. This is a worldwide phenomenon, but has been particularly visible in East Asia: booming mobile phone use has been accompanied by waves of Internet nationalism, in which the young in China, South Korea and Japan often trade insults with one another.

In Japan, the online bulletin board “2-Channel”, with many millions of regular users, has become particularly well known as a forum for virulent attacks on those seen as “unpatriotic” or “anti-Japanese”. Some of its discussion “threads” carry violently xenophobic or racist messages, recycling wartime language and imagery that had long disappeared from public discourse in Japan. A Social Media White Paper, published by private marketing companies in 2012, shows that 2-Channel users are predominantly young and male, though teenage girls are also significant participants in the site’s discussions. [5]

It is impossible to tell who contributes to the racist threads published on 2-Channel, as opposed to the site’s many other innocuous conversations on topics such a travel, celebrities and holiday jobs. But the popular image of the 2-Channel racist blogger is of a lonely, frustrated otaku [an isolated person with obsessive interests], probably unemployed or in a dead-end job, seeking some sense of identity by sharing anger and bitterness with nameless others. 2-Channel has recently been overtaken by global social media such as Twitter, but the anger of the “otakusphere” continues to replicate itself in ever changing forums.

Offline, the rise of 2-Channel has been paralleled by the emergence of new forms of far right movement in Japan. One of the best known of these is the “Citizens’ League to Deny Foreigners Special Rights” (Zainichi Tokken o Yurusanai Shimin no Kai, or Zaitokukai for short), established in 2007. Unlike older far right groups, whose loudspeaker vans with their military flags and martial music have long been a familiar sight on Tokyo streets, the Zaitokukai recruits the young, and makes very active use of social media to spread its message via video blogs of its demonstrations. Zaitokukai protest actions are most often directed at Korean residents in Japan, particularly those seen as being associated with North Korea, but the group’s list of other targets is long and eclectic, including indigenous Ainu organizations, China, the Democratic Party of Japan and the documentary movie Cove. Zaitokukai demonstrations are noisy and notable for the offensiveness of their slogans, but have generally attracted a rather small number of demonstrators. [6]

Japan is a country with low levels of violence, and the ugly rhetoric of 2-Channel and the Zaitokukai might be seen as having little more than nuisance value, at least by those who are not on the receiving end of the abuse. But the verbal violence of the frustrated and marginalized can be deeply intimidating, and is particularly alarming when it becomes enmeshed with the centers of political power: with the organs of national government and of its law enforcement agencies. That curious but calculated intermeshing of the marginalized and the powers-that-be is increasingly evident in Japan today.

Facebook Friends to the Rescue: Mobilizing the Otakusphere

Abe Shinzō is one of the Japanese politicians who has responded most enthusiastically to the political opportunities created by the Internet age. He was quick to create a personal website, and has maintained a Facebook page since well before his recent election. He or his personal secretary post comments on the page almost every day, and it boasts over 4,800 Facebook friends and more than 230,000 followers.

On 22 December 2012, six days after the election which returned Abe to the prime ministership, NHK devoted its evening prime time to a discussion program about the election results and the implications of the new government for Japan. The participants in the program were the Secretary-General of Abe’s ruling party, Ishiba Shigeru, the head of the government’s coalition partner, Yamaguchi Natsuo, three university professors and an economist from the influential think tank the Japan Research Institute. NHK invited viewers to send in questions that they would like to have raised during the discussion.

About two hours before the program went to air, Abe’s secretary posted a message on the prime minister’s Facebook page mobilizing its friends and followers to action. The secretary slammed the “bias” of NHK and warned readers that the forthcoming program would be a “clean sweep of Abe bashing”. The web link, email address and fax number of the program were included in the post, and Abe’s friends and followers were urged to bombard the program with their messages. The secretary’s message also made derogatory comments about the discussion program’s panelists, describing one (University of Tokyo political scientist Fujiwara Kiichi) as being “famous for saying that ‘the five abductees who came home to Japan should be sent straight back to North Korea”‘. [7]

Later the same evening, after the program had gone to air, the Prime Minister added his own comment to his secretary’s post, describing the program’s participants (other, presumably than Ishiba and Yamaguchi) as “too low-level” (osomatsu sugi). One panelist was described as being “beyond the pale”, and of two others, the Prime Minister wrote that they should be “ashamed to show their faces in public”. [8]

Shortly afterwards, Professor Fujiwara posted a mildly worded response on Twitter, pointing out that he has never said or written that Japanese abductees should be returned to North Korea. Energetic efforts by at least one pro-Abe website to prove him wrong ended in failure [9], but meanwhile his supposed “statement” on the abduction issue (which in the Japanese context is roughly the equivalent of an American politics professor expressing support for Al Qaida) was circulating like wildfire through Japan’s right wing blogosphere.

Neither Abe nor his secretary has apologized for or revised the comment about Fujiwara, which still remains on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page. No opposition politician and no national newspaper or TV station in Japan has questioned the Prime Minister’s use of Facebook to libel an academic public commentator. Nor did any of them discuss the propriety of the Prime Minister’s Facebook page being used to post a misleading description of a TV discussion program, with the intention of inciting readers to inundate the program with pro-government comments.

The Abe Facebook message can be read as a calculated warning to any Japanese media outlet or commentator proposing to direct searching questions at the current government that they are likely face officially sanctioned harassment and vilification. In the Internet age, direct intervention by politicians in the media is no longer needed; they can get their Facebook friends to do it for them.

The Wrong Side of the Law: Policing Freedom of Speech in Abe’s Japan

Since its establishment in 2007, the Zaitokukai has weathered ups and downs in its fortunes, but rising tensions between Japan and its Asian neighbours and the election of the new government appears to have given the group a new lease of life. It has also spawned a growing proliferation of similar groups which use the same tactics, and often work in coordination with one another: among them the bizarrely named Shinshakai Undō (literally, New Social Movement). The focus of these groups’ recent actions has been the Tokyo district of Shin-Ōkubo, which has a large concentration of ethnic Korean and Chinese inhabitants. On 9 February 2013, some 150 to 200 far right demonstrators staged a march through the busy main streets of Shin-Ōkubo, yelling vitriolic abuse and incitements to ethnic violence at inhabitants and passers-by, and carrying Japanese military flags and an assortment of placards with extremely violent slogans, of which “Kill Koreans” was one of the less obscene. The demonstation was organized by Shinshakai Undō with the support of the Zaitokukai, and featured  marshalls with armbands and face masks, who prowled the pavements, mingling with the very substantial police presence, and occasionally pushing, shoving or physically intimidating people who appeared to express disagreement with their views.

Japan acceded to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on 15 December 1995. Article 4 of the convention states that signatories agree to “adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination” by declaring it a crime to disseminate “ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, as well as all acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons of another colour or ethnic origin”. [10]

Since signing the convention, the Japanese government has repeatedly lodged a reservation to Article 4. Japan, it says, does not intend to pass specific laws banning hate speech or incitement to discrimination, partly because such laws could limit freedom of speech. But equally importantly, according to the government, hate speech laws are  unnecessary in Japan because acts of race hatred are already crimes under normal Japanese criminal law. Reassuringly, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs points out, if ideas disseminated by any group damage “the honor or credit of a specific individual or group, such dissemination of ideas is punishable as a crime of defamation (Article 230, Penal Code), insult (Article 231), or damage to credit, obstruction of business (Article 233) of the Penal Code. If such activities include threatening contents against a specific individual, they are punishable as a crime of intimidation (Article 222), collective intimidation and habitual intimidation (Article 1 and Article 1-3 of the Law concerning Punishment of Physical Violence and Others). Incitement to racial discrimination is punishable as a crime of instigation (Article 61,Penal Code) or assistance (Article 62) of the crimes if an act constitutes one of the above-mentioned crimes”. [11]

The Ministry goes on to cite a list of other laws prohibiting (amongst other things)  “cases in which a large number of persons assemble and use violence or threat (Article 106)”, “collective violence/intimidation/destruction of utensils (Article 1)”, and incitement to any of these acts (Article 61). [12]

Japan’s most recent report on its implementation of the Convention, delivered in January 2013, re-emphasizes these arguments against hate speech laws, adding that “the Government of Japan does not believe that, in present-day Japan, racist thoughts are disseminated and racial discrimination is incited, to the extent that the withdrawal of its reservations or legislation to impose punishment against dissemination of racist thoughts and other acts should be considered even at the risk of unduly stifling legitimate speech”. [13]

Interestingly, the large contingent of police, who stood by as the racist demonstrators marched through Shin-Ōkubo, seemed much more anxious to control the behavior of the local residents and passers by on the sidewalk than to enforce Articles 1, 61, 62, 106, 222, 230, 231 or 233 of the Penal Code. Video of the event provides abundant evidence of defamation, insult, obstruction of business, threats, collective intimidation and incitement to racial discrimination. Not one of the demonstrators was arrested.

Policing the Racist Demonstration in Shin-Ōkubo, 9 February 2013

The Japanese police are not always so relaxed in their attitude to demonstrations. For example, in October 2012 a peaceful demonstration against the incineration of nuclear-contaminated waste from the disaster of 11 March 2011 took place in Osaka. Almost two months later, three people who had taken part in the demonstration were arrested and imprisoned on the grounds that their protest route had taken a short-cut through Osaka Station concourse, thus violating the “Railway Operations Act”, which prohibits demonstrations on railway stations. Two of the demonstrators were released after a couple of weeks in gaol, but one, Mr. H., remains incarcerated, more than two months on. Mr. H’s crime was considered particularly grave because, police allege, he remonstrated with a railway official who asked him to stop handing out leaflets, and in the process trod on the official’s toe. [14]

This incident may seem unconnected to the racism of the Zaitokukai and its allies, and so it was, until 13 February 2013, when Mr. H. and three others were accused of a new crime. This time, their supposedly criminal acts stem from a gathering held in September 2012 to discuss the issue of the “comfort women”. The mayor of Osaka, Hashimoto Tōru, had recently published a series of somewhat incoherent comments on Twitter in which he denounced the 1993 Kōno apology and expressed support for Abe Shinzō’s position on the “comfort women”. [15] In response, Osaka citizens invited an 86-year-old Korean former “comfort woman”, Kim Bok-Dong, to speak to a public meeting about her experiences. The  meeting took place without incident, despite (in the words of a friend of mine who attended) the presence of “quite a few ‘nasty’ looking men… standing near the main door of the building making dreadful stares at people who attempted to enter”. A small number of police were also in attendance outside the meeting hall.

It was not until more than four months after the gathering (and almost two months after Japan’s general election) that a member of the Zaitokukai filed a complaint with the police, claiming that he had been “assaulted” by supporters of the “comfort women” (including Mr. H.) who had denied him access to the September 2012 meeting. Despite the delay, police took up the case the alacrity, descending on the houses and offices of “comfort women” supporters to search their premises for incriminating evidence, and even conducting a search of a cafe where the support group holds informal meetings. [16]

In this case, the authorities appear utterly unconcerned about any “risk of unduly stifling legitimate speech”.

Japan’s diplomacy (and Japan’s domestic policy), to cite Prime Minsiter Abe, must always be rooted in democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Many in Japan have worked for these aims for a very long time. But there is no rule of law if the instigators of violence are left to peddle hatred with impunity, while those who pursue historical justice and responsibility are subject to police harassment. There is no respect for human rights where those in power use cyber bullying in an attempt to silence their opponents. And democracy is left impoverished when freedom of hate speech is protected more zealously than freedom of reasoned political debate.

 

NOTES

[1] Shinzō Abe, “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond”, Project Syndicate, 27 December 2012, http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/a-strategic-alliance-for-japan-and-india-by-Shinzō-abe (accessed 15 January 2013)

[2] See, for example, Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Morris Low, Leonid Petrov and Timothy Y. Tsu, East Asia Beyond the History Wars: Confronting the Ghosts of Violence, London, Routledge, 2013, particularly ch. 4.

[3] See the VAWW-Net website, http://www1.jca.apc.org/vaww-net-japan/english/womenstribunal2000/whatstribunal.html (accessed 18 February 2013).

[4] Quoted in Norma Field, “The Courts, Japan’s Military Comfort Women, and the Conscience of Humanity: The Ruling in VAWW-Net Japan vs. NHK”, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 10 February 2007 (accessed 18 February 2013). Although VAWW-Net won a suit for damages against NHK and another company involved in making the censored program in the Tokyo High Court, this was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

[5] Tribal Media House KK and Cross Marketing KK eds., Sōsharu Media Hakushi 2012, Tokyo Shoeisha, 2012.

[6] On the Zaitokukai, see Alexis Dudden, “Memories and Aporias in the Japan Korean Relationship”, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 5 April 2010 (accessed 20 January 2013).

[7] See http://www.facebook.com/abeshinzo, post dated 22 December 2012 (accessed 15 January 2013).

[8] See http://www.facebook.com/abeshinzo, comment by Abe Shinzō, 21.59, 22 December 2012 (accessed 15 January 2013).

[9] See http://kokkai-sokuhou.iza.ne.jp/blog/entry/2963640/  (accessed 20 January 2013).

[10] International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, see the Website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,  http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cerd.htm (accessed 18 February 2013).

[11] See the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan, http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/human/race_rep1/article4.html#1  (accessed 19 February 2013).

[12] Ibid.

[13] See the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan,http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/human/pdfs/report_789_1.pdf (accessed 19 February 2013).

[14] For details of this case, see the “Fukushima Voice” website, http://fukushimavoice-eng.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/third-letter-from-jailed-professor.html (accessed 19 February 2013) and the website “Hōshano Kakusan ni Hantai suru Shimin o Shien suru Kai”, http://keepcivicactivity.jimdo.com/ (accessed 19 February 2013).

[15] See Tessa Morris-Suzuki, “Out with Human Rights, In with Government Authored History”, Asiarights, August 2012. http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/blogs/asiarights/2012/08/26/out-with-human-rights-in-with-government-authored-history/ 

[16] See the website of the “Nihongun ‘Ianfu’ Mondai Kansai Nettowāku”, http://www.ianfu-kansai-net.org/ (accessed 19 February 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BURMA: In memoriam: Phyo Wai Aung, a courageous fighter against inhuman abuse

Posted in Articles, Human Rights Ideas, News, Southeast Asia on February 4th, 2013

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is greatly aggrieved to learn of the tragic death of Phyo Wai Aung in Rangoon, Burma during the early morning hours of 4 January 2013.

Phyo Wai Aung was an aspiring young electrical engineer with a loving family when in April 2010 police arrested him at home late one night for alleged involvement in a bomb attack at a crowded festival. They tortured him brutally for weeks to force him to confess to the crime, for which they had been unable to arrest the actual suspects. In a farcical trial held within the central prison, he recounted the torture in detail. After pointlessly drawn out proceedings, the court convicted him of all charges and sentenced him to death in May 2012. In August, the government granted him clemency–tacit recognition of his innocence unaccompanied by a willingness to admit to this fact–and ordered his release. Full details are on the campaign page that the AHRC established on this case: www.humanrights.asia/countries/burma/phyo-wai-aung

The torture and atrocious ill treatment of Phyo Wai Aung took their toll. While in custody he was repeatedly denied medical attention for the damage caused to him physically, to say nothing of the psychological impact. In May 2012 the AHRC had already noted that Phyo Wai Aung was critically ill due to denial of medical treatment while in custody. According to doctors then, on the basis of a CT scan he would have only a few months to live. His brother writing to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar (Burma) at the time said that it seemed that Phyo Wai Aung would have to pay with his life to show how bad the authorities in his country are. Sadly, both he and the doctors were correct.

When two directors of the AHRC, Bijo Francis and Basil Fernando visited Phyo Wai Aung and his family in December, they found a young man who was paralyzed from the waist down and unable to walk. But they also met a young man who was still full of life and despite everything that he had suffered was determined to go on and make the best of things. He remained hopeful that he would recover, and talked about how he would want to be able to provide for his daughter’s education, just as any father would want.

Phyo Wai Aung also hoped to pursue his case, clear his name, and one day bring to account those responsible for his torture. Unlike many victims of torture in Burma who relieved at the end of custody are too fearful to try to do anything to obtain redress, Phyo Wai Aung had a strong determination to fight back. The AHRC directors promised him that they would do whatever they could to assist in these goals. Unfortunately, his physical strength did not match that of his spirit. Nonetheless, the Asian Human Rights Commission stands firm in its commitment to continue to fight for justice and call for the perpetrators of Phyo Wai Aung’s torture to be prosecuted, and for his family to obtain the redress that it deserves.

The case of Phyo Wai Aung was at the centre of the AHRC’s work on Burma in the last few years, and for this reason his loss is felt especially strongly in our organization today. However, we are under no illusions that the incidence of maltreatment and torture in Burma’s police stations and prisons is diminishing as a result of changing political conditions, as some would like to believe. Just last month at a programme held in Hong Kong with Burmese colleagues we heard of many harrowing recent cases of torture that have also left victims dead or severely damaged.

Every day there are more and more people forced to suffer like Phyo Wai Aung. Therefore in remembering Phyo Wai Aung today we are also remembering all those who have suffered similarly, who are suffering similarly in his country. In Phyo Wai Aung’s name we say: stop torture now!

See here for the original article on the AHRC website.

BURMA: Villager and monk brutally and bizarrely tortured for a week to confess to rape and murder

Posted in Articles, Human Rights Ideas, Southeast Asia on February 4th, 2013
See here for original post on AHRC website.
 
January 23, 2013

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-006-2013

23 January 2013

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BURMA: Villager and monk brutally and bizarrely tortured for a week to confess to rape and murder

ISSUES: Torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; impunity
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received extensive information about the case of a young man and a monk whom police accused of raping and murdering a young woman and tortured brutally for a week in 2010 in order to force a confession with which to convict the two. Despite the retraction of the confession in court, the judge convicted the two men and omitted any reference to the alleged torture from the verdict. For the last two years the two have languished in prison. They have now appealed to the president for their release.

CASE NARRATIVE:

The AHRC has obtained detailed depositions of the two men accused in this case concerning torture that they both sustained for over a week. A summary of some details of the torture is contained here. Some more details are in the sample letter below.

Photo of San Win (left) and U Thubodha (right)The police arrested the two accused, San Win and U Thubodha, following the alleged rape and murder of a teenage girl in a village in Monywa district at the end of March 2010. After the girl’s body was found the next morning, the authorities called all able males in the village to the school, where they questioned each and ordered them to strip off their shirts. By that time, the actual alleged offender, the son of the head of the village administration, had already left the village. They made a number of arrests, including of San Win, whom they held in custody in the village illegally, and the next day took back to a police station.

Although the police led San Win to believe that he would be released, they began to torture him brutally on April 4. That night, the police forced him to strip his clothes and made him kneel on sharp gravel with his hands cuffed behind his back, during which time three policemen assaulted him with truncheons on rotation. One policeman hit his penis with a stick and others held down San Win and ran a roller back and forth over his shins under heavy pressure; a technique that causes excruciating pain and leads the skin to peel off the legs.

For the next two days and nights the police held San Win in that lockup without giving him food or water and keeping his hands cuffed behind his back and chained to the cell bars. The chain was only long enough to stand or sit, preventing him from lying down and sleeping. On April 7, they took him to the township police headquarters where they forced him into stress positions, such as imitating riding a horse. Because he was exhausted from lack of sleep, food and water, San Win kept falling to the floor, whereupon a policeman would kick him and force him to get back up. They repeated this type of torture the next day. They also hoisted San Win off the ground, keeping him dangling with his arms bent up behind his head for perhaps an hour, after which they lowered him so that his feet could touch the ground but did not untie him, instead leaving him like that for the night.

Again on the night of April 11 a number of police took San Win into an interrogation room and assaulted him by punching him in the sternum, and hitting his face. They forced him to sit cross-legged and face down while a police officer pushed his knees into San Win’s back and thrust his stomach in, causing him to gasp and convulse. They asked him if he wanted the torture to go on for a month, and said that beyond ten days he would not survive. At 9pm that night the police came in drunk and in a bizarre ritual forced him to put on the clothes of the murder victim, while they jeered and yelled the girl’s name, saying that she herself had uncovered her murderer. After San Win took off the clothes he was forced to stay kneeling throughout the night.

On April 12, the police told San Win to sign some documents, but San Win refused and a policeman punched and slapped him until he was dizzy. They guided him to make a signature on some papers. Later they tried to force him to confess before a judge, but when he refused they did not press the matter because they already had a confession from his co-accused, U Thubodha.

The police called U Thubodha for questioning at the Winmanar Police Station on the afternoon of April 3. They took him into a side room and assaulted him. When he cried out, they stuffed paper into his mouth and then forced him to kneel on sharp gravel. One kicked him savagely in the back and punched him in the stomach. He hit the monk’s forehead onto the hard floor, causing it to swell up. Then he forced him also to wear the young girl’s underwear and accused the monk of using sorcery to entrap her. He also went and got the girl’s slippers and slapped and rubbed the monk in the face with them. He later brought the girl’s top and forced him to wear it.

On April 4 the police took Thubodha to another room and strung him from the ceiling the same like San Win. While dangling, police hit him in various parts of his body and threatened to kill him if he did not admit to the crime. The torture continued in this manner for about half an hour and they went out for tea. They got a rope and made it into a noose. They tied it around his neck and pulled him up so that he was on his tip-toes and gasping for air and again threatened him to admit to the crime saying they would kill him if he lied. They also stuck three needles through the middle of his tongue and pulling again on the noose asked him if he wanted to die.

The police stopped the torture for a while after a warning that he might die from the township police chief, but then started to beat him again and again pulled him up by rope so that he was dangling, and told him that if he didn’t speak up then he would die that night, and that if they killed him nothing would happen to them. One hit him repeatedly with a stick, but when he started bleeding the policeman stopped. He made the monk kneel on sharp gravel and say repeatedly that he was the one who did it to the girl.

Finally, because he could not bear the torture any longer Thubodha said that he would say and sign whatever the police wanted. They said that if they did as they said, he would get food and water, which he had not received since his time in custody. They gave him some water, let him bathe and put him back in the lockup. Later, at the township headquarters, however, the torture continued. Some police burned the hair around his anus with lit cigarettes, and one pulled down his uniform pants and stuck his penis at the monk’s anus, asking him if he had done it to the girl like that. They beat him repeatedly.

On April 6, the police instructed Thubodha on how to confess and took him to a judge. But when before the judge the monk refused to confess and said he had been tortured. Rather than doing anything about it, the judge just told the police to take him back. Once back at the headquarters, the torture began again. The police made him hold a grenade and pointed a revolver at him, saying they would kill him. When they again took him to court, this time Thubodha met the same judge but the judge did not ask anything, only falsely recorded that he had no injuries and made him sign documents.

On April 30 the trial of the two accused opened in the district court. Both of the accused testified that they had been tortured for throughout their custody and U Thubodha retracted the confession that he had given. Furthermore, the material evidence was inconclusive. The examining doctor could not find evidence that the girl had been raped prior to her death as the police had claimed. Nonetheless, the district court sentenced the accused based on the confession and on witness testimonies against them that the police had also coerced or cajoled other villagers to give, and presently the two accused are detained in Mandalay jail.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

The AHRC has for some years documented cases of brutal torture in ordinary criminal cases in Burma, most recently in the case of Myo Myint Swe, who died in custody and whose body showed extensive evidence of professional torture techniques: AHRC-UAC-176-2012.

These cases and others that the AHRC has documented put pay to the misconception that torture in Burma was essentially associated with the cases of political prisoners and that therefore in the current situation as political conditions change the incidence of torture will decline significantly. Although police officers are having to be more cautious as the domestic media reports more openly on cases like this sort, it is clear that the use of torture is widespread and habitual, as in other countries in the region, and that it will take systemic measures to eliminate. Indeed, this case shows the extent to which all parts of the system, including judges and doctors who come into contact with victims of torture, are complicit in these crimes.

For many more cases and issues concerning human rights in Burma, visit the AHRC’s country homepage: http://www.humanrights.asia/countries/burma.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write a letter to the following government authorities to urge that the two accused in this case be released from prison, the murder case reopened, and a special investigation be conducted into the use of torture in this case with a view to laying criminal charges against the police involved.

Please note that for the purpose of the letter Burma is referred to by its official name, Myanmar.

Please also be informed that the AHRC is writing separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights in Myanmar; on torture, and on extrajudicial killings; and, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and regional office in Bangkok, calling for their interventions into this matter.

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ___________,

MYANMAR: Two men tortured for a week and forced to confess to rape and murder

Names of victims:
1. San Win, a.k.a. Khin Maung, 36, peasant, resident of Sin Oe Village, Kani Township, Monywa District, Sagaing Region
2. Thaung Paing, a.k.a. U Thubodha, monk, 34, resident of Letpansu Monastery, Kani Township; both victims currently detained in Mandalay Central Prison

Names of persons involved:
1. Inspector Aung Ko, Commander, Winmanar Police Station
2. Sub Inspector Kyaw Thet
3. Sub Inspector Naing Lin
4. Sub Inspector Khin Maung Nyo
5. Tin Aung Moe, police officer of unknown rank
6. Constable Aye Min
7. Constable Win Htun
8. Commander, Kani Township Police
9. U Ya Aung, Chairman, Sin-oe Village administration

Date of incident: 1-13 April 2010
Place of incident: Various police facilities in Kani Township
Charge: Murder, section 302(1)(c), Penal Code (San Win), and abetment of murder, section 302(1)(c) and 114 (Thaung Paing)
Court cases: Criminal Case No. 8/2010, Monywa District Court; sentenced to death on 7 October 2010; Criminal Appeal No. 220/2010, Supreme Court (Mandalay), rejected

I am writing at length to disclose to you the shocking extent of the torture allegedly suffered by a man and a monk accused of raping and murdering an underage girl in 2010. Under pressure to identify culprits, and apparently knowing that the alleged actual culprit—the son of an influential local official—had already left the area, the police went after other targets and forced a confession from one of the two accused after diabolical methods of torture alleged by the two men in detailed depositions recorded while they are in prison. What follows is a relatively short summation of those details.

The police arrested the two accused following the alleged rape and murder of a teenage girl in Sin-oe Village on the night of 31 March 2010. After the girl’s body was found the next morning, the police and township and village administration called all males aged 12 to 50 in the village to the school, where they questioned each and ordered them to strip off their shirts. By that time, the actual alleged offender, the son of the head of the village administration, had already left the village. They made a number of arrests, including of San Win, whom they took to a house and interrogated while handcuffed during the night. The next day they brought him back to the school and continued to interrogate him, throughout the day and that night.

On April 3 the police took a total of eight men from the locality, including San Win, to the Winmanar Police Station, where they put them in the lock up. They took them out and interrogated them one at a time.

According to San Win, when the township commander spoke to him on the first occasion he said that the police had arrested San Win because he had a criminal record only, and they knew that he had no knowledge of the crime, which is to say, they needed to look active in response to the rape and murder in a rural community. He added that they would release San Win in due course and advised him to take it easy.

However, on April 4 a team led by the Winmanar police commander again interrogated San Win for the whole day and he was not fed or given water. That night, the police forced him to strip his clothes and made him kneel on sharp gravel throughout the night with his hands cuffed behind his back, during which time three policemen assaulted him with truncheons on rotation. Whenever he fell they forced him back up. At about 7pm Constable Aye Min under the station commander’s direction hit him repeatedly on the penis with a slender branch. Around 3am a number of police held down San Win and ran a roller back and forth over his shins under heavy pressure.

In the morning time the police under orders from the township commander returned San Win’s clothes and put him back in the cells, handcuffed. Thereafter a couple of police took him to the court to obtain remand, after which he was taken to the Kani Police Station cells. For two days and nights the police held him in that lockup without giving him food or water and keeping his hands cuffed behind his back and chained to the cell bars. The chain was only long enough to stand or sit, preventing him from lying down and sleeping.

On the evening of April 7, police took San Win to the township police headquarters where Sub Inspector Kyaw Thet and Sub Inspector Khin Maung Nyo led him into a darkened room where police forced him into stress positions, such as imitating riding a horse. Because he was exhausted from lack of sleep, food and water, San Win kept falling to the floor, whereupon a policeman would kick him and force him to get back up.

The following day the same two sub inspectors and another officer took him to the Kani hospital not for a check up but to look at his penis and physical condition. According to San Win, he overheard the doctor saying that she did not think he was the person responsible for raping the young girl; however, the police took him back to the station and again forced him into stress positions. Then at about 8pm Inspector Aung Ko arrived with a rope and three other police. They tied the rope to the handcuffs behind San Win’s back and lifted him off the ground, keeping him dangling with his arms bent up behind his head for perhaps an hour, after which they lowered him so that his feet could touch the ground but did not untie him, instead leaving him like that for the night.

Again on the night of April 11 a number of unidentified officers, including one sub inspector, took San Win into an interrogation room and assaulted him by punching him in the sternum, and hitting his face. They forced him to sit cross-legged and face down while a police officer pushed his knees into San Win’s back and thrust his stomach in, causing him to gasp and convulse. They asked him if he wanted the torture to go on for a month, and said that beyond ten days he would not survive.

At 9pm that night Aung Ko and three police came again and forced San Win to remove his clothes. The officers were drunk. Then they gave him the underwear, skirt and top of the murdered girl and forced him to put them on. Although they would not fit San Win, he had to pull them on as far as possible, and from outside the room the police jeered and yelled the girl’s name, saying that she herself had uncovered her murderer. After only about two hours did the police allow him to remove the clothes, and Aung Ko then ordered Aye Min not to let San Win sleep that night but to again force him to kneel the whole time.

On April 12, Aung Ko again came with some subordinates and told San Win to sign some documents, but San Win refused and Kyaw Thet punched and slapped him until he was dizzy. Aung Ko then took forced a pen into his hand and guided a wobbly signature onto the page put in front of him. After that, saying that it was all that he needed, Aung Ko left, and on that day for the first time the police allowed San Win’s family to send him food. The next day, Aung Ko tried to force San Win to give a confession before a judge, but when he refused the policeman said that it did not matter—since he already had the confession of the co-accused.

The police called U Thubodha for questioning at the Winmanar Police Station on the afternoon of April 3. According to Thubodha, fter treating him politely at first they took him into a side room with a single chair and table. Sub Inspector Naing Lin sat and forced him to stand before the table, where Sub Inspector Khin Maung Nyo, Constable Aye Min and Tin Maung Moe hit the monk all over his body. When he cried out, they stuffed paper into his mouth and then forced him to kneel on sharp gravel. After about half an hour, Aung Ko came and kicked him savagely in the back, then punched him in the stomach. He hit the monk’s forehead onto the hard floor, causing it to swell up. Then he forced him also to wear the young girl’s underwear and accused the monk of using sorcery to entrap her. He also went and got the girl’s slippers and slapped and rubbed the monk in the face with them. He later brought the girl’s top and forced him to wear it.

On April 4 the police took Thubodha to another room and strung him from the ceiling the same like San Win. While dangling, Sub Inspector Kyaw Thet and Naing Lin hit him in various parts of his body and threatened to kill him if he did not admit to the crime. The torture continued in this manner for about half an hour and they went out for tea. Around 7am the Kani station commander, Kyaw Thet, Naing Lin and Tin Aung Moe returned with a rope used for leading cattle and tied it into a noose. They tied it around his neck and pulled him up so that he was on his tip-toes and gasping for air and again threatened him to admit to the crime saying they would kill him if he lied. They also stuck three needles through the middle of his tongue and pulling again on the noose asked him if he wanted to die.

Around this time the township police commander came and warned the officers not to torture the accused constantly because if he did die then they would have trouble. They put him back in the cells and removed the handcuffs. However, subsequently the police again began punching and slapping him, and in the evening time Constable Aye Min again cuffed him and brought him into a room with the Kani station chief, Naing Lin, Kyaw Thet, Khin Maung Nyo, Tin Aung Moe and another sub inspector. The chief forced him to kneel and told him that they were not feeding him on orders. They again hit him and pulled him up by rope so that he was dangling, and told him that if he didn’t speak up then he would die that night, and that if they killed him nothing would happen to them. Later the Kani station chief hit him repeatedly with a stick, but when he started bleeding the policeman stopped. The others began hitting and slapping him again and the chief told him to repeat 300 times that he was the one who did the crime, while again kneeling on sharp gravel. By this time Thubodha estimates it was around 2am on April 5.

Finally, because he could not bear the torture any longer Thubodha said that he would say and sign whatever the police wanted. Aung Ko came and told him that, “Whatever I ask you just say ‘yes’, after that we’ll give food and water.” Thubodha agreed, and they took him back to the cells and brought him some water but no food. It was around dawn on April 5. At that time he could hear the sound of beating, crying and yelling coming from an adjacent cell. Later in the morning the police came and said they would take him to hospital, but they just took him to a stream and let him bathe then brought him back to the station lockup.

Around midday the police brought him out and he saw the senior officers and subordinates were all there. Thubodha’s brother had also come to the station. When he saw the monk be brought out he went to pay respects by kneeling to him, but the police asked him, “What are you groveling for?” and kicked him in the legs. They brought Thubodha to the township headquarters and there again strung him up until only his tip-toes were on the floor, then the stuck cigarettes into his buttocks and burned the hair around his anus. Then Naing Lin pulled down his pants and asked Thubodha, “Do you want to suck it?” The monk said he didn’t want to, and the policeman came behind him and touched the monk’s anus with his penis. “Did you do that girl like this?” he asked. The monk denied it and the policeman then punched him repeatedly in the chest, telling him not to lie and saying that the police already knew everything. Another policeman came and saying that he had besmeared the name of his village, also punched the monk. Then the township police chief came and told them to take the accused back to the cells. Back in the cells, Kyaw Thet again came and beat Thubodha, and another officer came and forced him to stand on one leg for 15 minutes. Other detainees who were present gave him some bread and water secretly.

Around 8am on April 6, Aung Ko arrived and took him out. He told Thubodha that he would have to go to a judge and repeat everything just as the policeman told him. If he didn’t do it then that night he would die. He then instructed him on how to confess that he and San Win had raped and murdered the girl. After that they took the monk to court and waited outside a room with a judge inside. The judge asked if the police had beaten him. Then Thubodha said he was innocent and that he had been brutally tortured and that he had injuries to show for it. The judge merely called to the police and said, “Take him back.”

The police took him again to the headquarters where Naing Lin again took him to a room and strung him up and began beating him and asking if he could go on like that for two or three months. Aung Ko came and said on a chair in front of him and again said that they would kill him and that nothing would happen to them. Kyaw Thet kicked him in the nape of the neck and then forced him to hold a grenade. Naing Lin took a revolver from Aung Ko and pointed it at Thubodha, telling him if he told the judge next time that the police had beaten him then he would be shot and killed. After that the township chief arrived and again warned his subordinates not to go too far lest they did in fact kill the accused, after which they again took the monk back to the cells.

On April 7, the police took Thubodha to his monastery and collected his three sets of robes and in the evening time the township chief again told him to confess to the crime. The next day they took the monk and San Win both to the village and forced them to pose for reenactment photographs at the scene of the crime. The officers went into the village and left him with Constable Win Htun, who hit him on the neck and head with a fence post repeatedly until blood came from his ear. He also forced his head onto the ground and trod on it, and stabbed him with the sharp end of the post. At this time no villagers were present because they had been ordered to stay away, but firemen on guard duty stood and watched. They did not get involved but they did not stop the violence either. After that the other police came and again took the monk away.

When the police took the montk to court again, Aung Ko warned that this time he was to do as he was told or they would kill him for sure. When they went inside Thubodha met the same judge, who ordered the handcuffs removed and called two people into the room and asked them to check the monk’s body. They said he had no injuries. Thubodha protested that he had many injuries but the judge ignored him. He took copies of documents that the police gave him and then told the monk to sign them, and to take him away. Thubodha also says that he heard the judge say quietly as they left that the police had got the wrong man. As they left the room, Aung Ko gave him the thumbs up and took him back to the Kani Police Station.

While the torture was going on, the administration head in Sin Oe village, U Ya Aung allegedly called a meeting of one person per household and told them that the police had caught the murderers and threatened people to cooperate or he would have them arrested and jailed as well. He also allegedly paid one person to appear as an eyewitness to the supposed abduction of the girl by the accused.

On April 30 the trial of the two accused opened in the district court. Both of the accused testified that they had been tortured for throughout their custody and U Thubodha retracted the confession that he had given. Furthermore, the material evidence was inconclusive. The examining doctor could not find evidence that the girl had been raped prior to her death as the police had claimed. Nonetheless, the district court sentenced the accused based on the confession and on witness testimonies against them that the police had also coerced or cajoled other villagers to give, and presently the two accused are detained in Mandalay jail.

These harrowing accounts speak for themselves, and it would be pointless to expand upon them here. Clearly, if the facts are as the two accused have stated then it will be possible through a thorough investigation to identify witnesses to at least some of the alleged acts of torture and other abuses that occurred over the fortnight following the murder of the young girl, and also to conduct thorough-going medical examinations to see if either of the two has evidence of lasting injuries or scars that correspond with their accounts.

Accordingly, I call for a special investigation to be undertaken into the Kani Township police officers accused of involvement in this torture, the judge who took the confession statement, and the village administrators responsible for covering up the crime and protecting the actual perpetrator. The investigation must be undertaken with a view to bringing criminal charges against the police officers involved, not merely disciplinary action, as is normally the case in instances of this sort. I also urge that the original murder case be reopened and that the two accused be released from prison without undue delay.

At this time that political conditions in Myanmar are changing, it is of utmost importance that institutional changes also be made to hold government officers accountable for crimes of this sort. If police in Myanmar are able to continue to get away with acts of torture, as they had been in past years of military dictatorship, it will spell ill for the efforts to effect change at other levels of society and government. Therefore, cases of this sort serve as important test cases in the current period, for us to assess the credibility and quality of the changes taking place, and it is for this reason too that I consider this case to be one of the utmost significance.

Yours sincerely,

—————-

PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. U Hla Min
Minister for Home Affairs
Ministry of Home Affairs
Office No. 10
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR
Tel: +95 67 412 079/ 549 393/ 549 663
Fax: +95 67 412 439

2. U Thein Sein
President of Myanmar
President Office
Office No.18
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR

3. U Tun Tun Oo<BR>Chief Justice<BR>Office of the Supreme Court<BR>Office No. 24<BR>Naypyitaw<BR>MYANMAR<BR>Tel: + 95 67 404 080/ 071/ 078/ 067 or + 95 1 372 145<BR>Fax: + 95 67 404 059

4. Dr. Tun Shin
Attorney General
Office of the Attorney General
Office No. 25
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR
Tel: +95 67 404 088/ 090/ 092/ 094/ 097
Fax: +95 67 404 146/ 106

5. U Kyaw Kyaw Htun
Director General
Myanmar Police Force
Ministry of Home Affairs
Office No. 10
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR
Tel: +95 67 412 079/ 549 393/ 549 663
Fax: +951 549 663 / 549 208

6. Thura U Aung Ko
Chairman
Pyithu Hluttaw Judicial and Legislative Committee
Office of the Pyithu Hluttaw
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR

7. U Aung Nyein
Chairman
Pyithu Hluttaw Judicial and Legislative Committee
Committee for Public Complaints and Appeals
Office of the Pyithu Hluttaw
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR

8. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
Chairwoman
Pyithu Hluttaw Rule of Law and Tranquility Committee
Office of the Pyithu Hluttaw
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR

9. U Win Mra
Chairman
Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
27 Pyay Road
Hlaing Township
Yangon
MYANMAR
Tel: +95-1-659 668 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +95-1-659 668 FREE  end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Fax: +95-1-659 668

10. Ko Ko Hlaing
Chief Political Advisor
Office of the President
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR
Tel-+95-1-532 501 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +95-1-532 501 FREE  end_of_the_skype_highlighting ext-605 / 654 668
Fax-+95-1-532 500, 654 668
Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

Reporters Without Borders Documents the RISING TIDE OF MEDIA REPRESSION IN OUR REGION

Posted in Articles, News on January 31st, 2013

Reporters Without Borders’ newly released 2013 Press Freedom Index highlights alarming increases in suppression of freedom of speech in our region. North Korea continues to languish at the bottom of the table, and China is little higher, at no. 174 out of 179. Burma has risen from 169 to 151, but Malaysia has fallen to its lowest ever position because of restrictions on access to information. Japan’s position has fallen more sharply than that of any other Asian country (from 22 to 53) because of  “a lack of transparency and almost zero respect for access to information on subjects directly or indirectly related to Fukushima”. As Reporters without Borders notes “This sharp fall should sound an alarm”. For the full Index, click here.