The Global Digest


Open Letter to APEC Members at the 25th Summit in Đà Nẵng, 11-12 November 2017

APEC Leaders

As you gather in Đà Nẵng for the 25th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, I am writing to express my deep concern about grave human rights violations in the host country, Vietnam. I urge you to press your Vietnamese partner to uphold its binding international obligations and cease persecuting citizens for their legitimate appeals for human rights, democracy and freedom of religion or belief.

APEC is an influential forum, accounting for almost 40% of the world’s population, 57% of the global GDP and 49% of international trade. The aim of the 21 member economies is to promote economic growth and prosperity, and the 2017 summit’s theme is “Creating a New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future”. Yet this shared future of growth and prosperity is surely only attainable if it is based on a common commitment to the principles of freedom and human rights? As history has proved, economic development and human rights are not incompatible. On the contrary, they are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Development is freedom, said Indian Nobel Economics laureate Amartya Sen, but he stressed that this freedom can only exist when “economic opportunities, political freedoms, social facilities, transparency guarantees and protective security” are equally guaranteed.

Whilst the APEC Summit takes place, Vietnam is pursuing the fiercest assault on human rights in recent years. In the past twelve months, at least 28 people have been arrested under vaguely-worded “national security” crimes which have been strongly denounced by the United Nations and many APEC member states. Prominent bloggers and human right defenders such as Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh (Mẹ Nấm) and Trần Thị Nga were condemned to ten and nine years in prison respectively this summer. Human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài has been detained for over 22 months without trial, and is now charged with “subversion” which is punishable by death.

The right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief – the mother of all freedoms – is gravely violated in Vietnam. The venue of this year’s APEC Summit has a deep symbolic significance for religious followers. The Marble Mountains (Ngũ Hành Sơn) in Đà Nẵng contain some of Vietnam’s most remarkable Buddhist grottoes devoted to the Bodhisattva of Compassion Kwan Yin, and represent a place of pilgrimage and spiritual retreat. Yet whilst the government promotes tourism and draws revenues from these sites, it is suppressing the 2,000-year heritage of Vietnamese Buddhism by outlawing the independent Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), banning its religious activities and ruthlessly repressing its followers.

Today, the UBCV’s leader, Most Venerable Thích Quảng Độ, 89, a renowned scholar, dissident and 16-times Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City. He is deprived of citizenship rights and held under constant Police surveillance. A symbol of the growing movement for democracy and human rights in Vietnam, Thích Quang Độ has spent the past thirty years in prison, internal exile and house arrest. In May 2017, Police prevented him from travelling to Huế to enjoy the care of his disciples at the Long Quang Pagoda on the grounds that “he is not welcome” in Huế. Lê Công Cầu, the UBCV’s Secretary-general and leader of the Buddhist Youth Movement (Gia đình Phật tử Việt Nam) is constantly interrogated, harassed and forbidden to travel by Police. Scores of members of the Buddhist Youth Movement have been threatened and placed under restrictions during major Buddhist festivals such as the Vesak and the Lunar New Year.

Vietnam is not only using force, but also the law to curb freedom of religion or belief. In November 2016, Vietnam adopted a “Law on Belief and Religion” which imposes tight controls on religions and legalizes state oversight of religious affairs. Independent religious groups such as the UBCV, Khmer Krom Buddhists, many Protestant house churches, independent Hoa Hao or Cao Dai which do not accept the Communist Party’s intrusive interference will be extremely vulnerable when this law comes into force on 1st January 2018. Vietnam’s future, and the “shared future” of the Asia-Pacific region depend on the commitment you make today to place decency, dignity and democratic freedoms at the centre of your efforts to promote economic cooperation and trade.

Võ Văn Ái President, Quê Mẹ: Vietnam Committee on Human Rights

PM names China bordering bridge after Bhupen Hazarika

Special Contribution
By Nava Thakuria

Guwahati: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 26 May inaugurated the country’s longest river bridge in far eastern region and gave a nomenclature to the project over Lohit river, a major tributary of mighty Brahmaputra. PM Modi, who arrived in the morning hours from New Delhi, dedicated the Dhola-Sadiya bridge to the nation and also name it after legendary Assamese cultural personality Dr Bhupen Hazarika.

“The road connectivity will see a major transformation as this bridge will fill a huge connectivity gap that has existed in the region. It will also enhance connectivity between Assam & Arunachal Pradesh, and opens the door for economic development on a big scale,” said Modi while addressing a rally at Dhola in Assam.

The bridge is expected to reduce the distance from Rupai (Assam) on NH- 37 to Meka-Roing (Arunachal Pradesh) on NH-52 by 165 km and thus give a major boost to overall economic development in the region. PM Modi added that the infrastructure along with road & rail connectivity is extremely important for development.

“The effort of the Union government is to fulfil the dreams & wishes of the people,” commented Modi in presence of Assam governor Banowarilal Purohit and the State chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal adding that the Centre was placing great emphasis on the development of waterways as well in the region.

Modi asserted that the eastern and north-eastern parts of India have the greatest potential for economic development. The enhanced connectivity between the region and other parts of the country, and also good communication linking the region with the economy of South-East Asia remains the priority for the Centre, he declared.

Constructed with the budget of rupees 950 crore and connecting Assam with Arunachal, the Dhola-Sadiya bridge is expected to change the lives of thousands of families. Moreover, it is assumed that the 9.16 km river bridge would fulfill a vital requirement in terms of India’s defence perspective as it is only 100 km away from the McMahon Line separating India from Tibet (now under Communist China).

A number of individuals along with few civil society groups earlier urged PM Modi to name the river bridge after the music maestro. The Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA) and the Arunachal Pradesh Literary Society (APLS) separately advocated for the cause with an aim to honour the singer with an immortal voice as ‘he was a man of assimilation embracing various community & tribes of the region like a golden thread’.

The PPFA argued that Dr Hazarika was born at Sadiya on 8 September 1926 and he made the first film titled ‘Meri Dharam Meri Maa’ representing Arunachal. Preferred to declare himself as a Jajabor (wanderer), Hazarika tried his hands in various field of creations as a poet, lyricist, singer, music composer, author, journalist and filmmaker. In fact, he was the most visible individual of the region for many decades.

The APLS pointed out that Hazarika, who died in 2011, worked relentlessly for unity & integrity for all caste, creed and religions through his songs and music. He is hailed as the uncrowned king of the region’s cultural world. His songs continue to be popular even today as those contain the humanity above all.

Hazarika got PhD in mass communication (1952) from Columbia University, New York. The bard of Brahmaputra was equally popular in mainland India along with Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. Hazarika was conferred on Padamshree (1977) and Padma Bhushan (2001) besides Dadasaheb Phalke Award (1992), the first and only one from northeast India to receive the honour till date.

The child prodigy sang and performed in ‘Indramaloti’, the second Assamese talkie film made by Jyotiprasad Agarwalla in 1939. Hazarika penned thousands of lyrics and rendered his crisp voice for nearly 1500 songs. He had composed music for 36 Assamese films, many Bengali (Jiban Trishna, Jonakir Alo, Mahut Bandhure, Kari o Komal, Ekhane Pinjar, Dampati, Chameli Memsaab etc) and Hindi (AAOPEk Pal, Rudaali, Papiha, Darmiyaan, Daman, Gajagamini etc ) films.

As a director, some of his outstanding Assamese films include ‘Era Batar Sur’ (1956), ‘Shakuntala’ (1960), ‘Pratidhwani’ (1964), ‘Lotighoti’ (1967), ‘Chick Mick Bijuli’ (1970), ‘Mon Projapati’ (1978), ‘Siraj’ (1988) etc. He won Indian President’s award for ‘Shakuntala’, ‘Pratidhwani’ and ‘Lotighoti’ as a film maker. Hazarika was awarded with best music director award for ‘Chameli Memsaab’ in 1976. It was the first national award in music direction for the Assamese film industry.

Assam government conferred two prestigious honours (Shrimanta Shankardev Award 1988 and Asom Ratna Award 2008) on Hazarika. Asom Sahitya Sabha, the highest literary forum of Assam, offered the coveted post of the President to him in 1993. For a five year term Hazarika was appointed as the Chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1999 and was also elected to Assam State Legislative Assembly in 1967.

Soon after the Chinese aggressive in 1962, Hazarika visited the Kameng locality of Arunachal and created his eternal lyrics ‘------Aji Kameng Simanta Dekhilo, Dekhi Shatrur Pashutta Chinilo----- (Seen today the Kameng border and realized the barbarity of enemies meaning Red China) ’ to pay homage to the soldiers, who sacrificed their lives in the war. He also advocated for a watchful force at the China border for the security of the nation.

IFEX urges Pakistan to provide updated information on journalists killing to UNESCO

Annie Game(R)

KARACHI, May 20: International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) Executive Director Annie Game has urged Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to respond to UNESCO Director-General’s 2017 request that has sought information on the status of judicial inquiries into the killings of 55 journalists in Pakistan from 2006 to 2016. In a letter, Game also asked the Prime Minister to take measures to promote the safety of journalists in mainstream and online media, and to combat impunity.

The Executive Director of IFEX, the global network working to promote and defend freedom of expression worldwide, said the UNESCO Director-General’s biennial report was a way for states to demonstrate their commitment to addressing crimes against journalists and media workers by providing detailed information on the steps being taken to achieve justice and end impunity. The report is expected to serve as a monitoring mechanism for tracking progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 16.10 on access to information and fundamental freedoms, which UN member states unanimously adopted. It has been observed that the report’s value would be further strengthened through the collection of information on good practices.

The IFEX Executive Director applauded Pakistan's responses given in the years 2014 and 2016 on the Director-General’s request and asked him to further improve this trend of accountability by submitting a detailed and updated information on journalists killing cases to UNESCO, besides granting them permission to make it publicly available. She hoped that the Prime Minister would assist UNESCO in the collection of good practices by providing information on general safeguards implemented for the protection of journalists and also end impunity issue in Pakistan. She said responses by Pakistan would be included in the upcoming 2017 World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development report and the 2018 report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity.

Game informed Sharif that since 2006, over 800 journalists and media workers had been killed worldwide and in more than 90% of those cases, the perpetrators had gone unpunished and such type of extreme unchecked violence was the ultimate form of censorship that severely curtailed the flow of information necessary for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic society to flourish. “The culture of impunity that has developed around this issue only makes it more likely that such crimes will continue to occur. For this reason, the issue of impunity for killing of journalists is one of the greatest threats to freedom of expression and information worldwide,” she further said.

The IFEX Executive Director urged the Prime Minister to ensure that Pakistan's efforts are documented in the relevant reports and the government demonstrates accountability by making the submission to UNESCO before 30 May 2017. “In doing so, you will be helping to improve political will to address violence, building a global repertoire of best legal practices, and showing that attacks on freedom of expression in Pakistan will not be tolerated. We look forward to your response to this letter and to seeing updated information on the cases mentioned above made public in the relevant reports and on the UNESCO website,” Game concluded.

May-Sep 2014
Jan-Apr 2014
2011, 2012