Global Statistics

All countries
42,946,446
Confirmed
Updated on October 25, 2020 4:23 am
All countries
31,186,739
Recovered
Updated on October 25, 2020 4:23 am
All countries
1,154,857
Deaths
Updated on October 25, 2020 4:23 am

Global Statistics

All countries
42,946,446
Confirmed
Updated on October 25, 2020 4:23 am
All countries
31,186,739
Recovered
Updated on October 25, 2020 4:23 am
All countries
1,154,857
Deaths
Updated on October 25, 2020 4:23 am
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Chinese Survey Ship Spotted Off Coast of Central Vietnam

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China has sent a survey ship with a Coast Guard escort into Vietnamese waters of the South China Sea, ship tracking data show.

Vietnam has yet to react publicly to the deployment, but it comes at a diplomatically sensitive time.

The new prime minister of Japan is set to visit Vietnam next week, and the Nikkei newspaper reported Wednesday that Japan is planning to sell defense equipment to Vietnam – a move that is likely to be opposed by China, which views Japan as a strategic rival.

The Shiyan-1 survey and research ship departed Haikou Bay, in China’s Hainan province, on Monday and came within 70 nautical miles of Vietnam’s Quang Ngai province on Tuesday, according to data reviewed by Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews. As of Wednesday morning, it was 78 nautical miles off the coast of Binh Dinh province. Both areas are along Vietnam’s central coast.

The Shiyan-1 survey ship is operated by the Institute for Acoustics, a research center specializing in underwater acoustics for the Chinese Academy of Sciences, according to the International Maritime Organization database. Notably, it was expelled from the Eastern Indian Ocean by India’s navy back in December 2019 under suspicion of mapping the topography of the ocean floor for military purposes.

The China Coast Guard ship numbered 2305 followed the Shiyan-1 into Vietnamese waters on Monday, but has since left its side. Ship-tracking data from Wednesday morning shows it sailing in the opposite direction of the research ship, back to Hainan.

The data shows five ships operated by Vietnam’s Fisheries Resources Surveillance – a maritime law enforcement agency separate from that country’s coastguard – appear to have monitored both the CCG and Shiyan-1 survey ship as they traveled into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. A country’s EEZ extends 200 nautical miles beyond their coastlines and provides them certain resource rights to the waters there.

China has often deployed survey ships into the waters of other nations in the South China Sea, in what is widely interpreted as an assertion of its claim to “historic rights” over nearly all of the disputed waterway.

Six other Asian governments have territorial claims or maritime boundaries in the South China Sea that overlap with the sweeping claims of China. They are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia’s EEZ.

RFA spotted the Shiyan-1 on July 16 conducting a survey straddling nearly 330 nautical miles over a broad swathe of the Paracel Islands, an archipelago of rocks and reefs in the northern half of the South China Sea which is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. It subsequently sailed to an area roughly 230 nautical miles from Chichijima, a remote Japanese island located far to the east of Japan, and performed a survey there until Aug. 24.

On the diplomatic front Wednesday, Japan voiced concern over developments in the South China Sea at the start of annual talks between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This year, the talks took place virtually.

Both sides emphasized freedom of navigation in and overflight over the disputed waters, according to an ASEAN press release. Japan’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Mori Takeo “underlined the importance of peace and stability in the region, expressing concerns over recent developments in the East Sea,” in his remarks to ASEAN, according to Vietnamese state media. East Sea is Vietnam’s term for the South China Sea.

Japan’s Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide, who took office just a month ago, called his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Monday to plan for his upcoming visit to Vietnam amid signs that Tokyo is stepping up its engagement in the security realm in Southeast Asia.

“Japan will work with various nations to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific region. That’s the idea we have,” Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan Kato Katsunobu said at a press conference Wednesday morning.

This week, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force is conducted drills in the South China Sea with the U.S. Navy. And at the weekend, Japan conducted an anti-submarine warfare drill of its own in the South China Sea, and then made a port call at Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay.

China looked dimly on Japan’s submarine maneuvers. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing on Monday: “We hope that the relevant country will not do things detrimental to regional peace, security and stability.”

Those comments came as China’s top diplomat conducted a five-nation tour of Southeast Asia this week, visiting Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, and Singapore, although not Vietnam.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi used the occasion to blast the ‘Quad,’ a grouping of four Indo-Pacific democracies that includes Japan, Australia, India, and the United States.

“What [the Quad] pursues is to trumpet the old-fashioned Cold War mentality, and to stir up confrontation among different groups and blocs, and to start a geopolitical competition,” he said at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur. “In this sense, the strategy itself is a security risk. If it is forced forward it will wind back the clock of history.”

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Watchdog Report: Internet Freedom Declined in 2019 in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines

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The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating a dramatic decline in global internet freedom, including in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Indonesia, an independent watchdog group said in a report released Wednesday.

Meanwhile, for a seventh year running, Thailand was rated as “not free” for online speech, according to an annual report published by U.S.-based Freedom House, which also noted that Malaysia kept showing improvement.

Freedom House said political leaders worldwide used the pandemic as a pretext to limit access to information and cited COVID-19 to justify expanded surveillance. Countries, meanwhile, restricted the flow of information across national borders at a time when connectivity is not a convenience, but a necessity, Freedom House said in a report that covers developments between June 2019 and May 2020.

“The pandemic is accelerating society’s reliance on digital technologies at a time when the internet is becoming less and less free,” Michael J. Abramowitz, the watchdog group’s president, said in a news release that accompanied the report.

Titled The Pandemic’s Digital Shadow, the group’s annual report on internet freedom surveyed 65 countries.

“Without adequate safeguards for privacy and the rule of law, these technologies can be easily repurposed for political repression,” Abramowitz said.

Bangladesh ‘blocks sites’

In Bangladesh, the ruling Awami League has consolidated power through the harassment of critics and the opposition, Freedom House said, reporting that the government has used the excuse of the pandemic to curtail digital freedom and muzzle its critics.

The country fell to 42 from 44 in 2019 out of a top score of 100, the Washington-based democracy monitor reported.

Bangladesh’s government amplified the use of its Digital Security Act to arrest its detractors, said the report. It also blocked 50 websites for allegedly spreading misinformation, the report said.

The English and Bengali versions of BenarNews have been blocked since early April in the South Asian country. The sites were made inaccessible days after they reported on an internal U.N. memo projecting that Bangladesh could see as many as 2 million deaths from COVID-19.

BenarNews is an online affiliate of Radio Free Asia, a U.S. government-funded group that provides uncensored and reliable news and information to audiences in Asia.

On Wednesday, Bangladesh Telecommunication Minister Mostofa Jabbar told BenarNews that he had not seen the Freedom House report. The government only blocks sites that spread rumor and disinformation, he said.

When BenarNews asked the minister why its sites were blocked, he didn’t state a reason.

“The BenarNews management can apply before the BTRC [Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission] if they think that the blocking of the site was unjustified,” Jabbar said.

Philippine ‘slide’ continues

In the Philippines, digital freedom declined further as the government continued to target people and organizations critical of the war on drugs, Freedom House said, adding that the country’s score fell two points to 64.

The government’s emergency COVID-19 decree further criminalized some forms of online speech, leading to users being arrested and charged for their social media posts about the pandemic, the report said.

Additionally, in June, journalist Maria Ressa, the CEO and executive editor of online Philippine news site Rappler, was convicted of cyber libel. Rappler has been reporting critically about President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

In July, the government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. The report said the act includes language that could be used to prosecute online speech.

Indonesia’s ‘pro-government propaganda’ sites

Indonesia has made impressive democratic gains since the fall of an authoritarian government in 1998, but digital freedom was further constrained last year, Freedom House said. The country’s score fell to 49 from 51 last year.

The report said the government repeatedly restricted internet connectivity amid protests in the far-eastern Papua region where separatist rebels are waging an insurgency.

On the flip side, Reuters reported in January that the military was operating and funding a network of 10 online news sites that published pro-government propaganda and criticize government critics.

Thailand ‘Not Free’

Thailand’s score in this year’s Freedom House stayed the same as in 2019 – 35 out of 100 – but it was rated as “not free” for the seventh straight year.

The government of Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who is the former army chief and who led the 2014 military coup, continues to restrict civil and political rights and suppress dissent, the report said.

When the pandemic hit, the government declared an emergency and arrested and criminally charged internet users who criticized the government’s public health policies, according to Freedom House.

Thailand has also been coercing social media platforms to remove content that criticizes the monarchy, and has directly pressured social media users to delete their posts, the group said.

Malaysia’s new ruling coalition ‘threatens recent gains’

Of the 65 countries that Freedom House assessed for internet freedom, only 22 showed an improvement last year, and Malaysia was one of them. Its score rose to 58 from 57 in 2019, and 55 in 2018.

However “the accession to power of a new ruling coalition in March 2020 threatens recent gains,” the report said, citing the legal proceedings started by the government in June against news portal Malaysiakini, after readers posted comments allegedly criticizing the judiciary.

Muhyiddin Yassin’s unelected coalition came to power in March after the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan coalition government in February.

Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka contributed to this report.

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Bangladeshi cargo ship runs aground near Vishakhapatnam port due to bad weather conditions – Republic World

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A cargo ship from Bangladesh carrying 15 crew members ran aground near Visakhapatnam port on Tuesday, October 13 due to harsh weather conditions and rough seas. The High Commission of India in Bangladesh, in a tweet, informed that all 15 crew members of the cargo ship are safe.  

READ: COVID-19: Bangladesh Refuses To Co-finance Chinese Vaccine Trials, Says ‘we’ll Get It’

READ: BCB Postpones Bangladesh Premier League Due To COVID-19

Indian officials assists the crew

According to the reports, the Indian authorities are coordinating with the crew members to assist them with damage assessment and recovery. Meanwhile, the state of Telangana is witnessing unprecedented amounts of flooding following the incessant rainfall that has lashed across several parts of the state including the capital city of Hyderabad. On Wednesday, fresh fatalities owing to the deluge were reported after three people lost their lives due to a wall collapse in a house near the Gaganpahad area of Shamshabad in Hyderabad.

A deep depression in the Bay of Bengal crossed the coast in Kakinada, leaving behind a trail of destruction in the southern states. Neighbouring Andhra Pradesh is bracing for more heavy rainfall over the next 24 hours as IMD Hyderabad has warned of thunderstorms along coastal regions in the state. The Chief Secretary to Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy wrote to senior district and police officials on Tuesday, urging them to be on “high alert”.

READ: Bangladesh Cabinet Approves Death Penalty For Rape Convicts After Nationwide Outrage

READ: Bangladesh Records 1,520 New Cases; To Accept Only WHO-recognised COVID-19 Vaccine

Inputs: ANI

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International ‘Milk Tea Alliance’ Faces Down Authoritarian Govts

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Young campaigners for democracy across Asia are increasingly turning to international support on social media via the #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag, issuing calls for support as protesters in Thailand and Hong Kong face off with authoritarian regimes.

“I [believe the] #MilkTeaAlliance could create a “pan-Asia” grassroots movement that would draw more attention to social causes in Asia,” Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, one of the leaders of the 2014 Umbrella movement, tweeted on Wednesday.

As he did so, Thai student activist Francis Bunkueanun Paothong was getting ready to issue a “call to arms” via the same hashtag, as police began an operation targeting protesters ahead of a major demonstration planned for Oct. 14.

“Dear people of the Milk Tea Alliance,” he said via a video statement posted to Twitter.

“Half an hour ago, Thai police began operations to forcibly remove protesters preparing themselves for tomorrow’s main protest. They used tactics far beyond [what] a human being can bear,” Francis said.

“I come to you with nothing to offer but our unconditional support to our brothers and sisters overseas, who are now engaged in the fight, the revolution, of their lifetimes.”

“This is a call to arms to everyone who cherishes the ideas of liberty and justice for all,” he added, calling on allies to “stand up to the tyranny and authoritarianism that we are all facing.”

Messages of support were quick to appear, many of them apparently from Hong Kong.

“Please stay safe! This is just like what happened in Hong Kong in the past year,” user @sajujuandjuju wrote in reply. “Hongkongers will always support our Thai friends. Please let us know how we can help!”

“Hkers always stand with Thailand!! Fighting and be safe,” another user wrote.

Internet meme that describes the “Milk Tea Alliance” of activists in Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan challenging China and other authoritarian regimes. [Courtesy of Milk Tea Alliance]

‘Flame war’

The #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag took off earlier this year, during an international flame war between China’s “Little Pink” pro-Communist Party commentators and residents of Thailand, Hong Kong, and the democratic island of Taiwan, which recently hailed India as part of the Milk Tea Alliance for its flying of the island’s flag to mark its Oct. 10 National Day.

Se Hoon Kim, a Korean-American student at the University of Rochester in New York State, said the key concept is resistance to authoritarian rule and influence, in particular that of the Chinese Communist Party.

“The Milk Tea Alliance has become a symbol for us that the Chinese Communist Party’s tactics around the world are no longer effective and that people have begun to question them,” Kim told RFA. “It also symbolizes people’s frustration with what the Chinese Communist Party is doing.”

Singaporean social activist Roy Ngerng, who now lives in Taiwan, said Beijing is increasingly regarded as a threat to regional democratic institutions, as it seeks to extend its influence and policies far beyond its national borders.

“If China continues to be strong, our governments will think they needn’t bother democratizing, because China is there in the background, controlling things,” he said.

He said he has felt the threat of China’s brand of governance all the more keenly since moving to Taiwan, which lives under the threat of invasion by the People’s Republic of China, which has never controlled the island, yet claims its territory.

For Ngerng, the Milk Tea Alliance is an online platform for young people across the region to support each other’s political actions, and to show that they don’t fear Beijing.

Widespread suppression

In its human rights report for Asia earlier this year, Amnesty International noted widespread suppression of freedom of expression and assembly across the region during 2019.

Yet protest movements led by young people continue to emerge.

Hong Kong-American student Joyce Ho said young people need international cooperation to prevent their home countries from “becoming the next Hong Kong or the next Tibet.”

“The world will be ours one day and mustn’t be taken over by regimes that want to control us,” said Ho, who founded the online platform Project Black Mask HK calling on international supporters to wear black masks in support of the protest movement.

Ho told a global anti-communist rally in Washington on Oct. 1 that the world is fighting to defend freedom everywhere, not just in Hong Kong, where the ruling Chinese Communist Party recently imposed a draconian national security law targeting peaceful dissent and critics of the government anywhere in the world.

“The younger generation is more politically aware and seeks a deeper political awareness and concern about what our world will look like in future,” Ho said.

The #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag was trending on Twitter in April, during the meme war with China’s Little Pinks, and again as social media users from India rallied to support Taiwan’s bid for international inclusion in the face of China’s insistence it remain diplomatically isolated.

According to the island’s Central News Agency, when Taiwan was trying to garner global support to join the World Health Assembly (WHA) in May, nearly half the tweets in favor came out of India, leading to further memes including the country in the Milk Tea Alliance.

Support for Taiwan from India

Pro-Taiwan sentiment in India was further fueled by the June 16 clashes between Chinese and Indian troops along a stretch of their shared border, sparking a flurry of anti-China memes from social media accounts in India.

“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has since had to enter damage control mode, deleting the incident from state-run media pages and social media sites,” CNA reported at the time.

It said repeated incursions by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) jets into Taiwan’s airspace had given new life to the Milk Tea Alliance on social media.

In April, a row erupted under the hashtag after Little Pinks took issue with a tweet from Bright, the star of hit Thai TV show 2gether, who seemed to imply Hong Kong was a separate country from China.

Thai actress Weeraya also drew their ire by suggesting the coronavirus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, prompting Chinese netizens to threaten to boycott Thai soaps and not to travel to the country as tourists after the pandemic.

Thai users hit back with video of Chinese tourists piling their plates and shoving each other at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and multiple references to the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, including the “Tank Man” image in a number of guises, including an impromptu sculpture made from fast food.

The flame war quickly drew the attention of other Twitter users tired of being targeted by Little Pinks, who need to use a banned VPN to evade their own government’s Great Firewall of censorship, and whose comments often include the insult “ni ma sile” (NMSL), meaning “your mother is dead.”

Users from Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, South Korea, and India piled into the battle.

Former 1989 student leader Wang Dan commented at the time that the Little Pinks may appear to be acting as individuals, but are backed and paid for by the CCP.

This article was reported by the Mandarin Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA), with which BenarNews is affiliated.

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Searching for the spirit of Beethoven: #bebeethoven | DW | 14.10.2020

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It’s no secret that Ludwig van Beethoven revolutionized almost every aspect of the musical life of his era. Whether setting standards for the symphony and other genres, definining the role of the artist, reassessing the relationship between old and new, or establishing the concert format itself — there is no aspect of music life that the legendary composer didn’t have a hand in. And his radical approach was not always celebrated by his contemporaries.  

But what would Beethoven have done today? What would he have stood for? These questions are currently being explored by 12 up-and-coming musicians and artists who have joined forces in Beethoven’s anniversary year for the #bebeethoven project: a future laboratory for creating music in the 21st century. 2020 being the 250th anniversary of the birth of the influential composer, there is no more fitting a time to explore his legacy in the present day.

Unafraid to experiment

With funding by the German government, the project is led by PODIUM Esslingen, founded in 2009 in that small city near Stuttgart as a small alternative chamber music festival for young people. It is also supported by other visionaries in the new music scene including the CTM Festival in Berlin and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. In recent years, PODIUM has become a think tank for reimagining music-making, asking big questions such as ‘How do music and today’s technology interact? What is the future of classical music in a globalized world? And what does the creation of music of the future look like?’

Heading the #bebeethoven project is German-American music manager and cellist Steven Walter,who will direct the Beethovenfest Bonn after its current director, Nike Wagner, steps down. The latest results of the #bebeethoven project will be presented from October 16 to 24, 2020 in Bonn in strict observance of measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

The project’s leader Steven Walter said the group was concerned with analyzing what Beethoven stood for and then thinking about what his ‘spirit’ could stand for today

What does thinking differently mean in music today?

“We asked ourselves where we can find interesting approaches in our time; lateral thinking projects that have a similar potential for impact as did Beethoven,” says Walter, the project’s curator. “That doesn’t mean, of course, that people should be like Beethoven. That’s just not possible because Beethoven today would not be the same as he was in his time. Instead, we were concerned with analyzing what Beethoven stood for and then thinking about what his ‘spirit’ could stand for today.” 

“There’s no Beethoven in it, but a lot of Beethoven in it…” says Walter, who describes the #bebeethoven project as a kind of laboratory testing new multi-media formats for making music and interacting with audiences.

The results have been unique. Berlin-based horn player Juri de Marco and his STEGREIF.orchester created a model for the orchestra of the future, one which plays freely, without notes, chairs or a conductor. Their goal is to rid themselves of clichés surrounding the classical orchestra and associated concert rituals.

The artist in a room that looks like a laboratory with a wooden box with wires and coils sticking out of it in front of him (PODIUM Esslingen)

Sound artist Koka Nikoladze participates in the project

In another project, Georgian artist Koka Nikoladze, based in Oslo, composes in real time. He works with musicians using technology he developed to control the orchestra in a unique way, in line with the Beethoven quote “Real art is obstinate.” 

In yet another experiment, Spanish concert designer Inigo Giner Miranda creates a concert that is a multifaceted work of art, using everything from a disco ball to a table where visitors can sit next to the performers. 

Berlin-based artist duo Quadrature, consisting of Juliane Götz and Sebastian Neitsch, embark on a search for the sounds of the cosmos, seeking noises from extraterrestrial worlds. Based on sonification data, the artists use artificial intelligence to create sound installations they call “heavenly harmonies.”

A radio telescope in front of a small wooden structure outdoors (PODIUM Esslingen)

The artist duo “Quadrature” presents heavenly harmonies with data they collected

What would Beethoven do?

Would Beethoven have been interested in such experiments? He certainly wouldn’t have been closed-minded about them, thinks Malte Boecker, director of the Beethoven House in Bonn and artistic director of the BTHVN2020 Committee, which significantly supports the #bebeethoven project and is a co-presenter at the Bonn festival. “After all, Beethoven was once a young man reaching for the stars,” he adds.

The twelve #bebeethoven project participants will present their work in Bonn from October 17 to 24, 2020.

Adapted by Sarah Hucal.

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Xi Jinping Sets Out Economic Plan to Replace Hong Kong With Shenzhen

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Ruling Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping on Wednesday laid out plans to have the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen at the heart of an integrated economic zone that will include the former colonial cities of Hong Kong and Macau.

Shenzhen will provide the “engine” for the development of the Greater Bay Area, Xi said in a speech marking the 40th anniversary of the city’s founding as a special economic zone (SEZ).

Regulations and institutions in Hong Kong would be “aligned” with those in neighboring Chinese cities, Xi said.

“With Shenzhen being an important engine in its development, we should seize the major historical opportunities in the development of the Greater Bay Area, promote the alignment of economic rules, and institutions of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau,” he said.

“We should also continue to encourage and guide our compatriots in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as well as overseas Chinese, to play their important roles in investment, entrepreneurship and two-way openness,” Xi said.

He said there would be a political leadership role for Shenzhen in promoting Xi’s personal brand of political ideology.

“Shenzhen will also take the lead to realize socialist modernization, this is the historical mission of Shenzhen given by the party in a new era,” the president said, referring to Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era.

The announcement suggests that Hong Kong will be sidelined as Beijing’s focus turns to Shenzhen, which has already provided a base for Chinese leaders to supervise developments in the former British colony, which was rocked by months of anti-extradition protests and pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019.

Shenzhen would be given a role in relation to Hong Kong, Xi said during a visit to the city, but gave no further details.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam on Monday gave late notice that her annual policy address would be postponed so she could attend the anniversary event in Shenzhen, and learn about new policy developments coming from Beijing.

Socialist command economy

Chinese economics commentator Jin Shan said Hong Kong and the former Portuguese colony of Macau would likely be included in Xi’s plans to move to a socialist command economy.

Xi’s ideas “are of a piece with traditional notions of a planned economy,” Jin said. “This actually goes in the opposite direction to the reforms and opening up [of late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping] and market economics.”

“The premise of openness is that a society, government, and the markets are under the rule of law, as a guarantee to achieve a prosperous market economy,” he said.

Hong Kong current affairs commentator Liu Ruishao agreed, saying China’s economic policy will be mostly focused on the domestic economy under Xi’s plan.

“They want to divert power away from Hong Kong and center mainland China,” Liu said. “When they are done ridding Hong Kong of its value, Hong Kong will die a natural death.”

Law Ka-chung, a former Bank of Communications analyst and economics professor at Hong Kong’s City University, said Beijing will achieve that with a massive injection of funds into Shenzhen’s high-tech industry.

“Shenzhen is all about developing high-tech, but Hong Kong can’t afford to do that because it has had a financial reversal of fortunes,” Law said.

Law said the Sino-U.S. trade war had led to a drain on Hong Kong’s U.S. dollar liquidity, once a key selling point of the city as a financial center.

“The Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s U.S. dollar foreign exchange reserves have fallen from 46 or 47 percent to 41 or 42 percent,” Law said. “There has been a sharp fall recently, as a proportion of funds are being drained.”

Law said Xi seems to have decided to develop China’s own currency, the renminbi, as an international reserve currency instead.

“If they want to build their own financial center, then it’s going to be Shenzhen,” he said.

The next ‘world city’

Terence Chong, associate professor of economics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), agreed, saying that Xi looks set to replace Hong Kong with Shenzhen as China’s next “world city.”

“Shenzhen’s GDP has already outstripped that of Hong Kong, which isn’t the kingpin of the Greater Bay Area economic development plan, because you can’t have areas of slower growth leading areas of faster growth,” Chong said.

“Hong Kong was never going to be the lead city in the plan.”

Chong said Shenzhen could struggle with the free movement of capital in and out of renminbi, however, in comparison with Hong Kong, with its freely convertible, U.S.-dollar-linked currency.

It could also struggle attracting international talent, he said.

“How many foreigners are going to want to relocate to Shenzhen?” Chong said. “Can they cut banking and communications costs? These are all things they could do as a city.”

He said dispute resolution was unlikely to be better in Shenzhen than in Hong Kong, where an independent judiciary was once cited as a key attraction for investors in the city.

“Perhaps they could use Hong Kong procedures,” he said.

Reported by Tseng Yat-yiu, Chan Jeon-nam and Lau Siu-fung for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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China’s human rights record slammed after UNHRC reelection | DW | 14.10.2020

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Following China’s reelection to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters the decision reflected the “international community’s high recognition of the development and progress of China’s human rights cause.”

Human rights groups, however, have a different opinion of Beijing’s record. China has drawn widespread criticism for the mass-internment of Uighur Muslims, a crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong, widespread domestic censorship and arbitrary arrests of political dissidents.

Sarah Brooks, Asia program officer for the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), told DW that China’s reelection has made the UNHRC’s credibility “hard to swallow.”

“The idea that the council can be the world’s highest human rights body […] when China is on the council and actively engaged, imperils a whole range of efforts to use the council to address violations worldwide,” Brooks said.

Read moreWill China’s new national security law for Hong Kong be the end of autonomy in the territory?

More support for Chinese activists

On September 9, over 300 human rights groups, including Amnesty International, sent a joint letter to the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling for an international mechanism to address the Chinese government’s human rights violations.

According to Amnesty, the letter said that China was seeking to “distort the mandate” of the UNHCR, by “persecuting activists from China” who use UN mechanisms to bring scrutiny of human rights violations in countries around the world.

Brooks said that Chinese activists need to be supported and encouraged to use the UNHCR system to report human rights violations.

“We need to make sure that there are costs for China trying to block those individuals from coming to the UN. And that there is a response when China seeks to shut the door in the face of civil society or block an activist from getting on a plane,” said Brooks.

Read moreChinese tycoon missing after criticizing coronavirus response

UNHRC under more scrutiny?

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told DW the China’s membership in the UNHRC will draw international attention towards how the body operates. 

“China being reelected to the council hopefully will draw more attention to the council itself” and the “threat” that Beijing could pose to UN human rights mechanisms, she said, adding that over the last year, the number of governments openly critical of China’s human rights record within UN bodies rose from 23 to 40.

Read moreWhy is Germany silent on China’s human rights abuses?

“It’s imperative that like-minded pro-rights governments come together in some kind of coalition for the next five to 10 years to serve as a counterweight to China across the system,” said Richardson.

The United States withdrew from the UNHRC in 2018, citing “hypocrisy” on human rights.

“The UN General Assembly once again elected countries with abhorrent human rights records,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday. “These elections only further validate the US decision to withdraw and use other venues and opportunities to protect and promote universal human rights.”

With reporting from DW’s Taipei correspondent, William Yang, and the Associated Press

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EU to sanction 6 in Russia over Navalny poisoning: reports | DW | 14.10.2020

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The European Union on Wednesday agreed to sanction six Russians and one organization over the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, according to unnamed officials who spoke to to DPA and AFP news agencies.

EU ambassadors reportedly agreed to level asset freezes and travel bans during a meeting in Brussels, with exact details to be decided in the coming days.

Navalny, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in Siberia in August. He was evacuated to Berlin where he is now recovering.

Putin’s administration has denied being behind the attack.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier threatened to halt diplomatic contacts with Western countries if they imposed sanctions.

“We probably simply have to temporarily stop talking to those people in the West who are responsible for foreign policy and don’t understand the need for mutually respectful dialogue,” Lavrov said at a foreign policy conference on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, he threatened to respond in kind to any sanctions.

Read more: Alexei Navalny blames Vladimir Putin for poisoning

Measures target Russian security officials 

Germany and France proposed measures against Russia last week, saying that in addition to sanctions against “individuals … who by virtue of their official function are considered responsible for this crime and the breach of international law,” action should also be taken against a body “that is involved in the Novichok program.”

The EU measures are expected to come into force on Thursday. According to sources cited by news agencies, the targeted individuals include officials from Russia’s security apparatus, while the implicated organization is the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology.

Read moreThe German NGO behind Alexei Navalny’s rescue

The EU previously sanctioned Russian intelligence officials in the wake of the 2018 Novichok poisoning of ex-Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK. 

nm/aw (AFP, dpa)

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‘Thappad’, ‘Kedarnath’ Among Films to Re-Release This Week

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After over seven months of being shut due to the coronavirus lockdown, cinema halls in most parts of the country are gearing to open from 15 October. While new releases haven’t been announced yet, a number of movies are going to re-release.

The six big Bollywood films that will hit the theatres this Friday (16 October) are late actor Sushant Singh Rajput and Sara Ali Khan’s Kedarnath, Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan-starrer Tanhaji, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan featuring Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar, Taapsee Pannu’s Thappad, Malang (starring Disha Patani, Aditya Roy Kapur and Anil Kapoor) and War, featuring Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff.

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KRK claims threats from ‘Bollywood people’, states he’s ‘ready to leave Mumbai forever’ – Republic World

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Kamaal Rashid Khan is synonymous with controversies, and that often landed him in legal trouble too. Amid strong reactions against him over his comments on the Sushant Singh Rajput death, and a legal case related to the Payal Ghosh-Anurag Kashyap row, the actor-’critic’ has now alleged a threat to his life. KRK claimed that Bollywood stars wanted to ‘kill’ him for revealing the ‘truth’.

KRK alleges threat to life

Taking to Twitter, KRK wrote that inquiries about him were in progress. The Ek Villain actor asserted that nothing ‘wrong’ could be found about him even if inquiries were made across the world. He added that it was ‘OK’ it was required to ‘punish him to help Bollywood.’

He then claimed that his film Deshdrohi was banned by the then Congress government in Maharashtra and it was now Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray who had helped him release the movie then. 

KRK also took a dig at Bollywood for being ‘scared’ over his truth, something he promised to never stop telling. He, however, stated that he was ready to leave Mumbai,  to ‘make Bollywood ppl happy.’

READ: 5 Questions India Today & Param Bir Singh Should Answer As ‘TRP Scam’ Charge Backfires

KRK, who is known for his highly critical and often abusive film reviews, then claimed that Bollywood stars wanted to ‘kill’ him for stating the truth, unlike other critics who praised their films. Calling Bollywood ‘unbelievable’ for planning to ‘finish’ whoever goes against them, he called it a ‘height of intolerance.’

He also tweeted about having a recruitment license since 1996 and that he had followed all due process to get it renewed on a timely basis. He added that he was not afraid of any inquiry, though he was ‘disappointed’ at an attempt to ‘fix him’ to make ‘Bollywood goons happy.’

READ: ‘Maybe Rhea Chakraborty Is…’: KRK Ventures 3 Reasons For Bollywood Celebrating Her Bail

READ: KRK Says ‘stop This Nonsense’ After Richa Chadha’s Defamation Suit On Him & Payal Ghosh

 

 

Get the latest entertainment news from India & around the world. Now follow your favourite television celebs and telly updates. Republic World is your one-stop destination for trending Bollywood news. Tune in today to stay updated with all the latest news and headlines from the world of entertainment.

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Ankur Rathee: If roles are given based on surnames, then we’re tarnishing the meritocracy on which film industry should be built on

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Ankur Rathee froze with excitement as he got the news of Four More Shots Please! bagging a nomination at the International Emmys. The actor feels such recognition validates the fact that one’s work has resonated with the audience and he’s thankful to the web space for providing him a “legit platform and opportunities” to build his career on.

“Web gave me lot of leverage as an actor in international markets. For example, I’ve an agent in Hollywood and when I explained that I’m working with Bejoy Nambiar or Nagesh Kukunoor, toh unko farak nahi padhta tha because they had never seen their work,” he shares.

However, he adds, “When I mentioned that same content will appear on certain international OTT platforms, that raised eyebrows and that same agent understood the quality of content I was a part of.”

 Rathee has done theatre in the States and is now looking for web and film opportunities. Back home, in India, he has web shows Made in Heaven and Mission Over Mars to his credit. Up next, his film Taish is releasing on OTT besides another web project being helmed by Nagesh Kukunoor.

“Web helped in honing my skills, gave me the legitimacy in this industry so that I could get a film like Thappad(he played Taapsee Pannu’s onscreen brother in the film),” says the actor.

Rathee points there are several struggles that an outsider like him would otherwise have to face in Bollywood.

“For example, if 100 major Bollywood films are made in a year, the majority of lead roles goes to ‘insiders’ and already established actors. If roles are given to someone based on their surname and not acting ability then we’re tarnishing the meritocracy on which our film industry should be built on. It’s not smart to limit things within this small talent pool of insiders,” he explains.

Not just this. Rathee reveals that at times, he goes for auditions even when he knows that the part is going to some insider or some already successful actor.

“I still give the audition not just hoping I’ll get noticed and considered by the director for other projects, but primarily because it gives me opportunity to work on my craft. Fortunately, OTT gave me lot more roles, otherwise it would’ve been difficult. I’ve started getting pivotal roles in the web space, films have taken a little more time,” says the actor, who plays the lead in Marathi film Nirmal Enroute.

With stars entering OTT many feel it would affect the content-driven format and restrict other talents. “It’s wrong to say that OTT is content-driven while films aren’t. Along with great content, there’s a lot of garbage made in both mediums too… Film stars doing web won’t change anything. Rather it’ll bring along more visibility,” he ends.

Follow @htshowbiz for more

Author tweets @Shreya_MJ

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Cardi B explains how she accidentally leaked her own nude photo when she tried to send it to Offset – Zoram Observer

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‘I was a stripper and I was like f**king it, everybody saw my t**s all the time. I got some big ass nipples, that just came from motherhood,’ she said. Cardi turned off her phone after she accidentally leaked her nude picture, which was later deleted by her estranged husband Offset. She further revealed she was angry “for 30 minutes” before shaking it off.

. ‘My daughter f**king stretched out my nipples but that’s alright, I got a pretty ass p***yhole,’ the actress added. He also attended her birthday bash and personally delivered an 18-car Rolls-Royce to her bum. The couple have been on and off before, according to reports.

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Pandemic-induced visa troubles cast pall on dreams of American education for Bangladeshis

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After a three-year struggle, he finally earned the opportunity to pursue his PhD at an American university. All that remains between him and his dreams now is a visa.

He aspires to become a teacher and although he was unable to secure the first or second place in his class in BUET, a PhD from abroad would aid his chances of fulfilling his dream, he thought.

On that note, he started working as a research assistant for a BUET teacher while making preparations to go to the US. But now, he is stuck on the last hurdle as uncertainties over the visa process threatens to derail his plans.

“Everyone is aware of the social stigma that an educated but unemployed person confronts in Bangladesh,” he said.

“After struggling for three years, I have no social life now. If I can’t go to the US, I bet I won’t have one in the future. My mother has diabetes and hypertension. She had to live through the snide remarks from people while I was preparing to go to the US. Does she now have to continue putting up with jibes like, ‘Is your son going to America?’”

Under the circumstances, he is unable to focus on an alternative, should he fail to make it to the US.

“There’s no government job related to my field of expertise in the country. I’m not a fresh graduate, so I can’t get a job in a private firm. The only option is to sit for the BCS exam, which is also steeped in uncertainty,” he said.

Like him, the dreams of thousands of students in Bangladesh, who seek to complete their higher studies in the US, hang in the balance because of their visa woes.

The US Embassy in Dhaka is not accepting visa applications from new students, according to some aspirants. It is still not clear when they will resume the visa application process. More than a thousand students, who were supposed to join the fall semester in August, are unable to get a visa.

The students wrote to the US Embassy in Dhaka as well as the foreign ministry but are yet to receive any response. Some are on scholarships, fellowships or assistantships until the spring semester but they are not sure if they can travel to the US in January as they are yet to be issued a visa.

HOW AND WHEN DO THE STUDENTS GO?

The US is an alluring destination for students across the globe, seeking a higher education. According to the US embassy in Dhaka, the country has more than 4,500 colleges and universities.

A student needs to stump up around $15,000 to $20,000 for tuition fees per annum. On top of that, they also need to bear the costs of food, accommodation and education materials.

US colleges and universities admit students in the fall and spring semesters. Generally, the fall semester begins at the end of August and runs until December or early January. Then the spring semester starts and continues till May.

Students from Bangladesh usually opt for the fall semester when going to the US. It takes about a year for the correspondences with the universities and admissions process to be completed. Certain universities require GRE, Gmat, TOEFL or IELTS tests to be cleared before granting admission. Some students, therefore, need around a year just to sort out the admissions requirements.

Funding is another important aspect of studying in the US. Most of the Bangladeshi students cannot afford a US education through self-financing. That is why a small number of Bangladeshi students choose to join US colleges and universities at the undergraduate level.

Most of them try to get enrolled to a postgraduate and PhD programme as these come with the opportunities of bagging a scholarship, fellowship or research assistantship.  One can get a scholarship or fellowship when they prove themselves eligible. Sometimes their tuition fees are waived too. A student gets admitted to a university when all of these boxes are ticked.

Getting a visa caps the process, but students from Bangladesh have to start their applications much earlier as it is quite time consuming, they said. The coronavirus pandemic has upended the regular process of seeking a student visa, according to many.

Students who are stuck at home because of the lack of a US visa are now grappling with various difficulties.

THE PLIGHT OF STUDENTS

A new student has to work under two professors for six weeks, and then choose their PhD supervisor (in the US university), said the BUET graduate, who has already been enrolled in a PhD programme.  “All my classmates are doing it there but I can’t do it from home. Therefore, when by the time I’m there in spring, all of the good projects will have been taken by the other students,” he said.

He was looking forward to good days after his enrollment was complete, while under the impression that the embassy would start issuing visas from July. But that never happened. After his online enrolment, his university deferred his fellowship for a semester and even waived his tuition fees.

The embassy went silent on the issue of visas, which brought nothing but uncertainty in his life, the student said. “This is a blow not only to me, but to all Bangladeshi students wanting to go to the US for higher education. They (authorities) will think that Bangladeshi students do not get a visa during an emergency and they’ll not take the risk of enrolling those students,” he said.

“The saddest part is that students in countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Pakistan are getting visas.”

Barkat Mia, another student from Dhaka University, earned the requisite fees for GRE and TOEFL tests by tutoring others. He then borrowed money and applied to five US universities. Although he got offers from two of those universities, his hopes of studying in the US could be dashed by the failure to get a visa on time.

Shafiqul Islam Shadesh received fully-funded scholarship for the fall semester in 2019, but he was caught up in the visa process for four months. In the meantime, his funding was cancelled. Swadesh bagged the scholarship for this fall as well but failed to get a visa again.

Now he has left his job and joined an online class. He does not know what his future will hold if he fails to get to the US for the spring session.

Many other students have shared their plight of not getting a visa which could put paid to their funding or scholarship.

“The US Embassy is not holding visa interviews regularly. On the other hand, my professor said my funding will be cancelled if I can’t reach the US before the spring. I must reach by January to keep it valid. There’s no other option,” said Imran Hossain Mahdi.

Students like Umme Marium Miim, Rubaiya Zannat and her husband reiterated the concerns over getting a visa.

“Without the funding, I can’t afford a PhD programme with my own finances,” said Meem.

Rubaiya and her husband Faisal paid their visa fees last April.

“We’ll have to pay again if we can’t go in spring,” said Rubaiya, as she cast doubt about the availability of funding if they fail to get there by then.

The couple has a small child whose admission to a pre-school in the US has already been cancelled due to the delays in getting their visas.

American universities will shift the funded positions to the students coming from other countries like India and Pakistan, fears Khayrul Islam, another student.

Students in Bangladesh have to compete with peers from around the world for a scholarship or funding at American universities, while the application process itself costs around Tk 200,000, according to a student, who asked not to be named.

Several Bangladeshis have lost their hard-earned scholarships after the US Embassy ceased the regular visa service, he said.

“Online education is not an option for these students as it costs more than Tk 1.2 million and no funding or scholarship is applicable for remote education. Those who are taking online classes, have to perform the research work in labs in person.”

In some cases, a professor denied the funding application when they became aware that no visa was being issued in Bangladesh, the anonymous student said.

“These places are now being occupied by students from India, who are getting a visa despite the coronavirus situation being worse in their country.”

Bangladeshi students will lose acceptance and preference by the UN professors under the present circumstances, feared most of the students.

WHAT THE US EMBASSY SAYS

The US Embassy is now only accepting interview-waiver applications for returning students who wish to renew visas for the same field of study at the same institution, Consular Chief William Dowers said at a media briefing.

The embassy will not be granting interviews for new student visa applications, while students with visas that have expired in the last 24 months will be allowed to apply for the visas, according to Dowers.

But students who already have a visa and need to renew or extend it will not have to face the embassy in person.

Embassies in different countries have different decision-making processes, Dowers said, when asked about the visas being issued in neighbouring countries.

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‘One way to solve illegal Bangladeshi immigration problem’: Twitter reacts as Bangladesh set to overtake India in per capita GDP

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As Bangladesh is set to overtake India in terms of per capita gross domestic product (GDP) this calendar year, Twitter users in India on Tuesday mocked the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over its “achievement”.

Bangladesh’s per capita GDP in dollar terms is expected to grow 4% in 2020 to $1,888 while against India’s per capita GDP is expected to decline 10.5% to $1,877, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF)-World Economic Outlook (WEO).

This makes India the third poorest country in South Asia, with only Pakistan and Nepal reporting lower per capita GDP, while Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives would be ahead of India, Business Standard reported.

“We do have a significant downgrade for India’s growth for the fiscal year 2021. It is -10.3%. The hit to the economy has been large and pretty much broad-based. You saw that in the April, May, June months, so this has been a very hard hit,” IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said on Tuesday.

Here is how Indians reacted on Twitter:

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Indian jewelry brand removes ad on Hindu-Muslim unity after public backlash | DW | 14.10.2020

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On Tuesday, Tanishq, one of India’s top jewelry brands, removed a short advertisement film which was released as part of its “Ekatvam” (Oneness) campaign, after a public backlash.

The ad showed a Muslim family organizing a baby shower ceremony for their pregnant Hindu daughter-in-law.

In a statement, the brand, which is owned by the Tata Group, one of India’s largest conglomerates, said that it withdrew the ad “keeping in mind the hurt sentiments and well being of our employees, partners and store staff.”

Tanishq didn’t reveal whether its employees had received threats following the release of the ad.

Read moreAfghan refugees in India cast adrift amid coronavirus pandemic

Tanishq buckles under criticism

Tanishq was trolled on social media after the ad’s release and accused of “promoting” inter-faith marriages.

Several users trended the hashtag #BoycottTanishq on Twitter and accused the brand of promoting “love jihad”, a campaign that accuses Muslim men of luring Hindu women into marriage and converting them to Islam. 

Some users went on to accuse Tanishq of promoting only “Muslim jewelry.” Khemchand Sharma, a member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said that the ad glorified the marriage of a Hindu woman into a Muslim family.

“Why don’t you show a Muslim daughter-in-law in your ads with a Hindu family? Looks like you are promoting #LoveJihad and favouring a particular faith only,” he tweeted.

Read moreDelhi riots: Book withdrawal sparks freedom of speech debate in India

The stock of Titan Company Ltd., the holding company of the Tanishq brand, was down by 2.5% on India’s national stock exchange at the end of the trading day on Tuesday.

Tanishq cited the “divergent and severe reactions” and “inadvertent stirring of emotions” for their decision to withdraw the ad.

However, several leaders of the Congress, India’s main opposition party, said that the brand had buckled to bigotry and called on Ratan Tata, the former chairman of the Tata Group, to take a stand on the matter.

 

The Tata Group’s brands have previously released films on several social issues like LGBTQ rights and widow remarriage. Those films also received significant backlash, but were not withdrawn. 

Opposition politicians called on Ratan Tata to take a stand on the matter

The removal of the ad comes at a time when India is in the spotlight for its treatment of religious minorities and human rights abuses.

Read moreWhy is India cracking down on human rights groups?

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Muslims were labelled “super spreaders” of the virus after some members of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation tested positive for the coronavirus.

Last month, human rights watchdog Amnesty International announced that it was halting operations in India, citing a “continuing crackdown” and “harassment” by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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Hate Speech Against Rohingya in Myanmar Election Has Worrisome Precedents

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Online and offline hate speech targeting Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims has reared its head in the run-up to national elections in November, as some candidates and others target the largely disenfranchised and despised ethnic minority group to gain support from voters.

Rights groups and hate speech experts warn that the measures could stoke anti-Muslim nationalistic sentiment and incite ethnic and religious riots — a repeat of communal violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine state in 2012 that left more than 200 people dead and led to the confinement of 130,000 Rohingya in internal displacement camps.

The spread of hate speech and fabricated reports online pose a significant risk to the general election, they say, because of the influence of social media on Myanmar’s 22 million internet users — roughly 41 percent of the country’s population of 54 million.

“The targeting of the Rohingya in the lead-up to the elections is one manifestation of Myanmar’s overall culture of exclusion,” Andrea Gittleman, senior program manager at the United States Holocaust Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, said in emailed comments to RFA.

“The disenfranchisement of the Rohingya and the vilification of the group have become normalized, that it has become more and more normalized for candidates to target the Rohingya in an attempt to attract more popular support,” she said.

The government has taken few measures to address the hate speech problem in the Buddhist-majority country where Rohingyas are routinely persecuted and denied work and educational opportunities. Most of the several hundred thousand Rohingya living in Myanmar do not have the right to vote.

The Rohingya are widely viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, but they have lived in Rakhine on the Bay of Bengal coast for generations under ancient kingdoms later conquered by the Burmese and which became part of British India in the 19th century.

After the former Burma’s independence from Britain in 1948, the Rohingya received National Registration Cards issued by the government that carried full citizenship rights.

But in 1982, Myanmar enacted a Citizenship Law that limited citizenship to members of the “national races” seen as having settled in the country prior to the beginning of British rule in 1824. The Rohingya were not included among the 135 official ethnic groups and were suddenly excluded from full citizenship.

“Discrimination against the Rohingya runs deep in Myanmar’s society,” Claire Thomas, deputy director of London-based Minority Rights Group International (MRG), said in an email. “Candidates are flaming the fires of hate and capitalizing on it since many from the community cannot vote.”

Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications created a Social Media Monitoring Team (SMMT) in February 2018, receiving a parliament-approved budget of roughly 6.4 billion kyats (U.S. $4.9 million) to curb hate speech and fabricated reports on social media that could disrupt rule of law, security, and social stability.

The body has been criticized, however, for not enforcing the removal of inflammatory speech online and for deleting posts that are critical of the ruling National League for Democracy party and the government, though the NLD has denied that it removes criticism.

Though President Win Myint told Union Election Commission (UEC) officials and government ministers in early July to prevent the spread of hate speech and any religious incitement that could threaten or thwart the Nov. 8 election, incidents still have occurred.

Pedestrians walk past election campaign posters as they cross a road in Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon, Oct. 7, 2020.
Credit: AFP

Anti-Rohingya slogans

After the official two-month pre-election campaign period began in September, independent candidate Kyaw Soe Htut, who is running for a parliamentary seat in Yangon’s Latha township, used an anti-Rohingya slogan on campaign poster.

He is competing for the seat against candidates from the NLD, opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Union Betterment Party (UBP), United Democratic Party (UDP), and National Democratic Force (NDF).

The posters contained three Banyan leaves — a symbol used by Myanmar’s Buddhist majority — and the slogan “No Rohingya.”

The West Yangon District Election Sub-commission ordered the candidate to remove the signs “to avoid a conflict if someone objected to them,” the body’s chairman Khin Maung Win told RFA on Sept. 22.

But Kyaw Soe Htut defied the order, saying that his slogan did not breech campaign rules and that it was not a religious issue. He also pointed out to the election sub-commission that the Rohingya are not among Myanmar’s official 135 ethnic minority groups, Khin Maung Win said.

Kyaw Soe Htut said he would comply with the request only if the national-level UEC instructed him to do so.

“We have informed the UEC about the matter, and the UEC will decide,” Khin Maung Win said.

At the time, RFA could not reach Kyaw Soe Htut for comment, though he told local media that his attorney said the language used on the posters was legal.

The candidate also said he was exercising his right to freedom of expression, and noted that his belief was in line with that of former president Thein Sein and current military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing that there are no Rohingya in Myanmar.

NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said he believed candidates should not use such slogans on their campaign posters.

But he added, “Because we don’t recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group in Myanmar, his campaign does not violate the election commission’s rules against using religion and nationality.”

‘A very serious time’

USDP spokesman Nandar Hla Myint agreed with Kyaw Soe Htut’s reasoning, saying, “It is true that we have no ethnic group called Rohingya in our country, but his issue is for the Union Election Commission to decide.”

The move prompted fresh calls from rights organizations that politicians not conduct racial or religious campaigns against a particular group.

“Kyaw Soe Htut’s shocking use of ‘No Rohingya’ as a campaign slogan in the ethnically and religiously diverse Latha township was discouraging,” MRG’s Thomas said.

“It seems that hate speech will again play a significant role in this 2020 election, with candidates such as the Yeomany Development Party’s Michael Kyaw Myint having direct connections to online and offline hate speech,” she said, referring to a Buddhist nationalist activist who has agitated against the country’s Muslims.

Muslim community leader Aye Lwin, who once sat on a government advisory commission on resolving the religious and ethnic divisions in Rakhine state where the majority of Rohingya live, objected to the anti-Rohingya slogan.

“There is no evidence that we have only 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, and nobody has said it officially other than the former military government,” he said.

“The campaign slogan implying that the Rohingya are not included among the 135 ethnic groups goes against the constitution and the Election Law because it fosters hatred,” he said.

Aung Myo Min, executive director of the human rights group Equality Myanmar, also disapproved of the language used on the campaign posters.

Though Kyaw Soe Htut said he is exercising his freedom of expression, “he is a parliamentary candidate, [and] his campaign posters are in public places,” Aung Myo Min said.

“The current period is a very serious time concerning race and religious conflicts, so he shouldn’t use these words in his campaign,” he said.

Photos of candidates running in Myanmar's upcoming elections and information about them in the Burmese language are seen on the mVoter2020 mobile app, October 2020.

Photos of candidates running in Myanmar’s upcoming elections and information about them in the Burmese language are seen on the mVoter2020 mobile app, October 2020.
Credit: RFA

Voting app uses derisive term

In another incident, a Myanmar voting app sponsored by the UEC and launched on Sept. 29 that presents biographies of candidates in each district, their party’s policies, voting procedures, and election-related news, came under fire for using a pejorative term to refer to Rohingya candidates.

The mVoter2020 mobile app, which includes the ethnic and religious affiliations of candidates, listed at least two Rohingya contenders as “Bengalis,” a term that the minority group firmly rejects because it implies that its members are immigrants from Bangladesh.

The ethnicity of Aye Win, also known as Dus Muhammad, a Rohingya politician and Human Rights and Democracy Party candidate from Rakhine’s Maungdaw township candidate, was described as “Bengali-Bamar.”

The app was developed by the election commission, with support from STEP Democracy, an EU-funded project set up by Sweden’s International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), and the U.S.-based Asia Foundation.

Yadanar Maung, spokesman for Justice for Myanmar, said the app displayed a  bias against Rohingya candidates by implying that voters cast ballots based on candidates’ ethnicity and religious affiliations rather than their performance and experience in politics.

“Justice for Myanmar is very concerned that the EU, IDEA, and the Asia Foundation are supporting the denial of the Rohingya’s existence in Myanmar in terms of the mVoter 2020 application,” he said. “This denial has been a very important factor when it comes to committing genocide against the Rohingya.”

Rights activist Nickey Diamond from Southeast Asia-based Fortify Rights said the information disclosure was a violation of the confidentiality of personal data that could be used to provoke hatred based on race and religion.

“This kind of action could incite interracial and religious riots,” he said.

Aung Myo Min from Equality Myanmar said the use of either “Rohingya” or “Bengali” could provoke hateful acts and further discord, and said both terms should be omitted from the app.

“There are concerns that some groups might be exploiting this information to incite fear and instigate attacks,” he said.

Myat Min Soe, the app’s developer, said the platform data is based on information from the UEC and does not promote views based on religion and ethnicity.

“In terms of ethnicity, I think the voters would want to know if the candidates are one of the official ethnic groups or not, so I think ethnicity is important information for the election,” he said, noting that candidates are required to submit their ethnicity and religious affiliations on all application forms. “So these should be shown on the app, too.”

The outside funders and developers of the app sought to separate themselves from the controversy. In a statement issued on Oct. 1, IDEA said the app was developed by the UEC in line with existing laws of Myanmar and only the election commission is responsible for its content. The EU pushed for the deletion of all controversial data from the app that could lead to discrimination, according to a Reuters news agency report.

RFA could not reach the UEC for comment that day, and the EU and Asia Foundation did not respond to other requests for comment.

The UEC has disqualified a handful of Muslim candidates from running in the election, saying that their parents were not citizens when the candidates were born.

Close eye on hate speech

Facebook — the most widely used social media platform in Myanmar with an estimated 22 million users — has formed a team to monitor the use of the social media network in Myanmar especially during the run-up to the elections.

The U.S. company is expanding its work in Myanmar and preparing to help the country hold free and fair elections by forming a separate unit for broadcasting voting information to voters, removing and reducing disinformation and false claims, and banning hate speech, said Rafael Frankel, director of public policy at Facebook, during an online news conference on Oct. 9.

Facebook said it will ban posts that attack race and religion during the election campaign and send notices in the Burmese language to those who violate its policies.

“We are also removing posts that attack religious beliefs,” Frankel said. “We also will remove the posts that attack migrants who don’t have citizenship rights. We are removing content that says, “There are no Rohingyas. They are illegal trespassers.”

Hate speech flared up on social media during ahead of national elections five years ago, as well as during a military crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine state that began in August 2017 in response to deadly attacks by a Muslim militant group.

The army campaign, which included killings, mass rape, and arson, left thousands dead and drove more than 740,000 Rohingya across the border and into Bangladesh. Myanmar has been called before the International Court of Justice in The Hague to face genocide-related charges for the Rohingya expulsion.

But some hate speech experts say that Facebook’s efforts don’t go far enough.

“In the context of the election campaign, it is important to note that Facebook employs a different test concerning its community standards for politicians and candidates than it does for ordinary Facebook users,” Thomas of MRG said.

“Facebook’s position is, in essence, that voters need to know what their elected representatives and senior officials are saying and, in MRG’s experience, they are reluctant to remove even hate speech that clearly incites violence from these accounts,” she said.

Barbara Perry, director of the Center on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University in Canada, says Facebook’s measures in Myanmar are the “beginning, not the end, of the process of eliminating hate speech.”

“The worst of the worst will simply find other platforms to spread their vitriol,” she said in an email. “It is not simply a social media problem, but a cultural and deeply political problem. We have to find ways to counter the misinformation that often underlies the hateful narratives.”

Reported by Nay Myo Htun, Phyu Phyu Khine, and Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service, and by Roseanne Gerin. Translated by Khet Mar and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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China’s Narrow Win of UN Human Rights Council Seat Signals Eroding Support

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China narrowly won a seat on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council Tuesday, prompting a rights group to call the vote “embarrassing” for a country that has worked overtime to whitewash its image and used its growing power to stifle criticism of its persecution of ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans.

The Asian power secured only 139 votes during a secret ballot at the 75th U.N. General Assembly in Geneva from among 193 member-nations, placing fourth out of five countries vying for four seats in the Asia-Pacific region.

China beat out only Saudi Arabia, which has faced its own share of condemnation over its rights record. Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Nepal also won seats in the race to represent Asia-Pacific countries on the 47-member council.

Fifteen nations in total secured seats on the council Tuesday—including Russia and Cuba, whose rights records the U.S. called “abhorrent”—and will serve for three years from January next year. The vote marks the fifth time China was elected to the council, after winning seats in 2006, 2009, 2013, and 2016.

Sophie Richardson, China director for New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), called China’s vote tally “a significant drop” from the support it received when it was elected to the council in 2016.

“It’s an incredibly embarrassing loss for China—it got 11 fewer votes than Nepal and it came in fourth out of five for that regional group, doing better only than Saudi Arabia,” she said. “That’s a pretty bad standard.”

Richardson noted that in 2016, China’s Foreign Ministry said that the 180 votes the country received in 2016 reflected “global support” for its position on human rights issues.

“I’m extremely eager to hear how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tries to spin having hemorrhaged support at this year’s vote,” she said.

“I want to be very clear that Human Rights Watch called for China not to be elected to the council. But seeing this drop in support is significant and I think it tells us a lot about what we can try to accomplish at the Human Rights Council, even though China is a member again.”

Richardson said that having a seat at the council is a “two-way street,” noting that member governments “are also subject to greater scrutiny themselves.”

“And so, in that sense, I think we can probably reasonably hope to see more discussion of Beijing’s appalling human rights violations against Tibetans and against Uyghurs,” she added.

Eroding support

A press release issued by China’s mission to the United Nations welcoming its election to the council said Beijing “attaches great importance to the promotion and protection of human rights” and suggested that “following a path with Chinese characteristics, China has made great achievements in human rights development.”

In addition to working to promote international exchange and cooperation, the mission said China will use its seat on the council to “oppose the politicization of human rights issues and wrong practices of double standards to make greater contributions to the healthy development of international human rights.”

Last week, the U.K. and Germany led a group of 39 member states at the U.N. General Assembly in condemning China’s policies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since early 2017.

The two nations—as well as the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, and several members of the European Union—insisted that China also respect human rights in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), where Tibetans have similarly seen their freedoms eroded under Beijing’s rule and are facing forced labor and other abuses seen in the XUAR.

The condemnation marked a significant increase in the number of countries willing to stand up to China’s threats of cutting off trade with nations that support such statements. A similar resolution last year received only 23 backers.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration—which withdrew the U.S. from the Human Rights Council in 2018 in part for what it has said are membership rules that “allow the election of the world’s worst human rights abusers to seats on the Council”—condemned the General Assembly vote in a statement issued by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“Prior to making this decision, and after our exit, the United States has urged U.N. member states to take immediate action to reform the Council before it became irreparable,” the statement said.

“Unfortunately, those calls went unheeded, and today the U.N. General Assembly once again elected countries with abhorrent human rights records, including China, Russia, and Cuba.”

The administration has sanctioned Chinese officials for rights abuses in both the XUAR and the TAR, despite Beijing’s claims that its policies in the regions protect the country against “terrorism,” “religious extremism,” and “separatism.”

Exile groups dismayed

Uyghur and Tibetan exile groups expressed dismay over Tuesday’s vote, saying China’s re-election must serve as a means by which member states can hold China to account for its rights violations.

“Governments committing genocide shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the Human Rights Council,” said Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) executive director Omer Kanat,” in a reference to a June report about a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs. Author Adrian Zenz believes the campaign may amount to government-led genocide under United Nations definitions.

“It’s clear from the vote, however, that China has been losing the confidence of the international community over time,” Kanat added.

Rushan Abbas, executive director of Campaign For Uyghurs, said in a statement that China’s participation as an equal in the United Nations “effectively cripples the U.N. from fulfilling the purpose for which it was formed.”

“No words can express the feeling of watching the world’s greatest human rights abuser be granted a greater platform to perpetuate its genocidal ideology,” she said.

“The U.N. has made its own reputation the laughingstock of the world, and its corruption has compromised the lives of billions.”

Kai Mueller, executive director of the International Campaign for Tibet’s Germany office, called the vote a “setback” and warned that activists will now “need to be more aware of the … intention of the Chinese government to change the international perception of human rights” to fit more with that of the country’s ruling Communist Party.

“The Chinese government will more forcefully push the narrative on so-called ‘development,’ of so-called ‘poverty alleviation’ in Tibet, and Tibetans need to be ready to counter those positions by the Chinese delegation at the Human Rights Council,” he said, referring to pretexts that Beijing uses to justify its policies in the TAR.

“China is certainly pushing for support, is certainly organizing support, at the United Nation bodies such as the Human Rights Council … Foremost it’s those unfortunate human rights violators such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Belarus, Russia for example, that speak out for China and that should give reason for concern for the international community.”

Reported by Tashi Wangchuk for RFA’s Tibetan Service and Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service.

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Japan Trains with U.S. Navy after Port Call in Vietnam

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Japan joined the U.S. for an exercise in the South China Sea after engaging in a bit of defense diplomacy with Indonesia and Vietnam that was not welcomed by the region’s other key power – China.

Three Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ships joined the U.S. Navy for a series of drills in the contested waterway that started Monday and will continue through this week.

“Even during the COVID-19 situation, the JMSDF continues to work with allied and partner navies, thus contributing to the regional peace and stability and a Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” Capt. Nishida Satoshi, commanding officer of the JS Kaga helicopter carrier, was quoted as saying in a press release by the U.S. 7th Fleet.

That followed a JMSDF solo anti-submarine warfare exercise in the South China Sea on Friday as it transited through the area, according to a release from the Japanese Ministry of Defense, and then a port call at Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay to resupply.

Japan’s self-defense forces are constrained by the nation’s pacifist constitution which prohibits it from settling international disputes by force.

Predictably, China looked dimly on submarine maneuvers.

“We hope that the relevant country will not do things detrimental to regional peace, security and stability,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing on Monday.

The port call in Vietnam also likely struck a raw nerve in Beijing, which has historically viewed Japan as a strategic rival and has a tense relationship with Hanoi over their competing claims to the South China Sea.

Japan has made several port calls at Cam Ranh Bay since the JMSDF did so for the first time in 2016. Although Japan is not a party to the South China Sea disputes, Jeffrey Hornung, an analyst with the U.S.-funded Rand Corp., noted that Japan relies on trade through that waterway.

“The reason why Japan has had these transits, or rotational presence, in the South China Sea specifically is that it sends a message to China,” Hornung said in an interview. “It helps send a powerful message about who China’s friends and allies are and are not.”

Hornung said Japan’s engagement in the region shows off how it has comparatively less fraught relations with Southeast Asian states than China does.

China notably claims nearly the entirety of the South China Sea as its historic territory.

Six other Asian governments have territorial claims or maritime boundaries in the South China Sea that overlap with the sweeping claims of China. They are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

A 2020 survey of businessmen, academics, civil servants, civil society groups and media figures spread across the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute showed Japan is actually considered the most trustworthy outside country. Nearly 62 percent of respondents believed Japan would “do the right thing” for global peace, prosperity, and security. In contrast, just 16.1 percent of respondents believed China would.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (right) speaks to officials during a meeting on digital reform in Tokyo, Sept. 25, 2020. (AFP)

“If anything, you see some of these countries wanting Japan to play a larger security role, and sometimes get frustrated by the hesitance of Japan to play a larger role,” Hornung said.

He cited the lack of defense exports and freedom of navigation operations by Japan in the region.

But Hornung said Japan is still signaling in its own way.

“Just being able to show for a month that they can have a presence in the region with their assets, and make port at a bunch of friendly ports that also have conflicts with China, is message enough. They don’t have to challenge excessive Chinese claims. They can just show who their friends are by visiting these ports and angering China in the process,” he said.

Last week, the JMSDF, including the JS Kaga, held a training exercise with its Indonesian counterpart in the North Natuna Sea. Japan’s new Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide will be visiting Indonesia and Vietnam on his first trip abroad since assuming the office, according to a press conference held at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday.

Hornung noted Japan’s security assistance to Southeast Asia mostly targeted maritime security issues and civilian law enforcement agencies, but Japan signed its first ever major defense export deal this past August, selling advanced long-range surveillance radars to the Philippines.

Japan, Australia, India, and the U.S. comprise the “Quad” – a grouping of four Indo-Pacific democracies. They held a senior-level security meeting on Oct. 6, but released no joint statement afterward.

Beijing has long viewed the Quad with suspicion, and Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, blasted the grouping on Tuesday.

“What it (the Quad) pursues is to trumpet the old-fashioned Cold War mentality and start up confrontation among different groups and blocs, and stoke geopolitical competition,” he said at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, after meeting with Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.

Wang Yi is traveling through five different Southeast Asian countries for diplomatic talks. His visit to Malaysia coincided with the arrest days earlier of some 60 Chinese nationals whose fishing vessels allegedly intruded into Malaysian water

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Thailand’s ‘Bad Students’ Rise Up to Demand Democracy, Education Reform

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The youth-led pro-democracy protests in Thailand since July have inspired hundreds of even younger Thais – high school students – to voice their concerns about the education system, which they describe as oppressive, unimaginative, and hidebound.

These high schoolers, ranging from 13 to 17 years old, ironically call themselves “Bad Students,” because they say they aren’t meek and submissive like many believe that ideal students should be.

Close to 500 of them, wearing symbolic white ribbons and mimicking the three-finger salute from the “The Hunger Games” movie, absented themselves from school and took to the streets on Aug. 2 and Sep. 5 to convey a message: “our first dictatorship is (in) school.”

The phrase has since gone viral on social media and is now closely associated with them.

For students, the white ribbon is usually a reminder of strict rules, because school girls with long hair are required to use it to tie their hair into a pony tail. But the Bad Students have inverted what the white ribbon means. For them, it now symbolizes freedom.

In their rallies they have demanded that the education system be radically altered and have called for Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan to resign if their demands are not met.

“Bad Students have three demands: stop harassing students, revoke outdated rules and reform the education system,” Benjamapon Niwas, a 10th grader from a Bangkok school, who considers herself a Bad Student, told BenarNews.

The student group members said they support the pro-democracy protests, long to express themselves freely and without the fear of corporal punishment, would relish a curriculum that didn’t turn them into robots – and also want to be allowed to wear their hair long, without the public humiliation of having teachers forcibly hack off their hair.

Because these youngsters belong to the social media generation, the Bad Students have highlighted their demands and grievances through catchy words and phrases that have captured the public’s imagination. Their hashtags, #stopharrassingstudents  and #letitendinourgeneration, are wildly popular and have helped them broaden their support base.

For Patpoom, a senior from Khon Kaen Wittayayon School in northeastern Khon Kaen province, being young doesn’t mean capitulating to teachers and school administrators and relinquishing basic rights.

“Adults should know that youths like us can also ask for democracy. It’s not about age, it’s everyone’s duty,” Khon told BenarNews.

Demanding that the schooling system be changed for the better is a democratic right, the Bad Students say.

Benjamapon, the Bangkok 10th grader, said the national curriculum was outdated and the mode of instruction didn’t encourage creativity, questions or independent thought. Instead, it has an assembly line-like quality, with a focus on hours spent slogging in school rather than the quality of that time.

“Good education is when students don’t feel like quitting, aren’t bored and don’t want to go home. If students don’t feel that way, it means that the education is horrible,” Benjamapon said.

“We have 10 classes a day and finish school at 5 or 6 p.m. It is taking up too much time in our lives. Our quality of life is poor. The problematic curriculum doesn’t account for students’ needs. In history, we learn the same things every year. We are mainly taught to memorize, not to utilize.”

A high school student at a protest in Bangkok wears a white ribbon to symbolize freedom, Oct. 13, 2020.
[Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]

‘Road of Pain’

On Sept. 5, Bad Students gathered for a debate between its representative and Education Minister Nataphol, who promised to implement some of the changes they demanded.

“I’m listening to everyone who wants to improve the education system. It is my duty,” Nataphol said on stage during the debate.

“There are a few things which I think are reasonable and I will implement. We are trying to fix the problems, however some regulations and laws are obstructing it. On the day I cannot be of use to the country or education system, I will resign.”

However, a little under a month later, the students were still waiting for a formal response to their demands from the education ministry.

Therefore, on Oct. 2, around 30 representatives of the Bad Students took their campaign to five well-known high schools in Bangkok and ended the rally with a sit-in in front of the Ministry of Education.

They dubbed that rally “the road of pain” because their efforts hadn’t borne fruit.

The participation of students in these rallies has not been without ramifications for some of them.

According to Khon Kaen senior Patpoom, at least two students from his school and their families had received threatening phone calls after the students expressed support for the August protest. Some teachers, too, targeted them, he told BenarNews.

‘Government needs to listen’

Academics and a school teacher who BenarNews spoke to said that the Bad Students were raising valid concerns.

What the Bad Students want is for authorities involved in education to listen, and they should, said Dr. Omsin Jatupon, a professor on the Faculty of Education at Chiang Mai University.

“They could follow the first demand immediately which is to stop harassment of students,” Omsin said.

“This should be common sense among teachers because students’ rights are obviously protected in the constitution and under the Children and Young Persons Act.”

Meanwhile, reforms to the curriculum as demanded by the students are also long overdue, Dr. Yupatep Boonyaritraksa, director of the Manee Anusorn School in Khon Kaen told BenarNews.

“Schools and the ministry should reflect on students’ demands and respond to their needs. Every school tries to produce children like canned fish, making them the same. The curriculum should have been adjusted a long time ago,” Yupatep said.

Dr. Wirathep Pathumcharoenwattana, associate professor at the Research Center for Children and Youth Development, agreed that Thailand’s education system was outdated.

“The education system does not reflect the needs of new generations. Diversity in education should be stressed,” Wirathep told BenarNews.

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Rape and impunity (not only) in Bangladesh

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Last month in Bangladesh, a video showing the gang rape of a 37-year old woman went viral on Facebook. Eight men implicated in the crime were apprehended, but the incident — along with several other high profile cases of sexual violence — has provoked massive protests in the capital, Dhaka, and other parts of the country. There were calls for the Prime Minister to resign.

The protesters have a lot to be mad about. Back in January, mass protests over the rape of a university student in Dhaka brought thousands into the streets. The government promised to create, “within 30 days”, a special commission to investigate rising reports of sexual violence in Bangladesh. More than nine months later, it still doesn’t appear to exist.


In the meantime, local activists have counted more than 1,000 public reports of sexual assault so far this year. In a country of 170 million, that is doubtless a gross undercount.

In response to the recent protests, the government announced that, as of yesterday, the penalty for rape convictions will be elevated from life imprisonment to execution.

But activists say that’s almost beside the point. As in many cases of injustice involving gender-based violence around the world, the problem isn’t only that the punishments aren’t severe enough for those convicted — it’s also that a broader web of legal and cultural norms in many parts of South Asia favor men, creating an atmosphere of impunity around sexual assault altogether. “Capital punishment, apart from being inherently inhumane, has not really proved to be a deterrent,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The death penalty for rape exists in other countries, and yet the crime persists. What is needed, instead, are systematic efforts to end the barriers to justice.”

What does that mean in practice? For one thing, women in Bangladesh often fear coming forward with rape claims at all, because of poor legal protections for them and a culture that stigmatizes victims of sexual violence. Over the weekend, for example, a famous Bangladeshi actor suggested that “wearing indecent dresses” is an invitation to rape. And last year a 19-year old student at a conservative Islamic school there accused her headmaster of sexual harassment. Five days later she was burned to death on the premises. The UN recently called out Bangladesh’s “social, behavioral, and structural misogyny.”

What’s more, as Zyma Islam and Nilima Jahan of the Dhaka-based Daily Star point out, the law’s definition of rape is narrow, outdated, and rarely enforced. Small wonder then that conviction rates in Bangladesh may be as low as 3 percent.

Bottom line: The government’s decision to impose stiffer penalties on those convicted of rape is a step forward, but harsher punishments are one thing — changing the legal and moral structures of a conservative society is another. How — and how fast — does that change happen?

A look around the world at protests over violence against women

The protests in Bangladesh are part of a wave of demonstrations that have occurred in countries around the world over the past year — inspired in part by the #metoo movement that began in the US in 2017. Here’s a look at several that stand out.

Australia. Just before the pandemic struck, the rape and murder of a 21-year old Arab Israeli exchange student brought thousands into the streets in January to denounce a string of high-profile violent attacks against women.

India. Two weeks ago, the rape, torture, and killing of a low-caste woman allegedly by upper-caste Indians in the State of Uttar Pradesh brought protesters into the streets after local authorities appeared to try to cover up the crime. In March, four men were executed for raping a woman on a bus in 2012, in a case that galvanized greater action and attention to violence against women in the country. Scrutiny of sexual violence has become a pointedly political issue in recent years, with several senior members of India’s ruling BJP party implicated in rape cases.

Mexico. In March, tens of thousands of women across the country went on strike to call attention to an epidemic of gender-based violence that kills as many as ten Mexican women every day.

Nigeria. The rape and murder of a 22-year old woman in late July sparked sizable protests (hashtag #wearetired) in a country where polls show that up to one in three women experiences sexual assault by the age of 25, but laws against sexual violence are rarely enforced.

Spain. In March, tens of thousands of women across Spain took to the streets to protest gender-based violence, in an echo of protests that took place last year when a court soft-pedalled the conviction of a group of men who in 2016 gang raped an intoxicated 14-year old girl.

Where you live: Is the issue of violence against women becoming more prominent in your country? If so, we want to hear about it.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include quotes from Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.

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