Bigotocracy in Charlottesville, Va and Trump’s America 💔

Photographer Ian Frank just took this photo that he titled “Die Nigger” as heard today with his very own ears at the pro-Trump white supremacy rally in​ ​#Charlottesville​. Featured background: White Supremacists led a torch march thru the grounds of the University of Virginia on Friday, August 11, in Charlottesville, Virginia (Photo: Andrew Shurtleff / The Daily Progress) ​

The late, great Gore Vidal said that we live in “The United States of Amnesia.” Our fatal forgetfulness flares when white bigots come out of their closets, emboldened by the tacit cover they’re given by our president. We cannot pretend that the ugly bigotry unleashed in the streets of Charlottesville, Va., this weekend has nothing to do with the election of Donald Trump.

In attendance was white separatist David Duke, who declared that the alt-right unity fiasco “fulfills the promises of Donald Trump.” In the meantime, Mr. Trump responded by offering false equivalencies between white bigots and their protesters. His soft denunciations of hate ring hollow when he has white nationalist advisers like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller whispering in his ear.

Such an ungainly assembly of white supremacists rides herd on political memory. Their resentment of the removal of public symbols of the Confederate past — the genesis of this weekend’s rally — is fueled by revisionist history. They fancy themselves the victims of the so-called politically correct assault on American democracy, a false narrative that helped propel Mr. Trump to victory. Each feeds on the same demented lies about race and justice that corrupt true democracy and erode real liberty. Together they constitute the repulsive resurgence of a virulent bigotocracy.

This bigotocracy overlooks fundamental facts about slavery in this country: that blacks were stolen from their African homeland to toil for no wages in American dirt. When black folk and others point that out, white bigots are aggrieved. They are especially offended when it is argued that slavery changed clothes during Reconstruction and got dressed up as freedom, only to keep menacing black folk as it did during Jim Crow. The bigotocracy is angry that slavery is seen as this nation’s original sin. And yet they remain depressingly and purposefully ignorant of what slavery was, how it happened, what it did to us, how it shaped race and the air and space between white and black folk, and the life and arc of white and black cultures.

 

Click on the images above to enlarge or read photo captions and credit.

They cling to a faded Southern aristocracy whose benefits — of alleged white superiority, and moral and intellectual supremacy — trickled down to ordinary whites. If they couldn’t drink from the cup of economic advantage that white elites tasted, at least they could sip what was left of a hateful ideology: at least they weren’t black. The renowned scholar W.E.B. Du Bois called this alleged sense of superiority the psychic wages of whiteness. President Lyndon Baines once argued, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

We have a bigoted billionaire-cum-president who has done precious little for the white working class whose resentment fueled his rise. They have emptied their ethical and economic pockets in support of him even though he turned his back on them the moment he entered the Oval Office. The only remnant of his leadership they have to hold on to is the folklore of white nationalist sentiment, and xenophobic passion, that offer them psychic comfort if little financial stability.

It is disheartening for black folk to see such a vile and despicable replay of history. Facing this unadorned hate tears open wounds from atrocities that we have confronted throughout our history. It is depressing to explain to our children that what we confronted as children may be the legacy they bequeath to their children as well.

Former Vice President Joe Biden took aim at President Trump’s comments that “many sides” led to violence at a white supremacist rally Saturday (Courtesy @JoeBiden).

It is more dispiriting still to realize that the government of our land, at least in the present administration, has shown little empathy toward victims of white bigotry, and indeed, has helped to spread the paralyzing virus of hatred, by turning a blind eye to what is done in their name.

Now is the time for every decent white American to prove he or she loves this country by actively speaking out against the scourge this bigotocracy represents. If such heinous behavior is met by white silence, it will only cement the perception that as long as most white folk are not immediately at risk, then all is relatively well. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could more clearly declare the moral bankruptcy of our country.

Source: Charlottesville and the Bigotocracy -By Dr. Michael Eric Dyson | The New York Times 


Recommended…
STATEMENT BY SENATOR JOHN McCAIN ON WHITE SUPREMACIST ATTACK IN CHARLOTTESVILLE | Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
✻ ​Donald Trump Finally Breaks Silence After White Nationalist Charlottesville Rally -By Emma Stefansky | The New Yorker
Trump Lit the Torches of White Supremacy in Charlottesville. We Must Extinguish Them -By Petula | Washington Post Dvorak
The Hoods Are Off -By Matt Thompson | The Atlantic
Trump Babbles in the Face of Tragedy -By Michael Gerson | Washington Post
✻​ ‘This Is un-American.’ Politicians on Both Sides of the Aisle Rebuke Charlottesville Violence -By Jennifer Calfas | TIME Magazine
Why Won’t Trump Call Out Radical White Terrorism? -By Jeffrey Goldberg | The Atlantic
There Are Only Two Sides to Charlottesville. Trump Is on the Wrong One -By Christine Emba | Washington Post

Man Charged After White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Deadly Violence -By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Brian M. Rosenthal | The New York Times

Advertisements

Venezuelan Torture Victim Detained in Miami Is Free

Marco Coello, accused of taking part in a 2014 demonstration against the government in Caracas, Venezuela, was beaten and jailed for several months. He eventually fled to the United States. (Photo: Scott McIntyre / The New York Times)

Marco Coello, then a skinny 18-year-old high school student, was grabbed by plainclothes agents of the Venezuelan security services as he joined a 2014 demonstration against the government in Caracas. They put a gun to his head. They attacked him with their feet, a golf club, a fire extinguisher. They tortured him with electric shocks. Then Mr. Coello was jailed for several months, and shortly after his release, he fled to the United States.

Human Rights Watch extensively documented his case in a report that year. The State Department included him in its own human rights report on Venezuela in 2015. With such an extensive paper trail of mistreatment in his home country, his lawyer, Elizabeth Blandon, expected a straightforward asylum interview when Mr. Coello appeared at an immigration office this April in Miami.

“I had this very naïve idea that we were going to walk in there and the officer was going to say, ‘It’s an honor to meet you,’” said Ms. Blandon, an immigration law expert in Weston, Fla.

Instead, he was arrested and taken to a detention facility on the edge of the Everglades. He was now a candidate for deportation. “Every time they would move me around, I would fear that they were going to take me to deport me,” said Mr. Coello, now 22.

Mr. Coello’s case drew extensive media coverage in both Miami and Caracas and, eventually, the intervention of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. The senator helped secure Mr. Coello’s release, though he could still be deported.

The case may have been a sign of just how far the government is willing to go to carry out President Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration. “It’s very unusual — almost unprecedented — that ICE would arrest an asylum applicant who is at a U.S.C.I.S. office waiting for their asylum interview,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell Law School.

He was referring to two agencies that are part of the Department of Homeland Security but, as Mr. Coello discovered, have very different missions: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which handles citizenship and asylum cases, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which arrests people believed to be in the country without permission.

In the first three months of the Trump administration, ICE agents arrested some 41,000 people, an increase of nearly 40 percent over the same period last year. At the same time, the administration has expressed a desire to be stricter about allowing people into the country with asylum claims, as most such claims are ultimately rejected.

When Mr. Coello was taken to the Krome Detention Center, another asylum seeker was already there.

Denis Davydov is an asylum seeker who fled Russia as an H.I.V.-positive gay man. (Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times).

Denis Davydov, who fled Russia as an H.I.V.-positive gay man, had been on his way back to San Jose, Calif., from a vacation in the United States Virgin Islands. Though it is an American territory, travelers heading to the mainland must pass through Customs and Border Protection — also part of Homeland Security — and when Mr. Davydov did so, he was arrested. Agents flew him to Miami and sent him to Krome, shackled and chained at the wrists and ankles.

Despite his pending asylum case, Mr. Davydov still appeared in the system as having overstayed his original visa. “They would not let him go because he would still be found inadmissible to the United States,” said Jaime I. Ruiz, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection. Mr. Davydov, like Mr. Coello, has been released but still faces potential deportation.

“My fear is that going forward this is business as usual,” said Aaron C. Morris, executive director at Immigration Equality, a nonprofit group that provides free legal representation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The group is handling more than 620 open asylum cases. “We’re doing our best to advise the community about this new danger without scaring them all.”

Mr. Coello’s case is all the more striking given that Mr. Trump has attacked Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, who has used anti-terrorism laws and military tribunals to prosecute political rivals. Mr. Trump has even called for the release of the opposition leader Leopoldo López from prison. Mr. Coello said that his Venezuelan interrogators tried to coerce him into implicating Mr. López but that he refused.

Mr. Coello’s problems in the United States most likely began when he became drowsy working as a driver for the ride-hailing service Lyft and pulled over to sleep in a parking lot. A police officer rapped on his window, telling him it was private property and writing him a ticket. He was convicted of misdemeanor trespassing and paid a fine of $100 and $92 in court costs, according to court records in Fairfax, Va.

That conviction brought him to the attention of ICE. “Marco Coello has one misdemeanor criminal conviction and did not depart the country in accordance with his visa,” said Nestor Yglesias, an ICE spokesman, referring to the tourist visa he had arrived on. “As a result, he violated the terms of his nonimmigrant status in the United States.”

Paul Wickham Schmidt, a retired immigration judge who is now an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University, said that ICE agents could legally arrest individuals in asylum proceedings. “Otherwise everyone could absolutely immunize themselves from removal just by filing with the asylum office,” he said.

But arresting Mr. Coello was also indicative of the Trump administration’s new priorities, he said. “As Jeff Sessions keeps pointing out, anyone here illegally shouldn’t feel safe,” Mr. Schmidt said, referring to the attorney general under Mr. Trump.

Mr. Coello was a high school student in El Hatillo in southeastern Caracas when he joined marches and demonstrations across Venezuela on Feb. 12, 2014, to protest Mr. Maduro, a close ally of Hugo Chávez who took office after Mr. Chávez’s death in 2013.

The protests that day turned ugly, with violence between government forces and civilian protesters, who in some cases threw Molotov cocktails. Mr. Coello, who said he was not involved in the disturbance, was struck on the leg by a tear-gas canister and fell to the ground. Security personnel in plainclothes began to beat him and took him into custody.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, based on interviews with Mr. Coello and five others arrested, the security forces put a gun to his head and doused him in gasoline. “They wrapped a thin mat around his body, tied it with tape, and approximately 10 officers kicked him and beat him with sticks, a golf club, and a fire extinguisher on his ribs and upper body,” the report said. He was tortured with shocks and told to confess to burning the vehicles. He refused.

Mr. Coello was accused of arson, among other charges related to an alleged attack on the Venezuelan attorney general’s office. After months in detention, he was released pending trial and fled to the United States with his father. His mother later joined them.

Following his time in Virginia, where he was studying English, Mr. Coello moved to Miami and found a job as an assistant cameraman at a local studio associated with the Spanish-language station Telemundo.

When he and his lawyer, Ms. Blandon, arrived at his asylum appointment in April, they were passed off to ICE. “We walk in, she didn’t even introduce herself,” Ms. Blandon said of the Citizenship and Immigration Services official who met them. “‘We can’t entertain your claim for asylum. These two gentlemen from ICE can explain.’”

After articles appeared in the local and Spanish-language news media — “Joven torturado en Venezuela es arrestado en Miami por inmigración” was the headline of one article in El Nuevo Herald — Mr. Rubio, a Republican from the Miami area, contacted Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff.

The next day, Mr. Coello was released.

Mr. Coello will still have the opportunity to plead for asylum in immigration court. His arrest was legal, but some experts question whether it was the best use of limited resources in an overburdened system. “In years of doing these, I’ve had probably only a few dozen cases where somebody can point to their name in a State Department human rights report and say, ‘That’s me,’” Mr. Schmidt, the former immigration judge, said of Mr. Coello.

With a backlog of nearly 600,000 cases in the system, he asked, “Why clog an already clogged court docket with a case that looks like a slam dunk?”

Source: Torture Victim, Expecting a U.S. Handshake, Was Given Handcuffs Instead -By Nicholas Kulish | New York Times

Recommended…
Marco Coello’s Lawyer Explains Detention During Asylum Interview (Video in English) | Elizabeth Blandon, Esq.*

Immigration Raids: Know Your Rights (Video in English) | Elizabeth Blandon, Esq.*

Know Your Rights When Asked About Immigration Status | ACLU*

Venezuela: A Country Divided -By Quintijn Kat | Al Jazeera

✻ In Venezuela, Prisoners Say Abuse Is So Bad They Are Forced to Eat Pasta Mixed with Excrement -By Rachelle Krygier and Joshua Partlow | The Washington Post

Note: The videos posted above are not intended to be an endorsement of or referral to the attorney or organizational presenter. Instead, the videos were posted for their informational and educational content.

From Democracy to Autocracy: Turkish President Erdoğan Granted Broad Powers In Questionable Referendum Election

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Presidential Palace (Photo by ​Asin Bulbul/​ Reuters). Background image: A woman places a bandage other mouth as she protests Saturday’s explosions in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Authorities in Istanbul banned a protest rally and march by the same trade union and civic society groups who lost 97 friends and colleagues in Turkey’s bloodiest terror attack. Some demonstrators were detained. (AP Photo/ Emrah Gurel)

A slim majority of Turkish voters agreed on Sunday to grant sweeping powers to their President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a watershed moment that the country’s opposition fears may cement a system of authoritarian rule within one of the critical power brokers of the Middle East.

With nearly 99 percent of votes in a referendum counted on Sunday night, supporters of the proposal had 51.3 percent of votes cast, and opponents had 48.7 percent, the country’s electoral commission announced. The result will take days to confirm, and the main opposition party said it would demand a recount of about 37 percent of ballot boxes, containing around 2.5 million votes. But on Sunday night the result was already a political reality, as President Erdoğan hailed his victory in front of a crowd of supporters in Istanbul. “We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history,” he said.

The constitutional change will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the current parliamentary political system. The ramifications, however, are immediate. The “yes” vote in the referendum is a validation of the current leadership style of Mr. Erdoğan, who has been acting as a de facto head of government since his election in 2014 despite having no constitutional right to wield such power. The office of Turkey’s president was meant to be an impartial role without full executive authority.

The result tightens Mr. Erdoğan’s grip on the country, which is one of the leading external actors in the Syrian civil war, a major way station along the migration routes to Europe and a crucial Middle Eastern partner of the United States and Russia.

Since a failed coup last summer, Turkey has been under a state of emergency, a situation that allowed the government to fire or suspend about 130,000 people suspected of being connected to the failed putsch, and to arrest about 45,000.

The campaign itself was characterized by prolonged intimidation of opposition members, several of whom were shot at or beaten while on the stump by persons unknown. The opposition questioned the legitimacy of the referendum after the election board made a last-minute decision to increase the burden needed to prove accusations of ballot-box stuffing. At least three instances of alleged voter fraud appeared to be captured on camera. 

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) says that there were more than 2.5 million of these irregular ballots; other estimates range between 1 million and 4 million. Even the low end of this range would be enough to change the results of the referendum. The CHP has called on the Supreme Election Board to nullify the referendum results. After all, its official guidelines mandate the stamping of both ballot and sealed envelope.

Beyond simply arresting tens of thousands of opponents, it seems that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gamed the system in order to guarantee himself victory. An observer from inside Turkey explains (edited slightly for clarity and grammar):

Apparently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) arranged illegally with the Supreme Election Board and with several voting districts around the country to give ballots out to AKP people the day before the voting. These were given to poor people and others wishing to earn money for a vote.

The ballots were marked “yes” in front, but they lacked the official stamp issued at the polling location on the back. This was done deliberately because those people were to use the pre-prepared ballot in the ballot box and then return the ballot with the official seal which they received at the polling station. They then received between 350-400 Turkish liras, about 100 dollars.

If it seemed that the “no” vote was ahead in initial tallying, then the Supreme Election Board would rule the referendum invalid due to a large number of unstamped ballots. But if it looked like “yes” could win, then those votes would be declared valid.

The new system will, among other changes:

■ Abolish the post of prime minister and transfer executive power to the president.

■ Allow the newly empowered president to issue decrees and appoint many judges and officials responsible for scrutinizing his decisions.

■ Limit the president to two five-year terms, but give the option of running for a third term if Parliament truncates the second one by calling for early elections.

■ Allow the president to order disciplinary inquiries into any of Turkey’s 3.5 million civil servants, according to an analysis by the head of the Turkish Bar Association.

Academics and members of the opposition are concerned that the new system will threaten the separation of powers on which liberal democracies have traditionally depended.

“It represents a remarkable aggrandizement of Erdoğan’s personal power and quite possibly a death blow to vital checks and balances in the country,” said Professor Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at Project on Middle East Democracy and lecturer at St. Lawrence University: “Judicial independence was already shockingly weak before the referendum; the new system makes that worse.”

Mr. Erdoğan’s supporters deny that the new system will limit political and judicial oversight. If opposition parties win control of Parliament, they could override the president’s decrees with their own legislation, while also asserting greater control over judicial appointments, supporters of the new Constitution contend.

The victorious “yes” camp also argues that a strong, centralized government will make Turkey better able to tackle its many challenges, including a troubled economy, the world’s largest population of Syrian refugees, two terrorism campaigns, a civil war against Kurdish insurgents and the Syrian war across Turkey’s southern border.

The fearful environment in which the referendum campaign was held has led watchdogs to question its fairness. In addition to the vast purges of perceived opposition members, the authorities also often prevented “no” campaigners from holding rallies and events. And Mr. Erdoğan and his supporters often implied that their opponents were allied with terrorist groups or those suspected of plotting last year’s failed coup.

Analyses of television coverage showed that the “yes” campaign received disproportionately more airtime than its opponents: “It’s been a completely unfair campaign,” said Andrej Hunko, a German lawmaker assigned by the Council of Europe to observe the election. Hundreds of election observers were also barred from monitoring the vote, and thousands of Kurds displaced by fighting in southeastern Turkey may not have been able to vote because they have no address, according to the Independent Election Monitoring Network, a Turkish watchdog.

Despite this, Mr. Erdoğan’s victory fell far short of the 20-point majority that he and his supporters had expected. The result revealed a deeply divided country, nearly half of which now feels highly embittered.

Few could agree about how Mr. Erdoğan would respond, and he offered no conclusive clues in his victory speech. In one breath, he appeared to reach out to his opponents, calling the results the “victory of everyone who said yes and no.” But in the next, he promised to reinstate the death penalty — which would end any hopes that Turkey will join the European Union — and mocked his opponents’ intent to appeal the result.

Some believe Mr. Erdoğan may initially try to rebuild relations with the West, which were severely damaged during the referendum campaign as he sought to manufacture diplomatic crises to energize his base at home.  But Professor Eissenstat said it was unlikely Mr. Erdoğan would spend any time repairing relationships with the opposition.

“Some people have imagined that Erdoğan might reboot after a ‘yes’ victory and reach out to the opposition,” he said. “I don’t think that is likely. The purges will continue; Erdoğan’s instinct is to crush opposition, not co-opt it.  The question is whether further centralization of power and increased repression can bring stability and allow Erdoğan to reboot a troubled economy. The record of the past 10 years is that the opposite is true” added Professor Eissenstat.”

Erdogan may want to claim victory and put the referendum behind him. He has declared that the result ends all debate. It may not be so easy, however. Especially when the real results suggest the Turkish people did not support the system of government over which Erdogan now presides.

Sources: Erdoğan Claims Vast Powers in Turkey After Narrow Victory in Referendum -By Patrick Kingsley | The New York Times

How Erdoğan Rigged the Election That Makes Him a Dictator -By Michael Rubin | Newsweek


Recommended…
Turkey’s Referendum: How Democracies Decline -By Uri Friedman | The Atlantic
Turkey Votes to Make Erdoğan Effectively A Dictator -By Dexter Filkins | The New Yorker
Inside Turkey’s Purge -By Suzy Henson | The New York Times
Turkey’s Election Was Soaked in Suppression and Blood -By Fréderike Geerdink | Huffington Post

Chechnya LGBTQs Subjected to Torture, Murder, and ‘Gay’ Concentration Camps

Hundreds of activists gather outside the Russian Embassy in central London in protest against the treatment of homosexuals in Chechnya. (Photo by Stephen Chung/LNP/REX/Shutterstock); Background photo by Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev.

First, two television reporters vanished. Then a waiter went missing. Over the past week, men ranging in age from 16 to 50 have disappeared from the streets of Chechnya. International human rights activists are decrying reports that at least 100 gay men have been arrested, and three killed, in the Russian region of Chechnya.

Novaya Gazeta, a leading Moscow-owned Russian opposition newspaper confirmed a story already circulating among human rights activists: The Chechen authorities were arresting and killing gay men. The paper cited claims by federal law enforcement officials who said the men, ranging in ages from 16 to 50, were detained “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.”

The sweep, like so much else in Russian politics today, was entangled in the country’s troubled politics of street activism. It began, Novaya Gazeta reported, after a Moscow-based gay rights group, GayRussia.ru, applied for permits to stage gay pride parades in four cities in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, of which Chechnya is a part.

The group had not focused on the Muslim areas. It had been applying for permits for gay parades in provincial cities around Russia, and collecting the inevitable denials, in order to build a case about gay rights and freedom of assembly with the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France. It had applied to more than 90 municipal governments. Nikolai Alekseev, a gay rights activist coordinating this effort, told Novaya Gazeta he had chosen this tactic rather than staging risky, unsanctioned gay parades.

The group had not applied for a permit in Chechnya, but in another Muslim region in southern Russia, Kabardino-Balkaria. The mere application there — denied, as usual — had prompted an anti-gay counter-demonstration. In the restive Muslim regions, Mr. Putin has empowered local leaders to press agendas of traditional Muslim values, to co-opt an Islamist underground. The gay pride parade applications became a galvanizing issue.

“In Chechnya, the command was given for a ‘prophylactic sweep’ and it went as far as real murders,” Novaya Gazeta reported. According to the report, the authorities set to finding and arresting closeted gay men, partly by posing as men looking for dates on social networking sites. “Of course, none of these people in any way demonstrated their sexual orientation publicly — in the Caucasus, this is equal to a death sentence,” the newspaper wrote of those detained in the sweep. “I got numerous, numerous signals,” about the sweep of gay men, said Ekaterina L. Sokiryanskaya, Russia project coordinator for the International Crisis Group, and an authority on the North Caucasus. “It came from too many sources not to be true.”

Gay men have begun deleting online accounts, or fleeing the region. One user of Vkontakte, a Russian social networking site, wrote that a 16-year-old boy had been detained in a village in Chechnya. He returned days later, according to the post, “all beaten, just a sack with bones.”

The newspaper published contact information to aid men wanting to leave Chechnya for relatively more tolerant parts of Russia. But reaching communities of closeted gay men in the remote mountain region poses challenges. “Even delivering the information is very difficult,” Ms. Sokiryanskaya, who is familiar with the aid effort, said. “They are just small islands, isolated.”

The reports, however, were quickly dismissed as “absolute lies and disinformation” by a spokesman for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. The spokesman, Alvi Karimov, then suggested that no gay people were living in the Muslim-majority region. “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” he said, according to The New York Times.

As The Advocate points out, however, Karimov’s statement failed to quash the arrest claims. An April 4 Novaya Gazeta report doubled down on their initial report, with a source telling the newspaper that the Muslim-majority region’s anti-LGBTQ efforts include concentration camps. Detainees in those camps, which have been likened to those in Nazi Germany, are allegedly being subjected to physical abuse at the hands of government officials while being ransomed to their families. Those who are released, sadly, may face additional persecution, as extrajudicial “honor” killings have been known to take place, according to The Washington Post.

Details of the alleged detainments remain frustratingly vague. Chechen activist Kheda Saratova, who is on Kadyrov’s human rights council, dismissed the claims, saying she hasn’t had “a single request” on the issue in a Russian radio interview cited by The Guardian. Much like Karimov before her, however, Saratova downplayed the existence of gay people in the region at large. “In our Chechen society, any person who respects our traditions and culture will hunt down this kind of person without any help from authorities,” Saratova said, “and do everything to make sure that this kind of person does not exist in our society.”

Meanwhile, a number of leading human rights organizations have spoken out against the allegations. On Tuesday, GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis called on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to condemn the alleged attacks and press for an investigation.

The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights First echoed those sentiments, calling upon Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to speak out against the reports. “In his confirmation hearings, [Tillerson] responded to a question on the human rights of LGBTQ people by noting that ‘American values don’t accommodate violence or discrimination against anyone,’” advocacy counsel Shawn Gaylord said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “Now is the time for him to put the power of his office behind that statement and raise this issue directly with his counterparts.”

Amnesty International, meanwhile, launched a petition of its own, demanding that Chechnya to “stop abducting and killing” gay men.”The Chechen government won’t admit that gay men even exist in Chechnya, let alone that they ordered what the police call ‘preventive mopping up’ of people they deem undesirable,” the petition, which had over 25,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, read.

On April 12, LGBTQ rights activists in London staged a protest outside of the city’s Russian embassy in response to the reports. “We are seeing very little response to this in the mainstream media, and government action so far is poor,” Steve Taylor, who is the communications director for the European Pride Organizers Association (EPOA) told Gay Star News. “We must not be bystanders, and we must challenge this inhumanity.”







Sources & Recommended Reading…
Alleged Gay ‘Concentration Camps’ In Chechnya Spark Global Outrage -By Curtis M. Wong | Huffington Post
Chechen Authorities Arresting and Killing Gay Men, Russian Paper Says -By Andrew Kramer | The New York Times
Honor Killings -By Elena Milashina | Novaya Gazeta
Chechnya Is Torturing Gay Men in Concentration Camps -By Daniel Reynolds | The Advocate
Gay and Terrified in Chechnya -By Editorial Board | Washington Post
Europe, U.N. Urge Russia to Intervene as Chechnya Allegedly Tortures and Kills Gay People -By Emily Tamkin | Foreign Policy
HRC Calls on U.S. Government to Help Stop Anti-LGBTQ Atrocities in Russia -By Jeremy Kadden | Human Rights Campaign

Russia Ministry of Justice Moves to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘Extremist’ Organization

The Jehovah’s Witnesses elders Vyacheslav Stepanov, 40, left, and Andrei Sivak, 43, are facing trial on charges of inciting division and hatred ​(Photo by James Hill​).​

On April 5, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation began consideration of a claim from the Ministry of Justice to liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.  If the Ministry of Justice succeeds, Jehovah Witnesses will be banned as an extremist organization, a move that would lead to the seizure of the church’s headquarters near St. Petersburg and the outlawing of the group’s organized worship. The Russian justice ministry’s call for the country’s Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters to be shut down represents an attempt to “eliminate the legal existence” of the religion, said the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The USCIRF is a bipartisan federal commission, with commissioners appointed by the president, the Senate and the House.

The justice ministry suspended the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in St. Petersburg last month, alleging that its activities “violate Russia’s law on combating extremism.” The Russian branch of the U.S.-based religion said a ban on its headquarters would directly affect around 400 local branches in the country and all 2277 of its religious groups, with their 175,000 followers. The USCIRF said that if the court sides with the justice ministry it would constitute the first time Russia has banned an organized religious organization.

“If the Supreme Court rules in April that this group is ‘extremist’ it would mark the first time that Russia legally has banned a centrally-administered religious organization and would effectively criminalize all Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activity nationwide. USCIRF calls on the Russian government to stop its harassment of this peaceful religious group.”

The ruling would also cap off years of increased restrictions by the Russian Federation against minority religions. Last summer, Russia introduced an anti-terrorism law that also restricted evangelism, and a regional court ordered the deportation of six missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 2015, a court banned the Church of Scientology’s Moscow branch.

Russia’s dominant religion is Russian Orthodox Christianity, which comprises about 72 percent of the population, up from just 31 percent in 1991, according to analysis from the Pew Research Center.

Under a Russian law passed in 1997, there is freedom of religion, but four faiths are designated to be traditional—Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism—and other religious organizations must register with the government. Some groups, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are registered, still face bureaucratic and legal hurdles. Jehovah’s Witness leaders estimate that there are 175,000 Russian-based adherents to the faith, which was founded in the United States the 1870s. Unlike Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is the son of God but do not believe in the Trinity.

“They would basically be prosecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses as criminals,” David Semonian, international spokesperson for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, says of the pending court declaration. “Anyone who would actually would have our publications could be criminalized. It is of great concern.”

The statement from the group added: “The treatment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reflects the Russian government’s tendency to view all independent religious activity as a threat to its control and the country’s political stability.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses have filed a counter claim asking the court to rule the Justice Ministry’s actions as political repression. A ruling in favor of the ministry would make it a crime for Jehovah’s Witnesses to worship in the Russian Federation and dissolve the faith’s legal means to own or rent Kingdom Halls, their places of worship. In 2015, the Russian Federation banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website JW.org, and customs officials stopped shipments of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bibles, citing the possibility they were extremist literature. Last year, Russia threatened to close the group’s national headquarters.

Roman Lunkin, a human rights fellow at the Wilson Center and an expert on church-state relations in Russia, says that Russian authorities have been targeting minority religions as “extremists” in an effort to demonstrate support for the Russian Orthodox Church and to marginalize organizations with suspected pro-western sympathies. “The treatment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reflects the Russian government’s tendency to view all independent religious activity as a threat to its control and the country’s political stability,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a statement on April 4.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses are no threat to either the Russian Orthodox Church or to the Russian Government,” Semonian says. “The constitution guarantees freedom of worship, and that is all we are asking, to have the same rights as other religious groups have so we can go about our ministry in a peaceful way.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses are pacifists, and their religious beliefs require them to abstain from political activity. They declare allegiance only to God, not to a state or political entity. They do not vote, lobby, protest, or join military. This lack of participation can be seen as a threat if a state demands nationalist and patriotic activity.

“The persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is very much tied to the resurgence of a new view of nationalism, where everything within the state is fine, but anything outside of the state has to be crushed,” Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, a U.S. commissioner for International Religious Freedom appointed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, says.

“A pacifist group that tells its members that their allegiance is to something outside of the government is immediately a group that will be perceived as dangerous to the regime.” -Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz

Other minority Christian groups in Russia, like evangelicals, have not yet faced the same level of scrutiny. Lunkin says it is impossible to accuse evangelicals of extremist activity because their literature and Bible translation matches that of the Russian Orthodox Church. Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own translation of the Bible, and they also have their own magazine and educational materials. Evangelicals also have closer relationships with government officials, he says. “It’s [about] a protection of traditional religions, and the Orthodox identity of Russian people,” Lunkin says. “But in fact it is about protecting personal power, because the main fear is changing of regimes in Russia.”

Jehovah’s Witness church leadership has reached out to the U.S. State department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the U.S. Helsinki Commission for aid. “We will do everything within our legal means to have the judgment reversed,” Semonian says. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are known worldwide for our peaceful activities, and under no circumstances would we ever resort to violence or any other activity that could be misunderstood or considered extremist.”

Jehovah’s Witness leaders have also asked their eight million members worldwide to write letters to Russia officials, including President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, to ask them to intervene. Instructions tell writers to “be candid but respectful,” and to mention how the faith has benefited their families. “Keep in mind that ‘a mild answer turns away rage,’ and ‘a gentle tongue can break a bone,’” the instructions say, quoting the Biblical book of Proverbs.

The decision will come as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is finalizing its annual report identifying countries of concern, its first such report for the Trump administration. The Commission is a bipartisan government advisory group that makes policy recommendations to the President, Congress, and the Secretary of State. Since 2009, the group has designated Russia as a “Tier 2” nation, on the watch list one step below countries of particular concern. “The fate of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the fate of any religious group that does not pledge its allegiance to the Russian government,” Arriaga says. “April [sic] will definitely mark a new chapter of religious persecution in post-Soviet Russia.”

Source: Russian Supreme Court Considers Outlawing Jehovah’s Witness Worship -By Elizabeth Dias | TIME


Recommended….
United States: Russia’s Ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘Extremist’ Shows That Moscow Views All Independent Religions as a Threat -By Jason Le Miere | Newsweek
Russia Moves to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘Extremist’ -By Andrew Higgins | The New York Times

WALKING WHILE BLACK: L.O.V.E. Is the Answer

Hollywood FAME Award-winning Director and Producer A.J. Ali, and Oscar and Sundance winner Errol Webber have teamed up to create Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. Is the Answer, a documentary film that examines racial profiling in law enforcement. The film recounts painful stories of the past while offering solutions to curb future profiling incidents. It seeks to build a movement that will make a distinct difference in the areas of social justice and racial reconciliation.

“I think police departments need an intervention,” retired LAPD Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey said. “If you don’t admit that there’s a problem, then there’s nothing to fix and so there’s no harm in saying that we don’t always get it right as police officers.”

“It is a reminder of some of the things in law enforcement that we’re not proud of,” Santa Monica College Chief of Police Johnnie Adams said.

“The next step is we need churches and schools and non-profits and even law enforcement agencies to license this film and bring us to their town so we can go there and do the screening, do a ‘Q and A,’ hold workshops and just spend time with people and teach people how to love each other again,” Ali explained.

The word “love” in the title is also an acronym as explained by those involved with the film. “Lstands for learning about your community and its people, “O” means to open your heart, “V” stands for volunteering yourself and “E” stands for empowering.


Learn More
Make a Donation
Host a Screening
❤ Tickets for Pan-African Film Festival Screening
❤ Join the Movement
❤ Facebook

Human Rights Lawyer Describes Torture in China’s Secret Jails

xie-yangXie Yang, undated (Photo: ChinaChange.com)

Perched unsteadily on a stack of plastic stools in an isolated room, Xie Yang (谢阳), a Chinese lawyer, was encircled day and night by interrogators who blew smoke in his face, punched and kicked him, and threatened to turn him into an “invalid” unless he confessed to political crimes, he has said.

Eventually, according to transcripts of meetings with Mr. Xie issued by his attorneys, the isolation, sleepless days and nights of abuse and threats to his family from the police investigators proved too harrowing. Mr. Xie said he had scribbled down whatever they told him to say about trying to subvert the Chinese Communist Party by representing disgruntled citizens and discussing rights cases.

“I wanted to end their interrogation of me as quickly as I could, even if it meant death,” Mr. Xie, anguished and often sobbing, told his attorneys, Chen Jiangang and Liu Zhengqing, according to the transcripts of the meetings this month that Mr. Chen released on Thursday. “Later, I wrote down whatever they wanted.”

The records lay out the most detailed firsthand allegations thus far that torture has stained a crackdown on Chinese rights lawyers and advocates that began in July 2015. The government detained almost 250 people in that operation, according to Amnesty International. Most were released, but four were tried and convicted last year on charges that they tried to subvert the one-party state, and about 13 are in detention and likely to face trial.

Mr. Xie, 44, a lawyer from the southern Chinese province of Hunan, is also likely to face trial in the coming weeks on subversion charges, according to his lawyers.

“These transcripts are totally authentic,” Mr. Chen said in a telephone interview on Friday, referring to two detailed records of pretrial meetings with Mr. Xie that were released on overseas websites focused on human rights in China. “He’s suffered torment and abuse, and this was a call for help, because the internal mechanisms for preventing torture haven’t worked.”

Other defendants and suspects in the clampdown on rights lawyers have abjectly declared their guilt, either in court or in televised confessions. Mr. Chen said that Mr. Xie wanted to release his account of his secretive detention to prove beforehand that he was innocent and that any admissions had been made under coercion.

“He was unbending. He refused all government lawyers. In the end, they had to let us see him,” Mr. Chen said, since he and Mr. Liu had been chosen by Mr. Xie. “We all know this kind of case is about political persecution.”

Mr. Xie’s wife, Chen Guiqiu, had also approved releasing the transcripts, Mr. Chen said. But Ms. Chen, an academic, did not answer repeated calls to her phone on Friday. Mr. Chen, the lawyer, said she had been led away that morning by security guards at the university in Changsha, the capital of Hunan, where she works.

“Let the world know what forced confession through torture is, what shamelessness without limit is,” Ms. Chen said in a statement issued on Thursday.

Mr. Xie’s account of being locked away appeared after China’s president, Xi Jinping, sought this week to promote his government as open and mature. On Tuesday, Mr. Xi told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that economic protectionism was like a country locking itself in a dark room.

Li Chunfu, a Beijing lawyer detained in the crackdown, was released early this month, emaciated and mentally shattered after nearly one and a half years in detention, according to his family and supporters.

“It’s ironic that the Chinese government is calling for openness in Davos when the Chinese government is doing the opposite domestically,” Maya Wang, a researcher on China for Human Rights Watch, said by telephone from Hong Kong. “They say one thing in terms of rhetoric, to appeal and charm globally, but what they do is quite another thing. What they do is exactly the opposite.”

Human rights organizations and defense lawyers have said that other suspects caught in the crackdown have also been at risk of torture while in secretive detention. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied such accusations. The police in Changsha did not respond to multiple phone calls to find out whether they knew of Mr. Xie’s allegations of torture and were doing anything about them.

But Mr. Xie has gone to extraordinary lengths to back his claims: He named many of the officers he says perpetrated abuses. “If I stand trial, I’ll recount to the court just what happened in this case — that the records were the product of torture,” he told his lawyers.

Mr. Xie was taken away by the police in Hunan on July 11, 2015, and spent half a year in secretive detention in a retired military cadres’ hostel, kept from contact with the outside world. In the first week, Mr. Xie said, he was questioned by rotating teams of officers who gave him no more than three hours of sleep between grueling rounds of questioning.

Often they made Mr. Xie sit on top of the “dangling chair”: several plastic stools without backrests that were stacked on top of each other.

“I sat on top so that my feet didn’t touch the ground and my legs were dangling there. They ordered me to sit there with my back straight,” he said. He said that an officer warned him: “If you move, we can consider that you attacked a police officer, and we can take whatever steps to deal with you.”

In addition, the interrogators would not let him drink water, lit fistfuls of cigarettes and blew nauseating clouds of smoke in his face, and beat, kicked and head-butted him, he said. They also indirectly threatened his wife, warning that she should be careful when driving, he said.

“We represent the party center in handling your case,” one police officer said, referring to China’s central leadership, according to Mr. Xie’s account. “Even if we leave you dead, you won’t find any evidence to prove it.”

By mid-August 2015, Mr. Xie said, he was broken, and he signed documents put before him, but still he resisted the interrogators’ demands that he name and implicate other people. A year ago, he was formally arrested on a charge of inciting subversion of state power and was moved to a detention center. But there, the abuses continued, and other detainees were used to bully him, Mr. Xie said.

Despite pressure from the police and prosecutors, Mr. Xie insisted on seeing his own lawyers. On Friday, they asked prosecutors to examine his claims of torture, listing the names of 10 police officers they say should answer the accusations.

“I tell you now that my spirit is free,” Mr. Xie told his lawyers. “I declare that I, Xie Yang, am innocent.”


Xie Yang, born on February 4, 1972, has been a lawyer with Hunan Gangwei Law Firm and has represented many politically sensitive cases. Some of Xie’s previous clients include activist Xue Mingkai (薛明凯), arrested in 2011 during the “Jasmine Crackdown”; New Citizens’ Movement activist Zhang Baocheng (张宝成), who was imprisoned in 2014; and “Southern Street Movement” activist Xie Wenfei (谢文飞), seized during the 2014 clampdown on mainland supporters of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. In early 2014, Xie Yang criticized the violent assaults against four human rights lawyers in retaliation for defending their clients; perhaps to avoid official rebuke over Xie’s stance, his law firm issued a statement at that time denying it was employing Xie. More recently, Xie represented the family of a petitioner shot to death by police in Qing’an, Heilongjiang in May 2015, in one of the “politically sensitive” cases authorities cited as a “subversive” activity conducted by the lawyers in the “709 Crackdown.” Days after he traveled to Qing’an, Xie was himself a victim in an incident of violence in Guangxi while handling a case involving a financial dispute between two companies.

Sources: Punches, Kicks and the ‘Dangling Chair’: Detainee Tells of Torture in China -By Chris Buckley | The New York Times and Xie Yang | Chinese Human Rights Defender (CHRD)

First Amendment Provides Little Protection to Press Corp in Trump’s America

chain-mexicoCredit: Marco Ugarte/ AP Photo

When President Trump declared on Saturday that reporters are “among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” it was not the first time he had disparaged the press. Nor was it out of character when, later that same day, his press secretary threatened “to hold the press accountable” for reporting truthful information that was unflattering to Mr. Trump. Episodes like these have become all too common in recent weeks. So it’s comforting to know that the Constitution serves as a reliable stronghold against Mr. Trump’s assault on the press.

Except that it doesn’t. The truth is, legal protections for press freedom are far feebler than you may think. Even more worrisome, they have been weakening in recent years.

The First Amendment provides only limited protection for the press. Over the centuries, courts have affirmed that it prohibits government censorship and offers some protection against defamation lawsuits. But journalists themselves have few constitutional rights when it comes to matters such as access to government sources and documents, or protection from being hounded by those in power for their news gathering and reporting. In those respects, journalists are vulnerable to the whims of society and government officials.

America’s press freedom, in other words, is something of a mishmash. There are some legal protections, but the press also relies on non-legal safeguards. In the past, these have included the institutional media’s relative financial strength; the good will of the public; a mutually dependent relationship with government officials; the support of sympathetic judges; and political norms and traditions.

However, each of these pillars has recently been shaken.

A generation ago, perhaps the strongest pillar was the economic power of the institutional media. Even small, local newspapers could afford to undertake investigations and to hire lawyers to argue for access to public meetings and for open courtrooms. But today both large and small newspapers across the country are closing, and the surviving publications have diminishing resources to continue to fight.

Likewise, the public’s good will, which long sustained the freedom of the press in America, has evaporated. In the 1970s, nearly three-quarters of Americans reported they trusted the news media, and the press was able to translate this support into substantial opportunities for news gathering: People who trusted the media were more likely to bring them leads and to demand that the press be allowed to cover newsworthy events. Today, however, public confidence in the press has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history.

As for the relationship between the press and government officials, that too has changed. Until recently, the press relied on politicians for access to information while politicians relied on the press for access to the public’s ear. This ensured that government officials would never shut out the press entirely. But with the fragmentation of the news industry, this is less true; the established news media can no longer claim to be the primary source of the public’s information. (And when the president can convey his messages directly via Twitter, the press loses even more power.)

In addition, the courts cannot be relied on — at least not as they once could be — for forceful protection of press liberties. The Supreme Court has not decided a major press case in more than a decade, in part because it has declined to do so, and in part because media companies, inferring the court’s relative lack of interest, have decided not to waste their resources pressing cases. Several justices have spoken negatively of the press in opinions or speeches. Lower courts have likewise become less favorable to the press, showing more willingness than in the past to second-guess the editorial judgment of journalists.

As each of these press-freedom pillars weakens, the one remaining pillar must bear more than its share of the weight. It’s the one, however, that President Trump now seems most keen to destroy: tradition.

It is primarily customs and traditions, not laws, that guarantee that members of the White House press corps have access to the workings of the executive branch. Consider the Department of Justice’s policy of forcing reporters to reveal confidential sources only as a last, rather than a first, resort. Journalists have no recognized constitutional nor even federal statutory right for such protection. It’s merely custom.

This is why we should be alarmed when Mr. Trump, defying tradition, vilifies media institutions, attacks reporters by name and refuses to take questions from those whose coverage he dislikes. Or when he decides not to let reporters travel with him on his plane, or fails to inform them when he goes out in public. Or when he suggests he might evict the White House press corps from the West Wing and have his administration, rather than the White House Correspondents Association, determine who gets allowed to attend briefings.

We cannot simply sit back and expect that the First Amendment will rush in to preserve the press, and with it our right to know. Like so much of our democracy, the freedom of the press is only as strong as we, the public, demand it to be.

Source: Don’t Expect the First Amendment to Protect the Media -By Ronnell Andersen Jones & Sonja R. West | New York Times (OpEd)

RonNell Andersen Jones is a law professor at the University of Utah. Sonja R. West is a law professor at the University of Georgia.


Recommended…
Donald Trump’s Threat to Press Freedom: Why It Matters -By Mirren Gidda & Zach Schonfeld | Newsweek

We Cannot Tolerate Legal and Personal Attacks on Journalists For Doing Their Jobs -By Michael Oreskes | NPR

An Open Letter to Trump from the US Press Corps -By Kyle Pope | Columbia Journalism Review

Trump Team Considers Moving Press Corps, Alarming Reporters -By Michael Grynbaum | New York Times

The Decline of Democracy and Rise of Fascism in Turkey

erdogan_reutersTurkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Reuters/ Files).

One year has passed since 1,128 academics raised their voices for an end to the violence against the Kurdish population in Turkey, demanding an international, independent investigation of the occurrences during the 24-hour curfews declared in Kurdish towns and districts from August 2015 onward. The now well-known ‘peace petition’ had been a reaction to the violence, an outcry against the unbearable way in which the military had taken over towns and districts in the predominantly Kurdish south-eastern provinces of the Turkish state. Children and elderly people had been assassinated on the streets and in their homes, bodies left on the streets, the injured denied medical treatment. Despite the decisive and clear wording accusing the state of committing a massacre and refusing to be party to this crime, the petition was nevertheless a modest form of protest, because all other forms of democratic contestation had already been radically impeded since a suicide bomb attack on a previous attempt to demand peace with a large demonstration on October 10, 2015 in Ankara. A hundred demonstrators from various political factions were killed, hundreds injured and scarred.

Government’s Reaction
However, even this comparably simple form of critique was not tolerated by the government. The reaction was a concerted mass smear campaign triggered by the words of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leading to arrests, police investigations and ongoing dismissals of scholars. Denouncing the signatories as traitors, as ‘pseudo academics’ who were enemies of the nation, the pro-government media took up Erdogan’s discourse, picturing the signatories individually on their web and print outlets, making them perfect targets for goaded Erdogan-supporters. The homes of a number of signatories were raided in the early morning hours; some were taken into custody on campus and the wave of dismissals commenced, starting with those in the most precarious working conditions.

This harsh reaction, however, prompted a wave of solidarity both in Turkey and beyond. Defying the threat of persecution, over another thousand scholars added their names to the petition. Academic and non-academic associations from all over the world expressed their critique of the state’s course of action in open letters to the Turkish government and solidarity messages. However, continuing its politics of spreading fear, the state had four signatories exemplarily arrested on charges of terrorism propaganda. Professors Esra Mungan, Muzaffer Kaya, Kivanc Ersoy and Meral Camci remained detained for over a month, enduring solitary confinement and strip searches. (Meral Camci was in fact in France at the time of the detainment of the other three, but decided to return knowing she could also be imprisoned upon arrival. She was released with the others after the first court hearing, after 23 days in prison.

A year later, the trial is still ongoing. Police investigations have been commenced against all signatories, including those abroad. Nearly 500 signatories have faced disciplinary investigations within their institutions. The number of those dismissed is increasing every month, currently at 182. Others have been forced to resign or retire, have lost administrative positions, are sidelined and excluded from standard academic procedures such as participating in thesis committees, are disinvited from conferences and refused funding for research projects and conference attendance. Dozens have had to leave the country, while others cannot leave the country due to travel bans and the cancellation of their passports. The most worrying fact, however, is that this repression towards the academics is unfortunately part and parcel of the state’s authoritarian regime to silence all critical voices left.

In the months following the petition, the state further accelerated its war-strategy against the Kurdish population, a strategy which has radically turned its back on the previous more liberal discourses of the government emphasising the brotherhood between Kurds and Turks, and the initial peace talks between state officials and the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party which had lasted until February 2015.

The violence reached its preliminary climax when military special forces killed around 170 people who had sought shelter in the two or three basements in Cizre, a small border-town to Syria. For days, critical media had published video messages and telephone calls in which those trapped were calling for help. However, the military officials permitted neither ambulances to access the area nor the wounded to leave, finally burning the building to the ground. The shocking brutality of the state exceeded all expectations. Following this, hardly any people remained in those towns and districts under curfew. Over a million people were forced to leave their homes only to return to a heap of rubble. Whole districts have been razed to the ground; bulldozers carrying away the remains even before the owners were allowed to return, including all personal belongings. Having left for what they thought would be a week, these people now have nothing to return to.

A Concerted Effort Against the Kurdish Movement
This comprehensive strategy is definitely not a limited operation against an armed group. Instead, it aims at destroying the successful politics of the Kurdish movement and the trust and support the population has in it. Since the mid-2000s, the Kurdish movement had particularly focused on empowering civil society with help of the municipalities in the region which are run by the Kurdish party and formed a ‘coalition’ party HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) with other left and marginalised ethnic, faith and LGBT groups. This politics had been very successful receiving strong support for the municipalities and gaining a landslide 13.2% in the national elections of June 2015, which left the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) without a majority. Re-elections were held five months later and the AKP made a decisive shift to the right, becoming increasingly authoritarian by the minute.

The aftermath of the attempted coup six months ago has been a welcome excuse not only to rid the state institutions of anyone in contact with the Gülen Community, held responsible for the attempted coup, but also to imprison mayors of the Kurdish municipalities, council members and municipality employees, as well as currently 12 MPs of the Kurdish-leftwing party HDP. Since the declaration of emergency rule, the elected mayors of over 50 towns and districts have been ousted out of power and replaced by state-assigned ‘trustees’, as they are euphemistically called. The media has been severely intimidated, with around 200 journalists currently in prison and over 177 different newspapers, magazines and TV channels shut down. Self-censorship is at its peak. The parliament has been practically by-passed through emergency decrees, most of them listing pages and pages of individual names of those to be dismissed. Overall, more than 80,000 state employees have been sacked so far, among them military and police personnel, but the highest number interestingly in the field of education.

A constant pledge to national unity, loyalty and militarism is the dominant discourse today, turning all critical voices into traitors and internal and external threats to the nation. The legal system has become a farce; the number of prisons is being increased; torture and deprivation of imprisoned back on the agenda. And as I am writing these lines, the parliament is voting on the end of parliamentary democracy, the concentration of power in the hands of the president alone, lacking the simplest mechanisms of checks and balances; MPs demonstrating their loyalty to the president by overtly waving their voting tokens for everyone to see and the prime minister celebrates the proposed abolishment of his post as an act of heroism adding the words “relax and obey”.

Looking back at this past year in Turkey, we see an increasingly overt development towards a more and more authoritarian society and government. Rudimentarily masked by arguments of counter-terrorism, society has been put into a straitjacket. Critique in any form has become increasingly impossible to voice, let alone make it heard. The few acts of protest remain limited, often with only few participants or even individual. With a mixture of disbelief and fear, people hope for this to be a phase, which is soon to end. However, according to law expert and honorary president of the Turkish Supreme Court Sami Selcuk, if the amendment of the constitution is accepted in the proposed form, the president to come “can become nothing other a dictator”.

Source: Steady Progress Into Fascism? Turkey, a Year After the Peace Petition -By Ulrike Flader | The Wire

Ulrike Flader is research coordinator for social movement studies at DEMOS Research Centre for Peace, Democracy and Alternative Politics, Turkey.


Recommended…
Turkey: Alarming Deterioration of Rights | 2017 World Report | Human Rights Watch

“Dreadful Year” of Attacks in Turkey Capped by 39 Dead in Istanbul Nightclub Attack | Democracy Now!

The End of Democracy in Turkey -By Dexter Filkins | The New Yorker

Erdogan’s Turkey: The End of Democracy? -By Ruadhán Mac Cormaic | The Irish Times

It Is, By Far, The Worst Time to Be a Turkish Journalist -By Berivan Orucoglu | Foreign Policy

Turkey’s Free Press Withers as Erdogan Jails 120 Journalists -By Rod Nordland | New York Times

The Playgrounds of Pakistan – Where Children Play and Die

30eleazar-master675
Angie Wang

Not far from the house where I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, there was a children’s amusement park. It sat on top of a hill, its slides and swings beckoning children from the houses below. As summer vacations dragged on, my brother and I would hear the gleeful screams of other children, and we begged my mother to take us. It wasn’t an easy sell. “The swings are so rickety,” she would say one day. “Aren’t you afraid you will fall out of the spinning wheel?” she would say on another. We were a little afraid, but we ached to go. That park was the only one we knew, and if it was shabby, its toy horses and pretend cars worn and weary, it still held the promise of exhilaration.

Like children everywhere, we were drawn to being a little scared. That, after all, is the pull of the amusement park: small thrills ordered and anticipated, and then conquered, fear confronted and overcome. When we did get to go, our hearts pumped wildly at the crazy height of a swing, our breath raced as our bodies were flung about; all of it made us wild with joy. Like everywhere, there were small dangers: grim grown men who sat at the periphery, watching giggling children with beady eyes; boarded-up or broken rides, like ominous warnings of thrills gone wrong; beggars who beseeched us for the coins we clenched in our fists. But the heedlessness of childhood worked its wonders; the swings and the slides blurred them into the background.

The children who died in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore on Sunday would have been riding those familiar crests of feeling: the wild joy of being high up or spun around mixing suddenly, grotesquely with the grim finality of death. Twenty-nine of the at least 72 dead were children, all of them, presumably, engaging in the child’s pastime of facing fear and surviving it. In the footage of the aftermath, their bloodied clothes and toys are strewn about; a green plastic toy car sits untouched in the rubble.

Their deaths are a stern rebuke to the country that failed them and to the world that turns away from them. The lurking men of the playgrounds of my childhood are no longer predictable villains, the deviants and kidnappers who feature in the cautionary tales told to children around the world. They are assassins, their hearts harnessed with explosives, their bodies bundled with bombs. The mothers refusing their children a trip to the amusement park will now tell them not about a rickety swing but about a bombing. Even the resilience of the very young cannot dream that away; the shadow of terror encroaches on childhood.

For much of the world, the deaths of Pakistani children are forgettable. They are, after all, the progeny of poor distant others destined to perish in ever more alarming ways. It may not be said, but it is believed that they are complicit in their own deaths, guilty somehow — even at 2 or 4 or 6 years of age — of belonging to a nation that the world has appointed as its own boogeyman, a repository of all its vilest trepidations. In December 2014, Taliban militants gunned down more than 140 people at a school in Peshawar, a vast majority of them students. A former American ambassador, speaking of his government’s lack of desire to help the Pakistani government fight extremists, put it succinctly: “There is great Pakistan fatigue in Washington.”

In the media, too, it seems. Two days after Sunday’s attack, Lahore has disappeared from the top headlines. Pakistan’s pain has already been extinguished from the global news cycle, its catastrophe a news item and not — as in Paris or Brussels — a news event. The world has many demands on its meager stores of empathy. The children’s names, their pictures, the terrain of the park where they fell to bits will never be familiar to a mourning world. Efforts to make the dead children of Pakistan real and innocent, worthy of a tear and not just a tweet, start, sputter and fizzle.

The playgrounds of Pakistan have fallen silent for the moment as the country buries its dead children. As I think of them, my ears ring with the sounds carried down by the wind from the playground on the hill. We wished to go when we couldn’t, but even that longing for the playground has now been denied to Pakistani children. What children ache to do when they stand on top of a slide or swing high in the air is simply to face their fear and vanquish it. In this the dead children of Lahore are braver than their country, braver than the world, braver than all of us who are scared but cannot confront our fears.

By Rafia Zakaria | NYT (OpEd)