Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Seventh Anniversary of the "Black Spring" Marked by Protest

On Monday, the Cuban opposition movement "The Ladies in White"(pictured right) began a week of protest to mark the seventh year anniversary of the "Black Spring," a media crackdown where 75 journalists and librarians were imprisoned between March 18th-20th in 2003. The Committee to Protect Journalists(CPJ) states that 22 of these individuals still remain imprisoned for their dissident opinions

Reuters reports that the movement, which was awarded the 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, initiated a mostly silent protest, the only words spoken was the phrase "Zapata lives!"

"Zapata" refers to Orlando Zapata Tomoyo, a member of Cuba's Republican Alternative Movement and one of Amnesty International "Prisoners of Conscience" who died in prison on February 23rd after a 85 day hunger strike. This course of action was in protest to poor prison conditions.

"All of the journalists are suffering from medical problems that have emerged or worsened during their..incarcerations," a two year old CPJ report said.

Cuban officials have always asserted that those imprisoned are agents of the United States seeking to destabilize the country. The dissidents were convicted under Law 88 and Article 91, laws enacted by the Cuban government to protect the nation from foreign influence. Cuba has been subject to a 50 year embargo embargo by the U.S. which Amnesty International has described as "immoral."

However, in an open letter to the President of Brazil, Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva, Reporters Without Borders called on Brazil and its regional partners to exert more pressure on the Cuban government to release the prisoners, stating that the regime's struggles against the embargo "does not excuse the brutal treatment and humiliation of journalists, activists, trade unionists and their families."

According to the Associated Press, Guillermo Farinas, a fellow imprisoned Cuban, was hospitalized earlier this month. The 48 year old independent journalist had began a hunger strike in response to the death of Zapata and to continue the protest for better prison conditions.

"He remains firm in his hunger strike," his mother told the news service.

Photo Credit: Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Friday, March 12, 2010

US may challenge Chinese Internet Censorship

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that U.S. trade officials are evaluating whether the legal implications of China's internet censorship could give rise to an International Trade Law case before the WTO. If successful, the case would allow other countries to raise tariffs against Chinese exports.

“It (China's internet censorship policy) is less of a trade issue than it is a freedom of information issue,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk considered in an interview with Bloomberg radio last month. He has more recently commented that his office are "trying to make our own determination whether we believe in fact this is not WTO compliant."

"The U.S Government is not powerless to influence China's policies for censoring the internet," says Peter Scheer, Executive Director of The First Amendment Coalition, a California based public interest non profit organization. The Coalition argues that the "Great Firewall of China" is
"an illegal restraint on international trade because it bars foreign companies from competing, via the internet, in the vast Chinese market."

Zheng Zhihai, general secretary of the China Society of World Trade Organisation Studies responded stating "If someone intends to challenge China's right to govern its Internet by resorting to WTO rules, they are apparently misguided and bound to fail" .The case would the the first of its kind presented at the WTO and censorship does not necessarily fall foul of International Trade rules.

The European Centre for International Political Economy concedes this in working paper published last year but adds that it may " have the potential to discipline the clumsier manifestations of censorship: outright blockages by a government that is capable of enforcing selective filtering for example, and will persuade governments to use more selective and less trade-disruptive means."

The lack of precedent surrounding the case combined with the length of time a potential case would take to be resolved has led to Kirk describing the potential legal battle as an "uncertain path." As a result, the preferred method of resolution is still political interaction. The U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue is held later this spring.

Photo Credit: Huffington Post