( – promoted by buhdydharma )
Hu Jia’s jailing is not directly connected with the riots in Tibet, but this ironically timed sentence reveals one of the underlying, systemic problems with the Chinese government that is at the heart of this conflict: the inability to criticize the government freely and without reprisal.
From the BBC:
Hu Jia was sent to prison for what many other people would not even consider a crime – he was convicted for writing five articles and giving two interviews.
The 34-year-old has long sought to publicise what he believes are injustices in China, concerning the environment, HIV/Aids and human rights.
Beijing’s First Intermediate People’s Court interpreted these acts as an attempt to subvert “the state’s political and socialist systems”.
Mr. Hu is married to blogger and human rights activist Zeng Jinyan, who is currently under house arrest with their infant daughter.
The New York Times illustrates the difficulties activists like Hu face in a country where freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Constitution, but tethered by legal practice:
China’s subversion laws, like those over state secrets, are deliberately vague and grant prosecutors considerable leeway in determining “subversive” speech – even though freedom of speech is included in the Chinese constitution.
“The line between ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘endangering state security’ is very ambiguous,” Mr. Li said. “In the criminal law, the article concerning subversion of state power contains only 30 words. And neither lawmakers of the judicial branch have given any further explanation.”
The lawyer added that the defense team had tried during the trial to clarify what constituted free speech, and what did not. “Only in that way can we protect the freedom of speech from being restrained or disregarded in the name of state security,” Mr. Li said.
Whereas John Edwards ran a presidential campaign based around the concept of “Two Americas”, Mr. Hu appears to have been jailed, in part, for a blog posting pointing out the existance of “Two China’s”:
In another blog posting, Mr. Hu wrote about China’s political formulation known as “one country, two systems” under which Hong Kong is part of China yet is allowed a more democratic political system. Mr. Hu argued that all of China should be democratic.
Instead of jailing Mr. Hu for these observations, Chinese authorities probably should start listening to him, as it appears that the presence of “Two Tibets” is one of the underlying causes of the unrest there:
Critics say Zhang’s twin policies of massive government investment and intense political repression in both regions may have helped breed resentment among their native populations, many among whom feel left behind by economic growth and marginalized by the arrival of migrants from China’s majority Han ethnic group.
The reaction to this systemic inequality by Chinese authorities is now to close ranks and examine party officials for how “loyal” they are to the policies of the local government:
In an even more revealing statement, Zhang appeared to indicate at least some local officials had shown themselves as insufficiently loyal during the recent unrest.
“We absolutely will not condone violations of political and organizational discipline and will definitely find those responsible and meet out harsh punishment,” said Zhang, a protege of president and party chief Hu Jintao, who was the communist boss of Tibet during the last major protests there in 1989.
Formerly a top official in another ethnically troubled region, Xinjiang, Zhang has reportedly already overseen the firing of dozens of ethnically Tibetan officials seen as politically unreliable.
In his appeal to world leaders, the Dalai Lama points out that the systemic inequality experienced in Tibet is shared throughout the region:
I believe the recent demonstrations and protests are a manifestation of the deep-rooted resentment not only of the Tibetan people in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), but also in the outlying traditional Tibetan areas now incorporated into Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, where there exist substantial communities of ethnic Tibetans.
In his statement the Dalai Lama repeats his call for “an independent international body, to investigate the unrest and its underlying causes”.
This is why unfettered freedom of speech is so important for any society. Our comparatively young country has many problems, and is plagued by systemic injustice. From health care, to poverty, to civil rights, to economic inequality, to worker’s rights, and across a wide swath of our political landscape injustice festers, growing at times even in spite of the bright light that illuminates it.
But the more we can talk about these problems, the more we can organize and take action to try to fix these problems. That is why those of us on the progressive left continue our mantra that criticizing our government isn’t un-American, but instead the heart and soul of what being American is all about.
If we lose or dilute this right, we lose the core principle that allows our society to function.
Please keep all sides of the conflict in Tibet in your thoughts, prayers and meditations, as well as fellow blogger and activist Hu Jia and his young family.