Indiana Republicans to amend 'religious freedom' law in face of backlash
State legislators say law is not anti-gay and blame the reaction on a ‘mischaracterisation’. ‘What we had hoped for was a message of inclusion’
Amanda Holpuch in Indianapolis
Monday 30 March 2015 18.04 BST Last modified on Tuesday 31 March 2015 00.13 BST
Indiana’s Republican legislative leaders said on Monday they were working on adding language to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to make it clear that it does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.
The move comes amid widespread outcry over the measure that prohibits state laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.
Brian Bosma, the speaker of the Indiana house of representatives, and David Long, the state senate president pro tem, said in a press conference that similar laws existed across the country and had not generated the backlash that Indiana’s had seen.
Bosma blamed the reaction on a “mischaracterization” of the law by both opponents and some supporters.
“What we had hoped for with the bill was a message of inclusion, inclusion of all religious beliefs,” Bosma said. “What instead has come out as a message of exclusion, and that was not the intent.”
In the days since Governor Mike Pence signed the RFRA, reaction has been swift and fierce.
The law is meant to protect citizens’ religious freedoms, and supporters such as Bosma and Long point out that Indiana is the 20th state to adopt its own version of RFRA, which Bill Clinton signed into federal law in 1993 when he was president.
The next day, the social media campaign #BoycottIndiana took over Twitter, and on Saturday hundreds gathered at the statehouse in Indianapolis to rally against the bill.
By Monday night, protesters were gathering again, this time in front of the Indianapolis City-County building. Protesters recited the pledge of allegiance, shouting the “for all” at the end of the oath.
— Charlie De Mar (@CharlieDeMar) March 30, 2015
The pledge is recited. The last two words "for all" screamed by crowd pic.twitter.com/N7X4QQTCfu
Local businesses across the state capital have posted signs bearing the message that Indiana citizens, known as Hoosiers, will “not serve hate”.
The band Wilco canceled a performance in Indiana in protest to the law, and major Indiana-based businesses such as Angie’s List have put expansion plans on hold and other companies, like Salesforce.com, have stopped sending employees there for business.
“This is not just a gay issue, this is a Hoosier issue,” said city councilman Zach Adamson, the first openly gay elected councilman in Indianapolis. “We are, as a people, incensed about it.”
In October 2014, a surprise decision by the US supreme court made same-sex marriage legal in Indiana. Adamson, and many others, believe that the state’s RFRA was enacted in retaliation to this change.
“What was the impetus for creating this? What happened that all of a sudden you had to do this here?” said Adamson. “The answer is nothing – they lost the marriage battle and they are very upset.”
That “they” includes Pence, who has said he would support legislation to clarify the RFRA law, Senate Bill 101, but is adamant that it remains in place and that it is not state-sanctioned discrimination. He has also said that making LGBT citizens a protected class is “not on his agenda”.
Pence, long admired by billionaire conservative donors Koch Brothers, was seen as a dark horse Republican presidential candidate for the 2016 election, though this recent public relations disaster has in effect guaranteed he will not be on the ballot.
Indianapolis Mayor Puts RFRA on Ignore, Conventions Reassess Indiana
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Tuesday, March, 31st, 2015, 7:54 am
We have seen individuals, we have seen companies and we have seen cities, and now entire states, denounce Indiana’s embrace of religious tyranny.
And not only did Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard denounce the bill, but Monday, he called upon the Indiana General Assembly to either repeal it or add the necessary protections to it.
As a trump, he signed an executive order – a Declaration of Non-Discrimination – which IGNORES the RFRA:
1. The City hereby affirms its policy that no vendor, contractor, grant recipient, or anyone receiving public funds or benefits of any kind shall discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, ancestry, age, or United States military service veteran status, and any breach of this policy shall continue to be considered a mutual breach of the relationship with the city.
2. The City hereby requests the Indiana General Assembly and the Governor to expressly add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in state law.
3. The City hereby requests the Indiana General Assembly and the Governor to expressly exempt the City’s ordinances, resolutions, executive or administrative orders, regulations, customs, and usages from RFRA’s application.
So you may put your “No gays” sign up, but if you do, you give up doing business with the City of Indianapolis and its Republican mayor.
All these groups, individuals and cities are now joined by unions.
The American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which has 1.6 million members, is pulling its 2015 Women’s Conference out of Indianapolis in response to Indiana’s codifying of religious tyranny into law. In October, 900 women planned to meet in Indianapolis. They will meet somewhere else now, and take their money with them.
In a release published on their blog yesterday, AFSCME states:
This past week, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a bill that legalizes discrimination, allowing businesses to refuse service to customers simply because they are gay or lesbian. Further, since Governor Pence claims disingenuously that it is about religious freedom, his law protects any business owner who refuses to hire someone of a different religion from their own.
This un-American law sets Indiana and our nation back decades in the struggle for civil rights. It is an embarrassment and cannot be tolerated. As such, AFSCME will move our 2015 Women’s Conference in October from Indianapolis to another state. Additional details about the conference’s new location and any necessary date change will be announced as they become available.
The punches keep coming, low and hard, as Indiana Governor Mike Pence staggers from the repeated blows. The so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act looks more and more like a mistake. Pence admits it may need some “clarification” while it’s architects smile with glee as the law does precisely what it was intended to do: permit “No Gays” signs all over Indiana.
It cannot be tolerated. And AFSCME, if Governor Pence does not, gets this:
Throughout our proud history, our union has stood up whenever injustice has occurred – be it for striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968, or for the victims of apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. Governor Pence’s law, motivated by ultra-right-wing zealots, is an affront to the vast majority of those in our nation who believe that every American deserves equal treatment under the law, no matter whom they love or where they worship.
AFSCME is pulling our Women’s Conference out of Indiana this fall as a sign of our disgust and disappointment with Governor Pence’s discriminatory law. We stand with the ever-growing number of corporations and associations who are taking similar action this week, and demanding fairness for all in the state of Indiana.
Levi Strauss and The Gap yesterday joined the list of corporations denouncing the RFRA, saying in a statement,
As Indiana, Arkansas, and states around the country enact and consider legislation that perpetuates discrimination, we’re urging State Legislatures to stand up for equality by repealing and voting against these discriminatory laws.
These new laws and legislation, that allow people and businesses to deny service to people based on their sexual orientation, turn back the clock on equality and foster a culture of intolerance.
Discriminatory laws are unquestionably bad for business, but more importantly, they are fundamentally wrong. They must be stopped.
At Gap Inc. and Levi Strauss & Co., we are proud to say we are open to business for everyone.
It is difficult to imagine that the RFRA being revised or watered down. Its supporters don’t even want it “clarified” after all. But until Indiana does something to reverse the course they have taken, the hits will keep coming.
After all, no more are Levi Strauss and The Gap the only companies denouncing RFRA, AFSCME is not the only organization re-evaluating Indiana as a convention site.
There are literally dozens of others.
The question now is, have Indiana bigots done more to rock their own cause back on its heels than any liberal or progressive group could have ever imagined?
Indiana Lawmakers Admit “No Gays” Signs Will be Allowed
By: Adalia Woodbury
Monday, March, 30th, 2015, 6:16 pm
Americans, businesses and cities condemned Indiana’s RFRA ever since Governor Mike Pence signed it in to law. Pence tried to claim his critics didn’t understand the law, but that blew up in his face when, during a press conference, the House Speaker and the Senate Pro Tem admitted that No Gay signs would be allowed in Indiana.
On Sunday, Indiana Governor Mike Pence tried to stem the backlash against the RFRA a law its critics say legalizes discrimination. Pence’s attempt to spin his way out of a nationwide backlash was an epic fail. After doubling down in defense of the bill, Pence repeatedly dodged when asked if the bill allows discrimination against the LGBT community. He trotted out bizarre theories about internet conspiracies and claimed that critics just don’t understand the bill. And besides, it really is just a law that several other states adopted which is based on the Federal RFRA.
Pence was busted when Indiana’s Senate Pro Tem and the Speaker of the House held a joint news conference admitting that “No Gays allowed” signs would be permitted in areas within Indiana.
If only Pence or someone on his staff took a trip outside right wing world. He would have known the cat was out of the bag back in January. As reported by Think Progress at the time,
But while RFRAs advanced in previous years were designed to prohibit the government from burdening the religious beliefs of citizens, Indiana’s bill would allow individuals to use their religious beliefs to defend themselves in court even if the state is not party to the case. Thus, this would allow a business owner to use their religious beliefs to justify refusing services for a same-sex couple’s wedding. As a state law, this would supersede any municipal nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBT people.
During a joint press conference, Brian Bosma, Speaker of the House and the Senate’s Pro Tem David Long acknowledged that homophobic shop keepers will be allowed to display “No Gays allowed” signs.
Here’s the exchange between the lawmakers and a reporter, as reported by Raw Story.
“You guys have said repeatedly that we shouldn’t be able to discriminate against anyone, but if you just ignore the existence of this law, can’t we already do that now? Can’t so-and-so in Richmond put a sign up and say ‘No Gays Allowed?'” she asked. “That’s not against the law, correct?”
“It would depend,” Bosma replied. “If you were in a community that had a human rights ordinance that wouldn’t be the case.”
“But most of the state does not have that, correct?” the reporter pressed.
“That’s correct,” Bosma admitted.
Since Pence signed the law, the backlash was swift. #BoycottIndiana trended on Twitter for several days. Celebrities spoke out. Angie’s List was one of several businesses that registered their opposition to the law with their big corporate dollars. Then the cities of San Francisco and Seattle announced they would boycott the Hoosier state. Connecticut was the first state to announce it would boycott Indiana.
Contrary to Pence’s protests that critics just didn’t understand the law, it is now abundantly clear that Pence’s attempt at damage control was the epic fail of epic fails.
Pence and fellow Republicans are trying to walk back the damage with a “clarification” law, but it’s a little late now that the State’s House Speaker has encouraged homophobic shop owners to let Gays know their business is not wanted.
Just like those wonderful religious freedom days when signs like “No Blacks and Jews” or my personal favorite, “No Jews and dogs”, Indiana this was always about hiding behind religion to justify hatred of identifiable groups of people.
Meanwhile, governor, Asa Hutchison is contemplating if he wants to follow the disastrous path of Mike Pence.
Americans see through the ruse that these laws are really just a repeat of the Federal RFRA. For one thing, the Indiana version allows for-profit businesses to assert a right to “the free exercise of religion.” The Federal RFRA passed into law before the Roberts Court asserted that corporations have first civil rights, first in Citizens United and last year in Hobby Lobby ruling.
Editorial: Gov. Pence, fix 'religious freedom' law now
12:12 a.m. EDT March 31, 2015
We are at a critical moment in Indiana's history.
And much is at stake.
Our image. Our reputation as a state that embraces people of diverse backgrounds and makes them feel welcome. And our efforts over many years to retool our economy, to attract talented workers and thriving businesses, and to improve the quality of life for millions of Hoosiers.
All of this is at risk because of a new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that no matter its original intent already has done enormous harm to our state and potentially our economic future.
The consequences will only get worse if our state leaders delay in fixing the deep mess created.
Half steps will not be enough. Half steps will not undo the damage.
Only bold action — action that sends an unmistakable message to the world that our state will not tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens — will be enough to reverse the damage.
Gov. Mike Pence and the General Assembly need to enact a state law to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations on the basis of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Those protections and RFRA can co-exist. They do elsewhere.
Laws protecting sexual orientation and gender identity are not foreign to Indiana.
Indianapolis, for example, has had those legal protections in place for nearly a decade. Indy's law applies to businesses with more than six employees, and exempts religious organizations and non-profit groups.
The city's human rights ordinance provides strong legal protection — and peace of mind —for LGBT citizens; yet, it has not placed an undue burden on businesses.
Importantly, passage of a state human rights law would send a clear message that Indiana will not tolerate discrimination. It's crucial for that message to be communicated widely.
On a practical level, by basing the state law on a 10-year-old ordinance, the General Assembly could move quickly to adopt the measure without fear of unintended consequences. If lawmakers can't act in the next month, the governor should call a special session immediately after the regular session ends in April to take up human rights legislation.
Why not simply repeal RFRA? First, it appears to be politically unacceptable for the governor and many Republican lawmakers.
Second, there are Hoosiers who support RFRA out of a genuine desire to protect religious freedom. To safeguard that essential freedom, 19 states and the federal government have adopted RFRA laws, largely without controversy. But states like Illinois not only protect religious freedom through RFRA but also provide gay and lesbian residents with protected legal status.
Third, repeal might get rid of the heat but it would not do what is most important – to move the state forward.
We urge Gov. Pence and lawmakers to stop clinging to arguments about whether RFRA really does what critics fear; to stop clinging to ideology or personal preferences; to focus instead on fixing this.
Governor, Indiana is in a state of crisis. It is worse than you seem to understand.
You must act with courage and wisdom. You must lead us forward now. You must ensure that all Hoosiers have strong protections against discrimination.
The laws can co-exist. And so can we.
on: Mar 31, 2015, 07:18 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Discussion / Evolutionary Astrology Q&A / Re: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic
on: Mar 31, 2015, 07:05 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Antarctica may have just recorded its hottest temperatures ever
March 30, 2015
Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck
The coldest continent on Earth may have just set an all-time record for its hottest day ever, as an Argentinean-operated reportedly recorded temperatures of 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit (17.5 degrees Celsius) on March 24, according to various media outlets.
The temperature reported last Tuesday at Base Esperanza came one day after Base Marambia, a second Argentinean facility located roughly 60 miles (100 kilometers) southeast of Esperanza, reported a reading of 63.3 degrees Fahrenheit (17.4 degrees Celsius), Weather Underground said. Both figures surpass any previously record temperature at their respective locations.
Esperanza’s previous record high of 62.7 degrees Fahrenheit (17.1 degrees Celsius) was recorded back on April 24, 1961, while the previous record high at Marambia was 61.7 degrees Fahrenheit (16.5 degrees Celsium) was on December 7, 1992, the website added.
If the reports are investigated and verified by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), it would become the highest temperature on record for the entire continent of Antarctica, according to Mashable. The previous record high of 59 degree Fahrenheit (15 degree Celsius) was recorded at Vanda Station, a now-automated facility located near 77 degrees south latitude, in 1974.
“Despite the fact that the temperature record from Vanda appears on the list of world weather extremes maintained by the WMO, the WMO has not yet investigated all-time weather records for Antarctica,” Weather Underground said.
“One surprising aspect of the temperatures measured recently at Esperanza and Marambio are that they occurred in autumn, nearly three months past the usual warmest time of the year in the Antarctic Peninsula,” the website added. December is typically the warmest month in Esperanza.
The average high temperatures in March there are typically just 31.3 degrees Fahrenheit (-0.4 degrees Celsius), meaning that the records were over 30 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius) above average.
We’ll have to wait for verification
To verify the records, the WMO will need to make sure that the equipment was functioning properly when the temperatures were recorded. That process could take several months, but it could be complicated by the very definition of what Antarctica really is.
If the WMO opts to use only observations south of the Antarctic Circle for temperature records in the region, it would exclude the Esperanza reading, even though it is connected to areas that are south of the circle. If they used the landmass of Antarctica, though, the temperatures recorded at Esperanza would likely stand up as the warmest ever recorded, Mashable said.
Weather Underground said that the records “were made possible by an unusually extreme jet stream contortion that brought a strong ridge of high pressure over the Antarctic Peninsula, allowing warm air from South America to push southwards over Antarctica. At the surface, west to east blowing winds over the Antarctic Peninsula rose up over the 1,000-foot high mountains just to the west of Esperanza Base, then descended and warmed via adiabatic compression.”
Thus far, five countries and territories have tied or hit all-time high temperature records so far this year, according to CNBC. The website also states that the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming places on Earth.
on: Mar 31, 2015, 07:03 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Bizarre bulge discovered on Ganymede
March 30, 2015
Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck
A bizarre bulge approximately half as tall as Mount Kilimanjaro has been found on Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, and the unusual feature may have something to do with the subsurface ocean recently discovered on the Jovian satellite, according to reports.
The bulge is approximately 375 miles wide and nearly two miles tall, io9 said on Friday, and its cause and purpose currently have astronomers puzzled. Paul Schenk, a planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, said he came across the feature by accident.
Woah, Ganymede. Do you have a thick crust or are you just happy to see us?
Schenk, who reported his findings at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on March 20, explained to National Geographic that he was attempting to complete the global mapping of the moon’s surface when he spotted the lump, which appears to be made out of thick ice.
The feature suggests that at one time, Ganymede’s icy shell rotated atop the rest of the moon. Schenk believes that the bulge began growing at one of the poles, and then moved into a different position once its mass grew large enough. The shell slid atop the ocean, while the interior of the moon stayed in the same orientation, causing it to wind up at the equator.
“The only place you can get a large mass like that – that’s not related to geology that we know of – is at the cold poles,” he explained. Since the poles are “permanently cold,” it would result in a “significant amount of thickening of the ice shell,” the planetary scientist added.
The phenomenon is known as true polar wander and is comparable to the Earth’s Arctic region moving to the Equator while everything beneath the crust stayed in place, Nat Geo said. It can only occur when a fluid body such as a global ocean separates the rind of a moon from its inner parts, or else the crust would be unable to slide atop the rest of the moon.
If the bulge formed at one of Ganymede’s poles, and if polar wander explains why it is currently located at the moon’s equator, scientists expect that there will be a similar feature opposite this one. Schenk said that they hope to confirm that when the next spacecraft arrives at the moon, but he and his colleagues remain uncertain exactly why the bulge still exists at all.
Okay…but what is it?
“Any ideas about how you support a three-kilometer-high [two-mile] ice bulge, hundreds of kilometers wide, over the long term on Ganymede are welcome,” Bill McKinnon of Washington University in St. Louis, who worked with Schenk on the observations, told Nat Geo. “We’ve never seen anything like it before; we don’t know what it is.”
Schenk and McKinnon first spotted the bulge in images taken by the Galileo spacecraft while searching for a different type of feature – “crop circles,” or deep, concentric grooves in icy shells that are created by the strain of the shell rotating. Crop circles found on Europa suggests that that moon also experienced true polar wander occurred there, and that just like on Ganymede, the poles of the moon are approximately 90 degrees offset from their original location.
Both Jovian moons have subsurface global oceans, which Nat Geo explains is a prerequisite for a wandering icy shell. If Ganymede’s crust actually did move, Robert Pappalardo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that it could help explain what has controlled the orientations of all of the moon’s grooves.
“If they all shifted and flipped over by 90 degrees, then we’ve been looking at the wrong orientation to try to understand what formed the grooves. So that’s exciting,” he said. The discovery comes just a few weeks after researchers confirmed the presence of buried ocean on Ganymede by studying auroras on the moon.
on: Mar 31, 2015, 07:01 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Mexican police officer accused of gunning down crocodile — a protected species
A YouTube video clip shows a blue-uniformed man standing beside a water-treatment pond, waiting for the crocodile to appear
AP in Mexico City
Monday 30 March 2015 23.32 BST
A Mexican policemen is under investigation for killing a crocodile with extended bursts of automatic fire from an assault rifle in the northern state of Sinaloa.
The officer has been placed on leave while he faces investigation in the case. The office of the attorney general for environmental protection said over the weekend that the municipal policeman faces federal charges, because crocodiles are a protected species in Mexico.
The criminal complaint is based on a video clip posted on YouTube. It shows a blue-uniformed man standing beside a water-treatment pond, waiting for the crocodile to appear.
Once the crocodile has been baited in, the policeman opens up with automatic weapons fire, riddling the croc with multiple bursts of bullets. People in civil defense T-shirts appear to cheer the killing.
The incident occurred in the city of Ahome, Sinaloa, near the coast of the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortes.
The Ahome city government said in a press statement over the weekend that the civil defense official, Sergio Liera, has been placed on leave. Apparently, the presence of the crocodile in a water-treatment retaining pond was viewed as a danger.
“I do not fail to recognize the potential risk the animal represented, and so the decision (to kill it) should be analyzed in view of the danger, and the need to protect the public,” Ahome Mayor Arturo Duarte Garcia said.
But Duarte Garcia acknowledged that “the excess of violence in this case in regrettable.”
Click to watch: caution..extreme violence............ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gn3NxtktPVY#t=136
on: Mar 31, 2015, 06:57 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Justice still being sought for murders of Peruvian forest campaigners
Six months on, the killing of four indigenous campaigners has yet to result in an end to illegal logging around the vilage of Alto Tamaya-Saweto
“I had hoped to see his body, but I haven’t been able to yet. I haven’t even been able to see his bones. Everything was destroyed by animals.”
That’s Diana Rios Rengifo speaking about her father, Jorge Rios Perez, an Ashéninka man from the Peruvian Amazon who was assassinated last September after years opposing loggers in what the Ashéninkas consider to be their territories.
Rios Perez was killed, along with three other men from his village, Alto Tamaya-Saweto, following several threats. Loggers – possibly connected to drug-trafficking – are believed to be responsible and two men, Adencio Mapes and his son, are in prison while investigations take place.
According to the village’s lawyer, Margoth Quispe, two bodies have been identified and buried, and a third is in a morgue undergoing DNA tests.
“They’ve found Edwin [Chota Valera] and Leoncio [Quinticima Melendez],” says Rios Rengifo. “That leaves my father and Francisco [Pinedo].”
“It’s not clear who [the third body] is, but it’s presumed to be Jorge Rios,” says Quispe. “If it isn’t, it has to be Francisco.”
Since the assassinations, Rios Rengifo – like her mother, Ergilia Rengifo López, and the three other widows – have been too afraid to live in Saweto and have based themselves days downriver in the nearest big town, Pucallpa.
“The same thing that happened to my father could happen to us,” Rios Rengifo said. “We want to go back if it’s safe, but not if there’s no security. We’re scared to live there.”
“Family members of the two men detained continue threatening us and keep logging,” says Rengifo López.
Quinticima’s widow, Lita Rojas, is living in Pucallpa with Rengifo López under 24-hour police protection. She told the Guardian she would be scared to return to Saweto and hopes to move to an Ashéninka village along a different river.
“My children have been abandoned,” she says. “Who’s going to help me now? My young boy can’t work.”
Elsewhere in Pucallpa is Pinedo’s widow, Adelina Vargas Santillán, and her children and grand-children. They said they never want to return to Saweto.
“That was where my father died,” says Lina Ruiz Santillán. “Why would I go? My mother doesn’t want to go either. If my father was still alive, she would be there.”
Upriver in Saweto itself – which the Guardian visited with Rios Rengifo, Rainforest Foundation US, Global Witness and Alexander Soros, son of the businessman and investor George Soros – little has changed since September. Numerous Ashéninkas say that loggers, based in a settlement called Putaya just a few minutes boat ride away, continue to operate in their territories and threaten them.
“Why do they come to this side [of the river]?” asks Karen Shawiri López. “They know very well this is our side. They say it’s to work to feed their children, but they can do that on the other side. Don’t we have children to feed too? Of course we do!”
Fear in the village is palpable. Some people, says Jaime González García, are now afraid to fish in certain areas or walk alone in the forest. According to Quispe, the village lawyer, in December Rios Rengifo’s husband was beaten in Putaya by two men from the same family as those in prison and was told: “We’re going to kill you.”
The Ashéninkas are particularly critical of the government’s response to the assassinations. Two logging concessions overlapping Saweto’s territories were annulled in October, but they say the loggers were not operating there anyway. And while two men are in prison, the “intellectual authors” remain free.
Criticism of the police is also severe. Policemen arrived in the area following the assassinations, but they established a base immediately adjacent to Putaya and the Ashéninkas say that, instead of denouncing or stopping the logging, they are ignoring it and fraternising with the loggers. According to Quispe, when Rios Rengifo’s husband attempted to report being beaten and threatened, he was told to go to police in Pucallpa.
“The loggers pay more than the police,” she says. “They’ve bought them off. It’d have been better not to send them at all.”
Saweto has been trying to obtain legal title to its territories for more than 10 years, but despite important progress since the assassinations the process remains ongoing.
Other demands made by Saweto include that the loggers stop operating in their territories, that the area is properly protected and that justice is done for the assassinations.
Last week, the regional governor, Manuel Gambini Rupay, told Rengifo López, Rios Rengifo, Soros, Rainforest Foundation US and Global Witness that he intends to stop all illegal logging, but that he is restricted in what he can do. There is a serious lack of funds, he said, and the police adjacent to Putaya were sent there by the central government.
“We have good ideas and we know the forest,” Gambini Rupay said. “But we don’t have the budget.”
Global Witness’s Chris Moye describes Saweto as emblematic of the broader problem of illegal logging and the wider struggles facing indigenous communities in Peru and other countries.
“There’s a contradiction between the public face [of Peru’s efforts to combat deforestation] and the reality on the ground,” he says.
on: Mar 31, 2015, 06:55 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Peru Sacks PM over Alleged Domestic Spying
by Naharnet Newsdesk 31 March 2015, 08:54
Peru's Congress sacked the prime minister, Ana Jara, Monday night over alleged spying against lawmakers, reporters, business leaders and everyday citizens.
Supreme executive power in Peru is held by the president, in this case Ollanta Humala. It is the biggest crisis in his four years in power.
This is the first time the congress of Peru has deposed a prime minister since 1968. With a year left of his term, Humala must now name a prime minister for the seventh time.
The censure vote against Jara was 72 to 42, with two abstentions.
On March 19, the magazine Correo Semanal published a list of Peruvians who had allegedly been investigated by the National Intelligence Directorate, or DINI.
These people included politicians and their families, journalists, business people and thousands of everyday citizens.
After the news broke, Jara, who in July completed her first year in the post, was summoned to Congress.
She said she had asked for an investigation and said the data search against the investigated people went back at least two previous governments.
The practice went back to 2005 "and nothing was done. Now, someone who wants to do something (investigate), is censured," said ruling party lawmaker Victor Isla.
In early February the government ordered the intelligence service called the DINI to close temporarily. It is accused of spying on both government officials and opposition figures.
"Although she did not give instructions for this to happen, it is clear that in politics someone has to take responsibility," opposition lawmaker Javier Bedoya said during debate prior to the vote that ousted the prime minister.
Source: Agence France Presse
on: Mar 31, 2015, 06:53 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Palestinian Discontent With Abbas Is Growing
By DIAA HADID
MARCH 30, 2015
AL AMARI REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank — Residents of this cinder-block ghetto, a few miles from the headquarters of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, recently removed his portrait from the camp’s entrance.
Then they sought to embarrass Mr. Abbas by roundly rejecting his son’s bid to lead a local sports club. And in case the message was not clear enough, after the vote, men paraded through the streets chanting, “Tell your father that Amari camp doesn’t like you!”
Much attention has focused recently on the Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s apparent disavowal of a two-state solution and his shattered relationship with the Obama administration.
But of perhaps equal importance is a growing discontent in Palestinian ranks, much of it focused on Mr. Abbas. While the United States and Europe seem ever more ready to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, some Palestinians are questioning whether their leader, who celebrated his 80th birthday last week, will be able to seize the opportunity.
“The prerequisites for independence — some of them are related to Israel — you need Israel to accept the need to give up its control over the Palestinian occupied territories,” said Ghassan Khatib, vice president of Birzeit University, near Ramallah, in the West Bank.
Before that, however, the Palestinians have to resolve their own problems, beginning with the split between the Palestinian Authority, led by Mr. Abbas’s Fatah faction, and Hamas in Gaza, Mr. Khatib said.
“You need Palestinians to be unified and have a system that will allow them to become a Palestinian state,” he continued. “So internal problems — like the split, and like the paralyzed political system, and a lack of elections — they are impediments also, for achieving the objective of independence and statehood.”
Palestinians note that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank have expanded. East Jerusalem, which they hope to be the capital of a future state, is beyond their reach, and they are beholden to Israel for their prosperity. Years of negotiations with Israel for statehood have gone nowhere.
Now, Palestinians are deep in an economic crisis because Israel withheld tax revenues for nearly three months, as a punishment for Palestinians’ seeking to join the International Criminal Court (they will assume full membership in April). Israel announced Friday that it would release the withheld funds, apparently in an effort to appease the Obama administration after weeks of tensions, though it will continue to hold back tax revenue.
“There’s no change, but the settlements get bigger and people are tired — if they had a chance to change, they would,” said Hassan, 27, at a two-chair falafel stall amid the crowded homes of the Amari refugee camp.
“People are being buried in starvation and unemployment,” said Hassan, who requested that his family name not be used because he feared harassment by security services. He supports his seven brothers and sisters on $12 a day earned as a day laborer.
To an increasing number of Palestinians, Mr. Abbas is inextricably enmeshed with their broader problems. A colorless leader in the 10th year of what was meant to have been a five-year term — the Palestinian leadership has not held a presidential election since 2005 — he has failed to cultivate a successor and has systematically snuffed out any challenges to his rule. He has also not capitalized on a reconciliation pact signed nearly a year ago with Hamas, or taken charge of reconstructing the Gaza Strip after last summer’s devastating war with Israel.
“The criticism against Abbas is increasing day by day because Palestinian people ask themselves, What did Mahmoud Abbas achieve until now?” said a 59-year-old retired teacher in the Amari camp, who would only give the nickname Abu Mohammed, because he feared harassment by security forces.
But the problems go beyond Mr. Abbas’s widely panned leadership, most significantly to the crushing division between Fatah, which has control of the Palestinian Authority and governs Palestinian communities in the West Bank, and Hamas, the militant Islamic group, which rules over Gaza.
Mr. Abbas is widely resented in Gaza, a territory he has not visited since Hamas drove out Fatah in 2007, in a bloody civil war that followed a failed unity government after Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.
With deep resentments on both sides, they have been unable to negotiate a deal that would allow Mr. Abbas to take control of Gaza’s border crossings, which would ease a blockade by Egypt and Israel. Most frustrating for many Palestinians is that there is international support for such a move, making it appear, more than ever, that their leaders care little for their welfare.
Opening the borders, even partially, would help rebuild Gaza after Israel’s last crushing war against Hamas killed hundreds of civilians, smashed neighborhoods and left its 1.7 million residents in growing despair, without regular power or clean water.
Instead, Mr. Abbas sent his prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, to Gaza last week, although little was expected of his meetings with Hamas officials.
Neither Hamas nor Mr. Abbas show interest in elections, paralyzing the Palestinian parliamentary and legislative system. The government that sprang from the reconciliation pact they signed last April has achieved little.
Mr. Abbas refuses to pay Hamas-appointed government workers in Gaza, fostering resentment. Hamas officials are resisting handing over military control to Mr. Abbas’s forces.
Yet Mr. Abbas is also somewhat hamstrung. Reconciling with Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, could lead to crushing international isolation in an economy dependent on foreign aid.
European diplomats have offered a solution in which Mr. Abbas would have the leading hand in a unity government. But a direct role for Hamas, which the United States deems a terrorist organization, would risk the $400 million Washington provides the Palestinian Authority annually.
On the eve of the recent Israeli election, the prime minister said that no Palestinian state would be created on his watch. Two days later, he began to backtrack.
In the West Bank, Mr. Abbas was once praised for establishing security, cracking down on gunmen who terrorized Palestinian communities devastated by years of violence and Israeli closures. He also crushed Hamas in the West Bank, helped by coordinating security with Israel.
Palestinians say that Mr. Abbas has little else to show for his efforts, and that he is trying to ensure that no other leaders can emerge in his stead.
In particular, he is trying to crush the ambitions of his one-time ally, Muhammad Dahlan. The wealthy Gaza strongman, once a feared security chief, commands loyalty in Gaza, and appears to be building a following in the West Bank.
Over the past two years, Mr. Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has put Mr. Dahlan on trial in absentia for corruption. He was sentenced to two years in jail for defamation — effectively barring him from running in elections — and he was expelled from the ruling body in Fatah, the political party that Mr. Abbas heads.
Mr. Abbas has also moved against Salam Fayyad, a former prime minister: In August, Mr. Abbas’s security forces questioned employees of an organization led by Mr. Fayyad, in what was widely seen as an attempt to intimidate him.
A small incident in Amari on March 20, which lies just miles from Ramallah, the gleaming political center of the West Bank, underscored the gathering fury against Mr. Abbas and the system he heads.
The president’s son, Tareq, ran for the leadership of the Amari Youth Center — a ramshackle set of buildings hosting a cinema, a table-tennis room, a basketball court-cum-parking lot and lodging for the camp’s soccer team. But with growing resentment against his father, Tareq Abbas lost to a popular camp leader, Jihad Tumaileh.
After Mr. Tumaileh’s victory, men chanted in the streets and women ululated from balconies. “It was a defeat for Mahmoud Abbas,” Abu Mohammed, the former teacher, said.
While many Palestinians acknowledge their system is broken, they worry that it is being used as an excuse by Israel and other countries to allow their statehood hopes to wither.
“It is always demanded of Palestinians to give a guarantee so they can have a state,” said Sabri Saydam, a former adviser to Mr. Abbas. “No matter what we do, there will always be pretexts.”
on: Mar 31, 2015, 06:51 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
An Anxious Wait in Syrian City Held by Insurgents
By ANNE BARNARD
MARCH 30, 2015
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Residents of the northern Syrian provincial capital of Idlib are waiting anxiously to learn who will govern them, and how, after Islamist insurgent groups hoisted their flags over the city last weekend.
The victorious factions, including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, are consolidating control in and around the city after routing government forces, and their shifting coalition of Sunni Islamists — opposed to both the Islamic State group and the Syrian government — is cementing its sphere of influence in northwestern Syria.
The takeover of Idlib, along with a notable victory in southern Syria last week by a different set of insurgents, demonstrates that government troops and Islamic State militants are not the only powerful forces on the ground, and that after four years of an increasingly complex war, the map of control in Syria is far from settled.
The long-planned Idlib offensive showed a new degree of coordination among insurgent groups in an area long plagued by infighting, with an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 fighters attacking government checkpoints from several directions.
Analysts said that Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, American allies long frustrated with what they see as insufficient American support for insurgents fighting President Bashar al-Assad, have recently sent more arms and cash to groups they favor. Syrian officials have accused Turkey of backing the Idlib assault.
But at the same time, Idlib represents a failure of sorts for such American-allied governments, who had sought to persuade some Islamist insurgent groups to distance themselves from Nusra, the Qaeda affiliate, in the hope they would become more palatable to Western governments.
“That didn’t happen,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East-based analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who has pushed for more Western aid to relatively-moderate insurgent groups. Instead, the Idlib battle showed increased “strategic cooperation” between other Islamist groups and Nusra.
In recent months, Mr. Hokayem said, after Nusra routed two American-backed groups, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and Harakat Hazm, from Idlib Province, the insurgent coalition has become more coherent, now ranging from what he dubs “Islamists lite” to ultraconservative Salafists to extreme radicals.
While “it’s not going to please Washington,” he said, that shift left the fighters “more in sync.”
The new insurgent coalition formed to take Idlib calls itself Jaish al-Fatah, the Army of Conquest. Two of its most powerful components are Ahrar al-Sham, a hard-line Islamist group that has declared it will turn over administration of the city to civilian councils, and Nusra, which has issued no such pledge.
Idlib’s future is uncertain: the city could face daily bombardment by government forces, like insurgent-held sections of nearby Aleppo, or come under the harsh religious rule that Nusra’s rival, the Islamic State, has imposed further east in Raqqa, the only other provincial capital to slip from the government’s hands.
Still, Ibrahim Hamidi, an Idlib native, government opponent and political analyst for the Saudi-owned pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat, said some friends and relatives, newly able to return home without fear of security forces, “feel liberated.”
But he said he fears “repeating Raqqa,” where a Nusra-led victory was first welcomed by many government opponents, but soured as the Islamic State took over.
“What is important is to win the war, not just to win battles,” he said.
The Idlib battle could be a blow to morale for government forces, at a time when President Assad has been in what Mr. Hokayem called “victory mode.” Mr. Assad has embarked on a new round of media interviews, saying that he remains Syria’s legitimate ruler and that he is waiting for serious diplomatic overtures from American officials. Government media outlets have played down the battle for Idlib, sticking to regular programming like cooking shows and bodybuilding displays, while members of the military, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that forces are being gathered for an attempt to take back the city.
But if extremist insurgents try to rule Idlib, it could also be a blow to the opposition, which would lose a rare chance to show it could provide a viable alternative to both Mr. Assad and the Islamic State. The increasingly marginalized Syrian exile opposition coalition embraced what it called the city’s liberation, and urged local councils and departments of health and education to take charge.
But the exile coalition’s nominal interim government in Gaziantep, Turkey, has few opportunities to assert itself in Idlib, said Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American public relations consultant for Syrian opposition groups.
“I don’t think we’re going to see them riding down from Gaziantep to take over the mayor’s office anytime soon,” he said.
Tensions are already evident in Idlib over the treatment of Christians, a bellwether issue. Two activists, who asked not to be identified out of fear for their safety, said that foreign fighters from Nusra had killed two Christians after hearing they worked in a liquor store.
They said that fighters from Ahrar al-Sham had rebuked the foreigners and set up checkpoints to protect Christians from them.
Abdullah Mohamad Al-Muhaisini, a Saudi Islamic law jurist traveling with the fighters, used Twitter to construct a complex argument against killing Christians who do not resist.
Christians appeared to be suffering from both sides, as rescuers said government airstrikes hit Christians’ homes. In video of shaken, crying residents in smoking, damaged homes, a non-veiled woman yelled, “bastard tyrant!”
Zaina Erhaim, a journalist from Idlib, returned after the government forces withdrew, but said she did not yet feel free.
“Men — Syrians & foreigners — are roaming around freely, taking pics in Idlib & I, who was born & lived all my life there, couldnt coz am a woman,” she said on Twitter, as videos from Idlib showed jubilant men, and few women.
Asked to elaborate, she added that she was “too saddened.”
Mr. Hamidi, the journalist from Idlib, said that Nusra fighters disagree on governance. Foreign fighters, he said, believe that declaring an emirate and imposing religious rules would stem losses of recruits to Islamic State, while Syrians remain focused on fighting Mr. Assad.
The best-case scenario, Mr. Hokayem said, might be an “Islamist lite” civilian rule that the Gulf states and Turkey might try to foster.
“Do they know how to do it?” he asked. “Probably not.”
on: Mar 31, 2015, 06:47 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Nigerian opposition candidate leads in election as governing party cries foul
Ex-dictator Muhammadu Buhari is more than 2m votes ahead but some in ruling PDP raise doubts over whether party would accept defeat
David Smith in Lagos and Monica Mark in Abuja
Tuesday 31 March 2015 11.10 BST Last modified on Tuesday 31 March 2015 13.44 BST
The second day of vote counting in Nigeria’s tight election got off to a dramatic start on Tuesday when a member of the governing party disrupted proceedings to accuse the electoral chief of bias.
Half the 36 states in Nigeria have so far declared returns in the contest between President Goodluck Jonathan and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, with the challenger leading in an election followed closely in Africa and around the world.
Tensions have mounted as both voting and the collation of results had to be extended by a day each.
Godsday Orubebe, a former minister and a member of the ruling People’s Democratic party (PDP), currently trailing by almost two million votes, seized the microphone at the count and launched into an attack on the electoral chief.
“Mr chairman, we have lost confidence in you and what you’re doing. You’re not impartial, you’re compromised,” he said as Attahiru Jega, the electoral chief, apologised for the delay in announcing results.
Orubebe later walked to the podium where an impassive Jega looked on and continued screaming for 10 minutes, waving a sheet of results as a crowd gathered around him. He also accused him of prioritising the announcement of northern states, which are Buhari strongholds.
Orubebe was a former minister of Rivers state, a key battleground in the volatile Niger delta, which produces much of the country’s oil. Official results have not been announced but the state returned a 95% victory for Jonathan prompting the opposition to call for a recount.
“Let us not disrupt a process which has ended peacefully and which we will conclude in a few hours,” Jega said.
Buhari, a 72-year-old former army general, has campaigned as a born-again democrat intent on cleaning up the corrupt politics of the continent’s biggest economy and most populous nation.
Nigeria faces an acid test, whatever the result of this election.
He built an early lead on Monday in northern states dominated by the mainly Muslim Hausa-Fulani ethnic group, of which he is a member. Voter turnout was consistently higher in his strongholds than in Jonathan’s and he won by bigger margins than he achieved at the last election in 2011.
In Kano, the state containing Nigeria’s second biggest city, Buhari defeated Jonathan by nearly 1.7 million votes, compared with about one million last time around. In Kaduna, where the two were virtually tied in 2011, Buhari won by 650,000 votes.
So far, Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) have won 10 states, with Jonathan taking eight plus the territory containing the capital, Abuja. Buhari stands on 8.5 million votes compared with Jonathan’s 6.48 million.
New African magazine said the results from 18 states so far, and its projections from the 18 remaining, suggest that Buhari has taken “a near unassailable lead” over Jonathan. “Turnout in strongly PDP Imo, in the south-east, halved from 84% in 2011 to 42% this year, while turnout in Abia, also in the south-east, was a mere 30% – 48 points shy of 2011’s total,” it added.
Even if Jonathan manages to replicate the vast scale, in absolute terms, of his 2011 victory in five of the six south-south states yet to declare results, he is unlikely to overcome Buhari’s lead in other parts of the country, according to New African projections.
The president, facing the prospect of becoming the first Nigerian incumbent to lose an election, will be hoping to claw back ground in his home region, the southern, oil-producing Niger Delta. Results from the commercial capital, Lagos, are also still to come.
The winning presidential candidate needs not only the most votes, but at least 25% support in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and Abuja to avoid a runoff.
The PDP, which has dominated the west African nation’s politics since the end of military rule in 1999, said the early returns were no cause for concern. “The [PDP] is unperturbed by the results of the elections so far,” spokesman Olisa Metuh said. “The results from [PDP] strongholds will overwhelm those from the [north] and give it a clean and clear victory at the end of the day.”
But other voices in the party alleged irregularities and raised doubts over whether it would accept defeat. Wale Oladipo, the PDP national secretary, said its agents on the ground found evidence of “massive underage voting” as well as violence and intimidation. “I expect INEC [the electoral commission] to address this issue before rushing to announce the vote,” he told Channels television.
Femi Fani-Kayode, spokesman for the PDP presidential campaign, has warned of the result: “If it does not reflect the will of the Nigerian people, we shall resist it with everything that is available to us. That you can rest assured of.”
On Monday, the US and Britain warned against any interference with the count. “So far, we have seen no evidence of systemic manipulation of the process,” the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and his British counterpart, Philip Hammond, said in a joint statement. “But there are disturbing indications that the collation process – where the votes are finally counted – may be subject to deliberate political interference.”
Results from the rest of the country were expected from 10am local time on Tuesday but were running late. The logistics of transporting results from around the country to the national nerve centre Abuja have slowed the process. Prof Akin Oyebode, an academic, noted that Nigeria lacks high-speed trains while flights are often delayed. “We have to remember we are a third-world country, not a first-world country,” he told Channels.
Buhari, who ruled a military government in the mid-1980s, is making his fourth run at the presidency since 1999. His chances have been boosted by frustration over endemic corruption, criticism over Jonathan’s handling of Boko Haram’s six-year Islamist uprising and a well-organised opposition.
International observers gave broadly positive reactions to the conduct of the vote, despite late delivery of election materials and technical glitches with new voter ID card readers in some areas. Nigeria’s Transition Monitoring Group, which had observers across the country, said: “These issues did not systematically disadvantage any candidate or party.”
But fears persisit that the election, thought to be the most expensive in African history, will be polarising and that the losing side will not accept the outcome. After Buhari lost to Jonathan in 2011, 800 people died and 65,000 were forced from their homes by riots in the north.
on: Mar 31, 2015, 06:42 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
First China Air Force Drills in 'Far Offshore' Pacific
by Naharnet Newsdesk 31 March 2015, 07:48
China's air force has carried out its first ever military drill over the western Pacific Ocean, state media said, highlighting Beijing's growing military reach.
Several aircraft from China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) on Monday flew over the ocean via the Bashi Channel, which runs between Taiwan and the Philippines, the official Xinhua news agency said.
"This is the first time that the PLA Air Force conducted such drills in an airspace far offshore from Chinese coastlines," Xinhua cited army spokesman Shen Jinke as saying.
The drill aimed to "level up the PLA Air Force's mobility and combativeness" over the "high seas", Xinhua reported.
Territorial tensions have increased in recent years between Beijing and its neighbors around the South China Sea -- which it claims almost in its entirety.
Beijing has also been building up its military reach in recent years, with its first aircraft carrier going into service in 2012.
China announced an 'Air Defense Identification Zone' (ADIZ) over the East China Sea in 2013, sparking condemnation from Japan and the United States.
Japanese media have reported that China is considering a similar zone over the South China Sea, which would be likely to further fan tensions in the region.
China has increased its military budget by double digit amounts for several decades, but says the spending is purely defensive and not aimed at other countries.
Several southeast Asian nations as well as Japan have boosted their defense budgets and ties with the U.S., in moves widely seen as reflecting fears about China.
The Bashi channel is a waterway between the Philippines' northernmost province of Batanes and Taiwan's Orchid island. Its ownership is disputed.
"The drill is not targeted at any certain country or targets and carries no threat against other countries and regions," Xinhua cited Shen as saying.
Source: Agence France Presse
NGOs in China fear clampdown as Xi Jinping plans new security controls
Proposed new law could lead to harassment and arrest of local workers, restrictions or expulsion for foreigners, and funding difficulties
Simon Denyer for the Washington Post
Monday 30 March 2015 23.00 BST
China’s state security apparatus has turned its sights on foreign NGOs and their domestic partners, which are bracing for a crackdown.
A new law emanating from President Xi Jinping’s national security commission that would regulate overseas NGOs has raised alarm among people working in China to fight discrimination, improve health and education, or stick up for workers’ rights.
Viewed under the draft law less as partners of the government and more as a security risk, local advocates fear harassment and arrest; foreigners fear anything from restrictions on their activities to expulsion. A copy of the draft, which has not been released for public comment, was obtained by the Washington Post.
China’s crackdown on civil society is driven partly by Xi’s obsession with control but also by fear that foreigners are secretly plotting to overthrow China’s one-party state. It is also partly inspired by similar moves in Russia under President Vladimir Putin.
“Chinese leaders argue that the ultimate goal of western governments is to use their NGOs to orchestrate the collapse of the Chinese Communist party,” said Julia Famularo, a research affiliate at the Project 2049 Institute, an Arlington, Virginia-based thinktank. “Leaders in Beijing and Moscow will do whatever it takes to prevent potential colour revolutions from undermining social stability and threatening regime longevity.”
The new law was presented to the standing committee of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), in December. It aims, said NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying, to protect the “legitimate interests” of foreign NGOs while safeguarding China’s “national security and social stability”.
Although the draft law could be revised, and there is uncertainty about how strictly it will be enforced, the copy obtained by the Post shows that security considerations are paramount.
Overseas NGOs will be placed under the supervision of the public security bureau, rather than the ministry of civil affairs, which traditionally deals with them. In order to register, they would need to find a government agency to sponsor them, a requirement that could prove extremely tough for some.
They are warned not to do anything that endangers national security or goes against “China’s social morality” and will have to submit an annual “activity plan” and budget to the authorities for approval.
The target may be groups that could destabilise the regime, but the practical effect would be to empower security officials to harass or arrest activists more than they do, experts say.
“The situation is getting worse since Xi Jinping took supreme power,” said Lu Jun, co-founder of the Beijing Yirenping Centre, a group that fights discrimination on a range of issues and depends partly on foreign funding. “This new law is extraordinary; it is very bad. It is not only a crackdown on international NGOs but also a crackdown on domestic NGOs that have international cooperation.”
Maya Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, said the law, if adopted in its current form, would deal “a very severe blow” to foreign and domestic NGOs working in China.
police officer blocks advocacy group's lawyer.
It comes at a time when the government has been dealing more harshly with advocacy groups. Last month, five of China’s leading feminists were detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and creating a disturbance” for planning a peaceful protest against sexual harassment on public transport to mark International Women’s Day.
Last year, members of the grassroots New Citizens Movement were given lengthy jail terms for suggesting that government officials declare their assets; a network of mobile rural libraries was shut down; and several members of the Transition Institute of Social and Economic Research in Beijing, a group that looked into exploitation of vulnerable groups, disappeared into detention.
Two foreigners working for foreign NGOs have recently been expelled for visa violations, and many others report intrusive questioning and investigation.
Yirenping’s Lu said domestic NGOs struggle to raise money in China because of restrictive regulations, harassment of their donors, or social stigma around issues such as LGBT rights or HIV/Aids. Foreign funding can be critical but will now attract even more unwelcome attention.
Lu said his group has regularly cooperated with government ministries in charge of public health, education and human resources, and had recorded significant progress.
And a proposed law on domestic violence draws on the work of women’s rights groups, while new environmental legislation allows NGOs working in that field to take polluters to court.
“I have found that they have even adopted whole paragraphs of our proposals into their own documents,” Lu said. “They need our research, and they need our work.”
But Lu said his group has a much less happy experience with local officials, especially corrupt ones. He fears the new law will give them increased powers to harass groups like his.
“The law has left me feeling very uncomfortable,” said a local employee of a foreign NGO working in the health sector, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “The government sees us as a threat to national security. For the Chinese government, we are anti-human and antisocial, and that’s why they assigned the police to supervise us.”
While foreign groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and Save the Children have registered, others worry that government agencies will be reluctant to sponsor them.
“I don’t think a government agency will take the risk,” said a foreign employee of one organisation, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of inviting unwelcome attention. “And for the public security bureau, we don’t have any value.”
In the past, many of the thousands of foreign NGOs working in China have existed in a sort of legal limbo, unable to meet strict requirements to register but still allowed to operate. Some even register as companies rather than non-profit organisations to get around the rules.
Ironically, when the provincial government in Yunnan in south-west China introduced proposed regulations in 2009 to govern foreign NGOs, the effort seemed more about enabling groups to operate with legal status than closing them down. But what started as an understandable effort to regulate the sector appears to have turned into a clampdown.
“My sense was that the Yunnan regulations would be the basis for the national regulations,” said Shawn Shieh, an expert on Chinese civil society in Hong Kong. “But if you compare them, the Yunnan regulations almost look as if they were written by a liberal Democrat. This law is really a departure from what we saw in Yunnan.”