After my post the other day, it is worth realizing that, despite worrying trends back home there are no shortage of countries that are far, far worse off. Here are some stories that jumped out at me just in the past few days.
Andrew Berends, a New York-based freelance filmmaker and journalist who was working on a film about the oil-producing Delta region, was arrested on Sunday and held overnight. “They didn’t let me sleep or eat or drink water for the first 36 hours,” he said Tuesday night.
The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) yesterday rebutted accusations from the Taiwan Society and others that it was breaching freedom of expression by issuing a letter of inquiry to the group that organized a major rally held last Saturday.
The rally drew tens of thousands of participants protesting the government’s cross-strait policies, and called on President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty, save the economy and help to accelerate the adoption of “sunshine bills.”
The ICT says that 344 of the websites it listed had content it deemed “contemptuous” of Thailand’s royal family, five were considered “obscene,” two featured religious content and one hosted a sex video game.
Thai courts issued orders to shut down about 400 of the websites on the ICT’s list, while the remaining 800 are expected to be blocked by ISPs. The ICT also asked police to help round up sites’ owners, noting that it wants to “bring all violators to trial.”
Being seen talking to a foreigner is enough to earn a Uighur a minimum of five years in prison and the confiscation of his business. “Please leave here,” said one man in a tea house around the corner from the scene of the attack. “We did hear things, but we cannot talk or we will be taken away.”
Fearful of the growth of an independence movement, and of the motivating effects of religion, the Chinese government has imposed debilitating measures on the local mosques. One popular mosque was even padlocked shut yesterday.
No one under 18 is allowed to visit a mosque, and schools deliberately schedule their classes over the 1pm call to prayer. Nor are imams allowed to broadcast over a tannoy.
Uighur passports are now held by the police, who refuse to let many Uighurs travel abroad. Since May, any Uighur travelling inside of China has been stopped and sent home by the police. They are not welcome at any hotels or guesthouses, under stringent regulations designed to protect Beijing or the other Olympic cities from a possible separatist attack.
And so on. This is just a small sampling of countries besides the US where the government is stepping beyond any reasonable bounds to stifle political dissent. Of these four countries, three are significantly less free than the US today and serve, in various ways, as examples of what governments should not do (the case of Thailand is extra complicated, since with their eternal coups and factions it’s hard to even tell who should be considered the government at any given time.) The fourth country, Taiwan, is particularly complicated case. A military dictatorship and full on police state until fairly recently, Taiwan is a new democracy that was ranked an impressive #32 in last year’s Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. But the current administration is a return to the formerly dictatorial KMT, and there are serious worries over the possibility of recidivism. In the same ranking, the US was given a dismal 48- having slid precipitously from #17 in the 2002 Index.