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Friday:  August 15, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in black jails (1)

Tuesday
Mar132012

Seeking Answers Inside China's 'Black Jails' (REPORT) 

By Melissa Chan in Asia 

The phone call came on Friday afternoon.  My colleague took the call.  I could hear his end of the conversation.

"Your daughter has been what?!  Taken... by whom?"

"Please calm down, I can't help you unless you speak slowly.  I don't quite understand you..."

"You say your daughter violated the one-child policy...  And local officials had her sterilised.  She had some sort of forced procedure in the hospital?"

"Wait, okay... I see.  This was many years ago.  She wants to present evidence to the central government.  Okay... and then she disappeared."

Before the conversation was over, I was already starting to gather my things together.

Liu Zhuying's daughter, Zhang Wenfang, had managed to call the night before and tell her mother where she had been taken - to a hotel in southwest Beijing.  

I knew about these hotels. We had investigated them back in 2009.  Cheap places rented out by the block to officials to set up as ad-hoc prisons, known as "black jails".

They are illegal, of course, with no one imprisoned there given any due process. Most of the people in black jails are not petty criminals, but rather ordinary citizens who have stories of corruption to tell. Precisely because their evidence threatens the government, officials whose interests would be harmed by any revelations go after them.

'Black jails'

We met Mrs Liu one block from the hotel.  She had brought a group of friends with her.  

As I followed her into the hotel, I noticed tape crossed in X's on the entrance - it was an abandoned building, no longer managed by its owners.  There was no electricity.  We walked up one floor, up another floor, then to the third floor in the dark.  She banged on the makeshift door that blocked off one wing of the building.

"Wenfang!  Wenfang!" shouted Mrs Liu, hoping her daughter would answer her call.

Black-clad men opened the door. They tugged Mrs Liu in.  

Two years ago, I had knocked on the door of a black jail and had witnessed a woman screaming for help on the other side. I had been unable to stop the men when they shut the door in my face. I was not going to let this happen again - so I stepped over the threshold, and gripped the sill. A moment later, our team - together with the camera - stumbled into the hallway and the men scattered.

The rooms were empty. Mrs Liu's daughter had gone, although one of the men told us that she had been there and was safe.

In these moments, in my experience, two things can happen: the situation can become confrontational and threatening, or the black-clad men spot the camera and disappear.

By and large, people are not fond of being filmed acting like bullies, so the men scattered as we followed Mrs Liu, who by this time was sobbing, screaming, and throwing her arms up into the air.

Her friends - also other petitioners - had entered the building.

"They know black jails are illegal. They hold us here. I was in a black jail," said one man.

"You can't just grab people from the street anymore, you can no longer do this," said another, referring to the new criminal procedure law.  

New legislation

The criminal procedure law is due to be passed by China's legislature on Wednesday.  Under the new regulation, families must be notified within 24 hours following the detention of a suspect.

Black jails have never been legal, but if police had placed Mrs Liu's daughter somewhere in secret detention, they would now be bound to report it. It means that black jails and other forms of secret detention would not be allowed, except in extraordinary circumstances.

But standing in the hallway, it was very clear to our team that if there will be change, it would not take place overnight.

The petitioners surrounded me. They pressed in close, tugged at my sleeve, handed me photocopies of documents and testimonies they believed would help them in court - if they can ever have their day, that is.

I noticed that not only were many of the people old, but a number of them were on crutches, and I wondered what terrible stories were behind their disabilities.

One of them crumpled down to the dirty cement floor, exhausted from the brouhaha, and just looked up at me, the dirty and worn cardboard sign stating his grievance hung around his neck. These people live desperate existences, and in the back of my head, I knew that at some point, I'd get out of this building, and that I'd go home to central heating, a soft mattress, and a good meal.  I did not like the dissonance of all of it.

The inner Confucian upbringing in me also made me feel uncomfortable that anyone in their sixties or seventies would need to appeal to someone like myself - a young woman.  Shouldn't it be the other way around? 

A sense of piety made me think that in another circumstance, I would go down the hall, boil some hot water, and bring them some tea, the way I would do for my grandmother.  Why are they begging me?  There was something fundamentally wrong, something topsy-turvy, about elders beseeching the child.  

Their old, brown, wrinkled faces crowded in, and I was standing in the middle of this circle, the centre and the hope for them. They were orbiting around me, and the truth was, I knew I was not the harbinger of hope, and felt like a fraud, a misrepresentation.

A real challenge

When we interview people in China, we always make it clear to them that we can only report their story, that we can't change things or make things better for them. And I said this several times to the petitioners on this particular afternoon as a way of apology and embarrassment at my own feeling of helplessness. I could not do anything to change their situation.  

We had come here to film visual evidence, to show that the enforcement of China's new criminal code would be a real challenge considering that basic violations of the law took place right in the capital.

Eventually, uniformed police officers arrived at the scene. They ignored the unidentified men who'd been managing the jail and showed no indication that they would shut down the jail.

Despite some efforts to come down on illegal detention facilities and some high-profile raids in recent years, police usually prefer not to get involved with those working in different departments and different jurisdictions. It is easier for them that way, even though I sensed the uniformed officer who dealt with us felt bad for the petitioners, and didn't think we had done anything wrong.

We were ordered to stop filming, and to leave.

Mrs Liu and her fellow petitioners followed us to our car. Different petitioners handed me documents, each one a story of abuse I would look over later back in our office: someone sent to a labour camp for half a year, a house burned to the ground by a local police officer, a farmer's land taken away from him.

To Mrs Liu as we stood by our vehicle, we wished her luck finding her daughter.  We repeated again that our report would likely not do her any good.  

She didn't care.  

She was just thankful that someone had listened to her story, and had cared enough to show up at all.

- Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License