Saturday, April 28, 2012

Escape of blind lawyer challenges China's status quo

News of the dramatic escape of blind Chinese lawyer Chen Guangchen [陈光诚] has not escaped the watchful eye of state censors. Western media outlets broadcast the news of Chen's escape with some describing it as being like a Hollywood thriller. It was all the more dramatic given Chen's disability. And although there has been no official confirmation Chen is now believed to be safely holed up in the US Embassy.


The drama began on Sunday when Chen, the 40 year old civil rights activist, managed to evade the guards who maintained vigil at his home in Dongshigu village, Shandong province in eastern China. He had been held under house arrest since September 2010, and visitors were kept away by burly men who were not afraid to use violence. Journalists who attempted to visit the lawyer were beaten, manhandled and chased from the area. Amongst one of the most high profile incidents was when Batman actor Christian Bale tried to meet the activist accompanied by a crew from CNN.

The treatment meted out to journalists is dwarfed by the beatings Chen himself has suffered. In a video he posted on YouTube following his escape Chen spoke of the severe beatings both he and his wife had endured from thugs under pay from the state. In the 15 minute video the high-profile activist makes three key demands directly to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, while describing the harsh conditions of his detention.


"Dear Premier Wen - With great difficulty, I finally escaped. All the rumours and claims on the Internet about violence against me and my wife … I tell you that they are all true ... The truth is even worse than what has been spread online." [BBC]

He goes on to ask Wen to investigate the case of abuse against him and punish the individuals concerned, bring and end to corruption and ensure the safety of his wife and child.


There was an apparent naivety in Chen's requests. His fear for his family are warranted since family members are often punished in retribution in such cases. In fact there were indications that measures had already been taken. UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said she was concerned for the wellbeing of Chen and his family. "I'm disturbed to hear reports that other family members, including his brother Chen Guangfu and nephew Chen Kegui, have now been detained," she said in a statement which was also posted to Twitter.

Deaf ears

It is unlikely that the state will listen to the other pleas of a blind lawyer whom they have tried to silence for so long. The likelihood of any punishment being handed out to his state funded captors is also slim. And even if the will existed to stamp out corruption, the recent Bo Xilai scandal has shown that corruption is not only rife, but can go unchecked for years, out of sight of the central government.

The most cautious approach China might employ would be to quietly ignore Chen's family. Any retribution would undoubtedly draw further bad press for a country that has already had a huge amount of unwanted scrutiny following the Bo Xilai scandal and the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Last night China were tight-lipped concerning Chen. The Ministry spokesman  Liu Weimi said he had "no information" about the activist. The US embassy, where Chen is believed to have sought sanctuary, also declined to comment on Friday.

Long drive

Some reports say he entered the embassy on Thursday after a long drive of more than 500 km to the capital. According to He Peirong, a friend who says she travelled with him, Chen had prepared for his escape for months and evaded his guards on Sunday night, scaling a high wall before making his way to a waiting vehicle.

In an interview Friday afternoon, Bob Fu, president of the US-based Christian human rights group ChinaAid, confirmed that Chen escaped on 22nd April and said the activist was now in Beijing in a "100% safe location."

"I can't say more as there might be some diplomatic issues," Fu added, saying that his group had acted as a "facilitator" in the escape, helping to brief the US government and diplomats.

Awkward timing

Whether or not Chen is at the US Embassy, merely under protection of diplomatic staff or hiding at a safe house, his escape is extremely embarrassing for China. The timing is also awkward given both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner are both due to set foot in China next week.

Once again all eyes are on China for all the wrong reasons and in an attempt to stop the swell of rumours, China is once again using its power to stop the flow of information.


Chinese bloggers and activists have been speculating about how Chen Guangcheng might have made his daring escape from his heavily guarded home. But most of these discussion have taken place outside of China. Inside the Middle Kingdom China's censors have stepped up their activity. In order to escape their attention web users were referring to Chen as "the blind man" or simply by his initials, CGC. But these phrases too have now been blocked by moderators. "Almost all of my posts about Mr Chen on Weibo [a Chinese microblogging platform] have been censored," BeiFeng told the BBC. "I had to keep changing the phrases I used."

Searches for Chen Guangcheng on Baidu, China's highly censored search engine, brought up only a few results and a message saying "Accordance with relevant laws, regulations and policies, some search results were not displayed." Results displayed in its news section were also limited and pointed to articles more than three years old. There were no mentions on any major news portals and Xinhua's own search engine Panguso returned results that were mostly unrelated to the activist.

For most people the news that Chen had escaped will be little more than a rumour. Only those able to read foreign language news sources or access the Internet outside of China through a VPN [Virtual Private Network] will be privy to the full details.

Dark side

The spotlight on China has increased once again, and what it illuminates is not pleasing. Chen's escape, the murder of Neil Heywood, the deep seated corruption exposed by the Bo Xilai scandal, and the state censorship of such events, are highlighting the dark sides of China they would prefer to hide. Phelim Kine, senior Asia researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch, reacting to Chen's escape said the case "highlights the yawning divide between the government's often lofty rhetoric about rule of law and the far grimmer reality endured by people like Chen who challenge the status quo."

The status quo has been challenged on many fronts over the past few months. Whether China will make changes for the better remains to be seen [Sky / BBC / CNN].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Full translated transcript of  Chen Guangcheng's statement which was posted to YouTube.

Dear Premier Wen Jiabao,

I finally escaped. All the stories online about the brutal treatment I received from the Linyi authorities, I can personally testify they are true. The reality is even harsher than the stories that have been circulating.

Premier Wen, I hereby formally make the following three requests.
First, I would like you to personally intervene in this matter by sending an investigation team to find out the truth. Those who ordered county-level police and officials to break into my house, beat and hurt me, refused me medical attention -- without any legal foundation or officers wearing uniforms -- whoever made the decision has to be investigated and punished according to law. Their actions are so cruel it has greatly harmed the image of the Communist Party.

They broke into my house and more than a dozen men assaulted my wife. They pinned her down and wrapped her in a blanket, beating and kicking her for hours. They also violently assaulted me. Zhang Jian... many of county policemen whom we know like He Yong, Zhang Shengdong... and the men who repeatedly beat my wife before my release from prison like Li Xianli, Li Xianqiang, Gao Xinjian, etc. -- they all have to be seriously dealt with. There is another man whose family name is Xue.

As an affected party, I hereby accuse them of the following crimes: When they came to my house to assault us, Zhang Jian, the deputy Party secretary in charge of law enforcement in Shuanghou township, said to me unequivocally: "We don't care about the law and we are ignoring the law -- what can you do about it?" He repeated led people to my home to attack and rob us.

Li Xianli, who heads Team 1 that illegally confined me in my house, repeatedly beat my wife -- once even pulling her off a car to assault her. He also beat my mother. Simply monstrous. Li Xianqiang, an official with the township's judicial authority, beat my wife last year, gravely injuring her left arm.

The man who guarded the village entrance and attacked Christian Bale -- I understand his name is Zhang Shenghe, an official with our township. He is the so-called "Military Coat" (or "Pandaman") in netizen's descriptions. Last February, he also hurled rocks at the CNN team. It was him -- no mistake -- I know that.

I also heard some netizens were assaulted by female guards. At first I didn't know there were female guards. Then I learned those so-called female goons were woman's affairs chiefs from surrounding villages or their families.

Then there is Gao Xinjian and many others whose names I don't know. I know they come from the police force, even though they don't wear uniforms and denied to be policemen. I asked them who they were and they scoffed: "We are sent by the Party and we work for the Party." I don't believe them. At most they work for a corrupt official within the Party.

From what I learned, other than various officials, each team guarding me has more than 20 people. They have three teams with a total of 70 to 80 people. When more netizens tried to visit me recently, they had several hundred people at one time and completely sealed off my village.

Starting with my home, they station a team inside the house and another one outside guarding the four corners. Further out, they block every road leading to my house, all the way to the village entrance. They even have 7 to 8 people guarding bridges in neighboring villages. These corrupt officials draw people from neighboring villages into this and they have cars patrolling areas within a five-kilometer radius of my village.

Besides all these layers of security around my house -- I think there are 7 to 8 layers -- they have also numbered all the roads leading to my village, going up to 28 with guards assigned to them daily. The whole situation is just so over the top. I understand the number of officials and policemen who participate in my persecution adds up to some 100 people. They repeatedly hurt us illegally and I demand a thorough investigation.

Second, although I'm free, my worries are only deepening. My wife, mother and children are still in their evil hands. They have been persecuting my family for a long time and my escape would only prompt them into a mode of revenge. Such retribution would only become worse.

They once broke my wife's left orbital bone. She suffers lumbar disc protrusion from all the beating and there are still lumps on her ribs due to physical assaults. She has been cruelly denied medical treatment.

My elderly mother, on her birthday, was pushed to the ground with her head hitting the door. She was crying and accused them of attacking an old woman. They scoffed: "It's true we're young and that's why you can't beat us." How shameless, how cruel and how unjust.

My child goes to school accompanied by three guards. They search her bag every day and stop her from leaving school ground or home.

From July 29 to December 14 last year, they cut off power to my house. From last February onward, they have barred my mother from going out to buy groceries, making our lives extremely difficult.

I am very worried. I implore netizens to pay more attention to my family to ensure their safety. I also implore the Chinese government to ensure the safety of my family based on the principles of upholding the rule of law and protecting the interest of the people. If anything is to happen to my family, I will pursue this issue to no end.

Third, many people wonder why my situation has dragged on for so long without a resolution. I can say this: It's because the local authorities -- the decision-makers and the enforcers -- have no intention of resolving this. For the decision-makers, they are afraid of their crimes being exposed. For the enforcers, there is a lot of corruption involved.

I remember when they humiliated me last August in the Cultural Revolutionary style, they told me, you said in your video that 30 million yuan was spent on (your house arrest), that was the 2008 figure -- now the amount is more than double that and that's not even including bribery money for officials in Beijing. Some of the hired guards have complained that they make so little since most of the money has gone to others.

It's been a great opportunity for all of them to make money. As I understand, the township gives team leaders money to hire guards and each guard is supposed to get 100 yuan per day. Those team leaders tell potential hires that they get only 90 of the 100 yuan. Since most farmers get 50 to 60 yuan working in the field, and the guard job is considered safe and comfortable with meals included, of course people are willing to take it. In just one team, with more than 20 guards, the team leader gets 200 yuan extra per day. How corrupt is that?

The leader of the guards watching my wife sells vegetables he grows to the teams for a profit. These things are well known but there's nothing ordinary people can do about them.

As for the "stability maintenance" budget, they told us the county would give the township several million yuan at a time and local officials would still complain how little they get. You can see the serious corruption involved in this process and how they abuse money and power.

Premier Wen, I would like to see you investigate and punish those corrupt officials who squander our taxpayer money on harming innocent people as well as the Party's image. When they commit despicable crimes, they always claim they are doing what the Party has asked them to.

Premier Wen, all those illegal actions have baffled many people -- is it just local officials flagrantly violating the law or do they have the support of the central government? I hope you will give the public a clear answer in the near future. If we have a thorough investigation into my case and announce the result, I think people would appreciate. If you continue to ignore me, what would the public think? [Originally posted on blogger by CNN's Steven Jiang]

Friday, April 27, 2012

Armed siege in London after man storms office

Part of Tottenham Court Road in London has been cordoned off after a man stormed the offices of Advantage Logistics and began throwing objects from the fifth floor.

The 50 year old man burst into the offices apparently with a grievance over not being given an HGV licence. One employee, Abby Baafi said she recognised the man from previous visits and described him as "not quite stable".

She said the man, she named as Michael Green, had gas cylinders strapped to his body and has told people in the office that he had nothing left to live for. He was "willing to blow everybody up", she told the Huffington Post UK Executive Editor, Stephen Hull  [video: YouTube].

Talking to LBC 97.3 Hull said he had spoken to Abby sometime later and said she was very shaken and was being comforted by police. According to some conversations she had overheard the police were discussing "taking him out" and that it was believed there were no hostages remaining in the building.  The Metropolitan Police will only say that the man had a grievance against the company and that officers were trying to talk him down.

Police have sealed off a large area to traffic and pedestrians and marksmen have stationed themselves on roofs of nearby building. Meanwhile the man has been seen throwing computer equipment and papers out of the building, Shropshire House in Tottenham Court Road. Some reports indicate that other employees in the building were being forced by the man to participate in throwing objects from the windows.

First reports of the incident first surfaced on Twitter and quickly spread before being picked up by news organisations. Sky News were the first broadcaster to break the news bringing constant updates from the scene, and were the first to transmit live from the scene via their news helicopter. The BBC have also covered events, though not as extensively as their rival network [Sky / BBC].

tvnewswatch, Loondon, UK

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Storage costs soar on launch of Google Drive

The launch of Google Drive brought a great deal of excitement for many Google account users. It certainly provides stiff competition for Apple's cloud storage, Microsoft's Skydrive and smaller startups like Dropbox. But there are two major drawbacks that soured the razzmatazz surrounding Tuesday's launch.

Left waiting

Many people excitedly navigating to the Google Drive website found a message waiting for them that their drive was not yet available for them personally and were encouraged to show their interest. Many Android owners using Google Docs found their app updated with a new icon, but essentially little changed other than a change of logo, and slightly increased functionality.

Increased costs

The biggest drawback for some, when they are finally offered their Google Drive, will be the pricing. Google is offering 5Gb to users for free, a fivefold increase on what users previously had with Google Docs. But while this is generous in itself, those wanting to use more space now have to pay monthly and significantly more than before. Until now Google charged only $5 per year [£3.10 / €3.80] for an extra 20Gb of data storage. Now, with the launch of Google Drive, prices have increased to $2.49 per month [£1.55 / €1.90], or $29.88 per year for 25Gb [£18.50 / €22.60]. While thirty dollars is not a huge amount to pay it equates to a more than 500% increase in storage fees. The good news is that for those who already have storage plans may stay on them at the old prices, though any default in payment will result in the user being forced to take up a new plan.

Competitive pricing

While some may gripe at the price increases they are still way below some of Google's competitors. Dropbox, for example offers only 2Gb of space for free and charges $20 per month [£12.40 / €15.15] or $200 annually for 100Gb [£123.90 / €151.65]. Google offer 100Gb for only $5 per month or $60 per year [£37.20 / €45.50]. Apple's iCloud, which is confined to Apple devices, offers the same amount of free storage that Google are giving away but charge $100 per year [£62.00 / €75.80] for an additional 50Gb of space. Microsoft offers 7Gb of storage space for free, a drop from the 25Gb users had before the beginning of this week, though users who have previously used the service will retain their original allowance. Their data charges are in line with Apple at some $50 per year for 100Gb [£31.00 / €38.00].

Unclear advantages

It is, as yet, not entirely clear what big advantages there would be for someone to shift from Apple's iCloud to Google Drive, to take flight from Skydrive or drop Dropbox. There is certainly a cost factor, though this is not that weighty an issue. Google promise easier uploading, and even prior to Google Drive's launch whole folders could be uploaded to Google Docs rather than individual files. With Skydrive, rather than simply uploading a folder containing 50 photos files have to be uploaded separately into previously created folders in the cloud. Where Google does have a potential advantage is through search. The company promises to facilitate the searching of a user's pictures, documents and other files with the aid of facial recognition and OCR, or optical character recognition, making it potentially possible for scanned copies of text document be quickly found.


Where Google can improve is on the interface and organising of files and folders. Google account holders have been able to store any type of file or document in Google Docs for several years, and share the same with others. In what Google have announced concerning their latest venture appears to be, on the face of it, no different.

For example a better interface with a proper tree-like structure, perhaps replicating the way files and folders are organised on one's own computer would be far more user friendly. Currently, whether using either PicasaWeb or the Albums view in Google+, trying to find picture files is clumsy, especially if one has dozens or hundreds of folders. In fact the integration of Picasa into Google+ made sharing more difficult in some ways, especially for the downloading of a whole folder by the recipient.

Just like Dropbox, Google Drive allows syncing of files such that changes in one place occur everywhere. Google has already facilitated syncing with pictures and captioning for photos uploaded to PicasaWeb, but now anything uploaded to the Drive will be kept in sync.

It remains to be seen if changes will draw more people in or put some users off. Of course the biggest drawback at present is not whether its better or cheaper than the competition, but whether one can even access it. Apple users will have to wait a while to get their hands on the apps, and many thousands will have to wait for Google Drive to made available to them. For years people have been asking "when will Google Drive launch?" Now, after its launch, people are still asking a similar question, "when will I get to use it?"

[Reports: BBC / CNN / Telegraph / Guardian / Daily Mail / CNET / PCWorld / ZDNet // Videos: Google / CNET]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Google Drive is finally launched, for some

Google has launched its much anticipated cloud storage service, placing the search giant in direct competition with Dropbox and Microsoft's Skydrive service.

Google are offering 5Gb for free, with up to 100Gb on paid plans, allowing users to store any type of file in the cloud and sync it with other devices.

Speculation concerning Google Drive has persisted for years but intensified in recent weeks with leaked screenshots and insider claims. A search on Google this week also showed that the domain address existed, though at the time it redirected to a generic support page.

But late Tuesday the wait was over as Google announced the launch of Google Drive, "a place where you can create, share, collaborate, and keep all of your stuff". Actually the wait isn't quite over as many visitors going to the site found a message saying "Your Google Drive is not ready yet". After registering interest a message then states an email will be sent when access to Google Drive is possible.

For Google account holders the online storage will be exciting news, allowing access to files stored in the cloud from any web enabled device. There will no doubt be concerns from some who will raise issues of security and as to how safe one's files are in the cloud, especially after a recent outage experienced by a large number of Gmail users [BBC].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, April 23, 2012

England should reclaim national pride on St George's Day

As England marks St George's Day, the celebrations will be somewhat calmer than the festivities seen on other national days. While many English citizens are proud and patriotic few will be as overt in the celebration of St George's Day as the Welsh are of St David's Day or the Scots are on St Andrew's Day. In fact there is almost a sense of embarrassment for some with many seeing the English flags as racist.

'Racist' flag

A survey published over the weekend found that some 24% of the English associated the St George's flag with racism and felt more attached the the Union flag as a symbol of national pride. Part of the problem is that the St George's flag has been hijacked by right wing groups from the National Front, the British National Party and the English Defence League who have been accused of "toxifying" the flag.

There are some voices in other political circles who suggest these negative images should be ignored and forgotten and that England should reclaim the flag. Hilary Benn, a Labour MP and shadow Communities secretary, says English people should "talk proudly about being English"

National identity

"Today many people will celebrate St George's Day, but while we are proud to talk about being English when it comes to sport, in politics there has been some reluctance to talk about Englishness in the way that our friends and relatives in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland celebrate their national identity. We should change that and talk proudly about being English."

It is reflected in the high street across Britain. On St Patrick's Day public houses up and down the land promote the event, hanging Irish flags and selling Guinness, the well known Irish stout. There are advertisements on television promoting Jameson's whiskey.

But when it comes to St George's Day there is no overt commercialization or celebration. Sales of Bombardier English ale might rise slightly, but there will be none of the razzamatazz seen or patriotism seen in other parts of the UK.

Disunited Kingdom

And there hinges a point. The United Kingdom is becoming ever more disunited. With devolution very much on the table in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, England is finding itself not only marginalised and isolated, but finding it is losing its sense of identity. The irony is that many English view the Union flag with far greater patriotism than their Welsh and Scottish counterparts.

Some 80% of the English have positive associations with the Union flag linking it to feelings of pride and patriotism, . On the other hand only 56% of Scots and 68% of the Welsh feel similarly. When it comes to the monarch, there are similar divisions. Again around 80% of the English said the Queen evoked feelings of pride while the Scots and Welsh were far less enamoured by the Queen showing only. As the Queen approaches her Diamond Jubilee only 41% of Scots said they were filled with pride, while the Welsh showed even less enthusiasm with only 35% saying the Queen made them proud.


The English are certainly a different breed from the Scots, the Irish and Welsh. While there is a sense of comradery amongst the latter, there are string divisions and even displays of hostility amongst the English. There is a common feeling of a north, south divide. Many parts of England feel ignored by central government and the further away from London this feeling intensifies. "England remains a very centralised country, and too many decisions affecting the regions of England are still taken within a mile's radius of Big Ben," Hilary Benn writes in the Daily Telegraph.

Benn suggests that English regions should be given more control over transport, infrastructure, skills, and economic development. "All of these will need local leadership with Government giving communities the tools, powers, and finance they require to do the job."

"More decisions taken in England and away from Westminster, would not just be a good thing in itself. It would also recognise our pride in being English and put our trust in the English people to shape their communities and their regions in the way that they want."

Restoring pride

Others suggest that England needs a rousing national anthem of its own to help restore pride in the country. An anthem such as Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory, I Vow to Thee, My Country, or Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, could be adopted by the English and be used in the same way as Flower of Scotland by the Scots and Land Of My Fathers, by the Welsh. In a report entitled This Sceptred Isle, backed by a number of MPs from all sides of the house, it states, "England, the land of Shakespeare, seems uncertain how to find its modern voice. Historically an understated Englishness has been conflated with being British."

Sunder Katwala, the director of the think tank which produced the report, said, "We've done nothing in the era of devolution to give a voice to England as well as Scotland and Wales, which has left English identity too open to an extremist fringe." [Daily Mail / Telegraph / The Sun]

"St George inspire us"

The very symbols of England could of course be criticised. The flag itself has not only been hijacked by racists in recent years, it formed from the symbol of the bloody crusades in the 12th century. St George and the Dragon, is based in myth and legend, and neither are likely to be directly connected to England.

Nonetheless, many English do look to these symbols with pride and feel connected to them despite the loose links. The tales of St George killing the fire breathing beast is embedded in the English psyche and immortalised in English literature.

"Advance our standards, set upon our foes, our ancient world of courage fair. St. George inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons," Shakespeare wrote in Richard III [act v, scene 3]. Once again St George should inspire the English and again the flag should fly with pride.

tvnewswatch, London, England

Friday, April 20, 2012

Officials attempted cover up of Heywood murder

It seems clear that the British businessman Neil Heywood was murdered in China last year, but it has now been reported that the coverup of the incident began soon after his body was found in a Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel room in Chongqing.


According the BBC reporter Martin Patience, police discovering Heywood's body immediately realised it was murder and feared they were themselves at risk after coming to the conclusion that the city governor's wife might be involved. The latest revelations were revealed by a former senior People's Daily journalist, Han Pingzao, who spoke to the BBC.

"Terrified of the politician" three of the investigators asked to resign, meanwhile the chief of police Wang Lijun approached the Chongqing head and informed him of his wife's possible involvement.


''Bo Xilai was shocked when he heard the details,'' Han said. ''He started sweating profusely.'' Despite apparent reassurances, Wang Lijun felt at threat himself and on 6th February a little over 2 months after the murder, he fled to the US consulate in nearby Chengdu, where he spent much of the night before eventually giving himself up to authorities. It is believed that Wang divulged the details of Heywood's death to the US staff and may even have tried to obtain asylum.


The so-called Wang Lijun incident followed his demotion. Only four days earlier Wang confirming he had fallen out with the city's Communist Party boss, Bo Xilai and he was no longer the Chongqing police chief. One month later Beijing sacked Bo Xilai from his post, but it was sometime later before it was officially announced that Neil Heywood had been murdered and that Bo Xilai's wife, Gu Kailai was a likely suspect. That announcement came on 10th of April nearly two weeks after the UK government said it had asked China to re-examine Heywood's death.

Scandal & rumours

The scandal of Bo Xilai's downfall, the hedonistic lifestyle of his son [NYT] and the implication of his wife in murder has sent shockwaves through the communist party. In a damage limitation exercise authorities say they will properly investigate the death, but they have also sought to limit the amount of discussion, both online and in the state media. State censors have clamped down on mentions of the case in an attempt to stop the flow of what it called rumours. However some of China's microbloggers saw the media announcement of the murder as ironic. "Wow the rumours are true," some microbloggers exclaimed, after weeks of speculation surround Bo Xilai and his wife. Many were however incredulous of the slow response from official media and scorned at a message on Sina Weibo from Xinhua which quoted a Chongqing Normal University professor which read, "The central government didn't skirt the incident, and published information in a timely, transparent and open manner." [Atlantic].


Along with Gu Kailai, authorities have arrested at least 39 people over the death of Neil Heywood. They are thought to be held, alongside Bo Xilai, in the seaside town of Beidaihe, a favourite retreat for Communist party leaders.

Wang Kang, a well-connected independent scholar and public figure in Chongqing, and who is the only person with inside information on Bo's removal from power to go on the record, said some of the detainees were close to the former Chongqing leader. "The detainees include Xu Ming, who had a very special relationship with Bo, and some of the people who worked with him," said Wang Kang.

"The detainees are mainly people from Dalian and other places, not from Chongqing," he added. Xu is one of China's richest men, a billionaire who heads the Dalian Shide industrial conglomerate. The 41-year-old has apparently not been seen at the company since mid-March.

One of the people in custody is Xia Deling, the former party chief of Nan'an district in Chongqing, the area in which Heywood's body was discovered, on 15th November last year. Xia is rumoured to have supplied the cyanide that killed the British businessman. However, Wang Kang has suggested that this is unlikely. "Xia Deling was promoted from the countryside to his post in Nan'an, skipping up two ranks, so he was very loyal. But I do not think he would have personally obtained the poison," he said.


According to the initial investigation, Neil Heywood was slipped cyanide after an "economic" dispute arose with Gu Kailai. It has been suggested that the two quarrelled over his commission for helping her transfer a large, but undisclosed, sum of money overseas. There are also unconfirmed reports and a swirl of rumours concerning an alleged affair.

Meanwhile Bo Guagua's whereabouts remain unknown after apparently being taken into police custody earlier in the week. There had been speculation that the 24-year-old son of Bo Xilai might seek asylum. The Daily Telegraph reported that Bo Guagua may have sought protection from US authorities, although the FBI declined to confirm an officer who was seen escorting him from his flat was one of their agents.

However at a press briefing this week Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson for the US Department of State said, "We've had inquiries about his son. As far as we know, there's nothing to those reports. I can recommend you contact local authorities, but as far as we know, there's nothing to those reports. He remains at school at Harvard."

At the same press briefing Toner refused to answer questions relating to Wang Lijun's whereabouts, referring reporters to the Chinese Government. Of what had been discussed at the consulate that February night, Toner was also far from forthcoming. "He was there, I believe, on Monday, February 6th and Tuesday, February 7th, and left of his own volition. But I can't talk about the contents of that meeting," he said.

In China, Heywood's wife is said to be fearful for her life and is reported to be seeking asylum. However it is believed authorities are preventing her from straying too far and keeping foreign media away [Telegraph]. Meanwhile the Foreign Office is not thought to be offering assistance to LuLu Heywood at the moment, and she may not qualify for permanent British residency [Telegraph].

The man that made deals may have seen things were becoming dangerous and apparently sought to protect himself by stashing Bo Xilai's financial dealings with his lawyers in Britain [Telegraph].

This was not enough to save him however as henchmen closely connected to Bo or his wife moved against the dealmaker. While much has been dug up by foreign journalists, little of the detail has been made public in China, and authorities there have revealed very little. How open a full investigation is, remains to be seen, but from what is known will be highly damaging to the CPC especially in a year of transition.

More reports: BBC / Telegraph / Daily Mail 

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gmail outage hits 35 million users

Gmail, Google popular email service went down on Tuesday for millions of users. While the outage lasted less than two hours, most users were only inconvenienced for less than half that time. Nonetheless, the downtime caused many Gmail users to complain by way of the social networking platform Twitter.

Anger & amusement

Hashtags #gfail and #gmail filled the Twittersphere shortly after 17:45 London time [16:45 GMT] after people found they were unable to access their accounts. Instead they were greeted with an "Error 500" screen and a prompt to "try again in a few minutes". "Thanks everyone for the reports of 500 errors, we're working on it," Google responded on its Twitter feed.

The outage affected users in countries around the globe, though it was initially unclear how many were unable to access their accounts. Gmail, which is one of the world's most popular email services, claims more than 350 million active accounts. The company said overall fewer than 2% of its users were affected, though this would still add up to at least 7 million accounts. Later the company acknowledged that as many as 10% of its customers may have been affected accounting for around 35 million users.

While some of Google's customers were irate, others saw a funnier side to the web giant's embarrassment."Google Shuts Down Gmail For Two Hours To Show Its Immense Power," The Onion, a satirical online news journal, joked on its Twitter feed.

By 19:00 London time [18:00 GMT] Google said that Gmail had been restored for most of its users and thanked them for their patience. Google's status page had a more in depth summary of events. "The problem with Google Mail should be resolved," the Internet giant said, "We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support. Please rest assured that system reliability is a top priority at Google, and we are making continuous improvements to make our systems better."

Previous outages

Prior to Tuesday's crash Gmail has only been down seven times since its 2005 launch, and only once in the last three years. Google reported that Gmail was available 99.984% of the time in 2010, and 99.99% in 2011.

Google is not the only web giant that has been affected by outages. Hotmail, one of Google's leading rivals, has also been struck several times in the last few years by server crashes. In 2005, a Microsoft customer service representative confirmed an outage, blaming it on a faulty server. However the company refused to discuss the exact nature of the problem or to indicate how many customers' email accounts were implicated. At that time some 187 million people used Microsoft's Hotmail service. Since then there have been at least 4 reported outages, one of the most serious of which occurred in 2011 when millions of Microsoft users were left unable to access Hotmail, Office 365 and Skydrive because of a major service failure [BBC / MSNBC]. That outage lasted more than two and a half hours though users in Europe would have been little affected due to the fact it occurred at around 03:00 GMT.

In August the same year both Hotmail and Yahoo customers found themselves unable to access their accounts [CNET / CNET]. Twitter, Facebook, Google's blogger service and Amazon have also seen downtime in the past few years. Even as recently as today [Wednesday 18th April] the website showed Twitter and Yahoo mail as having problems. However due to the growing user base of Google any fault or error seen in any of its services tends to create more media attention. [BBC / Telegraph / Daily Mail / CNET / ZDNet]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Ceefax to close as digital switchover nears completion

As the last few regions in Britain switch over to Digital television this year it will say goodbye not only to the analogue channels BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel Four and Five, but also to the analogue text service Ceefax.

Pioneering service

Little used now, the 38 year old service aimed to provide viewers with readily accessible information such as news content, weather and travel updates. When launched in 1974 the Internet was in its infancy, and access to the pages of Ceefax was ground breaking in its day.

Ceefax, the name resulting from the phonetic corruption of 'see' and 'facts', opened up a whole new world for the hard of hearing by providing televisual subtitles.

The BBC teletext system was the first in the world, and was followed by ITV's Oracle service, though at first the two were technically different. After agreement between the two companies, Ceefax and Oracle were set to a single standard in the way the data was encoded in the analogue television signal. This standard later became known in the industry as the World System Teletext (or WST) a standard for encoding and displaying teletext information. It is still used as the standard for teletext throughout Europe today where analogue broadcasting still remains.


In Britain though, the digitised block text of the Ceefax pages will soon disappear from viewers' screens. For many people the service will not be missed. Although the digital switchover is nearly complete, most people in Britain have already abandoned analogue broadcasting. Even before terrestrial digital broadcasting began in Britain in 1998 many people had already switched to multi-channel broadcasting systems such as Sky satellite broadcasting and cable, though they were initially analogue services.

Now, there are few people watching analogue broadcasts, and the closing down of Ceefax and ITV's Oracle, now simply known as Teletext and owned by the Daily Mail's parent company, Daily Mail & General Trust. Teletext is also serve Channel 4 and Channel Five, but these two are set to disappear soon. Channel Four no longer transmits a full Teletext service. Since the end of 2010 the channel slimmed down the service to a few pages giving an information page, details about the digital switchover and subtitles for the deaf. After analogue is finally switched off Teletext will continue to provide information services, but only on digital platforms.


At its peak during the 1990s, over 22 million people were using Ceefax every week. But the advent of digital services and Internet has made teletext redundant and consigning a once revered and state-of-the-art technology to history.

Some people will miss the service, much out of nostalgia rather than for its technical prowess. The BBC are archiving some pages for posterity while Matthew Engel, a cricket writer and a columnist on the Financial Times, mourns its demise [BBC]. But for most of us, the closure will probably not be noticed. For those without analogue television, pages can be accessed online, though this website may also close after the digital switchover is complete.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

War games in Asia-Pacific as tensions rise

The US today begun a series of war games with Filipino forces in a practice run to counter a possible military conflict with China. The military exercises begun as tensions between the Philippines and China rose. Only last week a Filipino warship attempted to arrest two Chinese fishing boats operating in a disputed part of the South China Sea. Two Chinese surveillance ships arrived and began to shield the fishing boats, preventing the arrests. There has been heated rhetoric coming from both Manila and Beijing, and despite talks there is heightened concern that the situation could escalate [BBCBBC / IBT / RT].

Meanwhile, Taiwan, another territory which China fiercely claims as being a part of Mainland China, also begun military exercises on Tuesday, something which will also ratchet up tensions between Taiwan and Beijing. Military helicopters and several navy vessels took part in drill at the southern military port of Zuoying in Kaohsiung as part of the ongoing annual Han Kuang exercises that started on Monday [Taipei Times / China Post].

Sensitive area

Some 4,500 US troops are participating in the annual military exercise in the Philippines. Simultaneously, thousands of Taiwanese troops are repelling a simulated Chinese attack on the island. The 12-day military exercise. China has protested to the holding of the exercises which were announced several weeks ago. Many commentators in China eye the manoeuvres with suspicion. While acknowledging that that exercises were, in themselves nothing unusual, Li Guoqiang, director of the Research Center of Chinese Borderland History and Geography in China's Academy Social Science, told the China Daily that the Philippines were likely to have hidden motives. "In such a sensitive area and at such a sensitive moment, the drill conducted by a country that has disputable claims with China and no other maritime threat speaks to a hidden motive," Li said.


The territorial disputes are hinged around historical claims made by China, but are further complicated following recent discovery of natural resources. The South China Sea is potentially rich in oil, and already provides valuable shipping lanes and fishing stocks. China claims that it is entitled to treat the sea as its own on the basis of a sixty-year-old claim, and in apparent violation of standard international maritime treaties. This position has brought the region close to conflict and precipitated many incidents which have created diplomatic incidents between China and the US.

Previous crises

In 1996 the so-called Third Taiwan Strait Crisis saw massive naval exercises conducted by the Chinese which was seen as a practice run for a possible invasion of Taiwan. Only after the US fleet moved towards the strait did China wrap up its operation. In April 2001 an American EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft collided with a Chinese jet that was sent out to intercept. The Hainan incident resulted in a tense stand-off and diplomatic talks last several weeks. There were accusations by the Chinese that the US aircraft had crossed into Chinese airspace, while the US maintained they were in international airspace. Calls by China for the US to apologize for the death of a Chinese pilot whose plane had collided with the EP-3 did not come for many days and the crew of the plane was not returned until the United States accepted responsibility.

"Flexing muscles"

With territorial disputes growing between Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and claims of sovereignty over Taiwan, there are fears that the region could become a powder keg.

Earlier this year President Barack Obama signed an order to increase the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific [BBC]. The move was not welcomed by Beijing which called the scaling up of American forces in the region as warmongering. China's state media warned the US against "flexing its muscles" and said any US militarism could create ill will and "endanger peace".

Cyberwar exercises

It has also emerged that the US and Chinese have taken part in war games, apparently in bid to prevent military escalation from cyber attacks. The Guardian, in an exclusive report, says that the US and China discreetly engaged in "war games" amid rising anger in Washington over the scale and audacity of Beijing-co-ordinated cyber attacks on western governments and big business.

The state department refused to speak about the war games, or say which officials took part, but the fact that there is some cooperation between the US and China, may indicate a realisation at how dangerous a cyber attack could be for either side.

After recent suggestions in the US that a cyber attack could be considered an act of war, China may be concerned that America could respond in more than a diplomatic response and harsh words, as seen up until now.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Noose tightens on N Korea as Burma opens up

North Korea saw increased sanctions and further international pressure after it launched a rocket on Friday [14th April], an act that has been described as "provocative". The launch of the rocket was intended as a propaganda boost for the country which has seen itself become increasingly isolated. But shortly after launch the rocket disintegrated, falling into several pieces into waters 165km west of the South Korean capital, Seoul.

Breach of UN resolutions

It was a setback and an embarrassment for North Korea as it held celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary since the the birth of the state's founder, Kim Il-sung. As thousands gathered in Pyongyang the UN Security Council criticised the rocket launch saying it was a clear breach of two Security Council resolutions.

The UN statement, read by the current Security Council chair, US ambassador Susan Rice, said the launch broke UNSC resolutions 1718 and 1874.

Tough sanctions had already been imposed against North Korea following earlier rocket launches in 2006 and 2009. And the latest arrogant display was not welcomed by the US which cancelled food aid after the announcement of the proposed test last month.

Food aid cancelled

In February, North Korea had agreed to a partial freeze in nuclear activities and a missile test moratorium in return for US food aid. But this deal now lies in tatters.

"I wish we could find a way not to paint North Korea further into the corner they're busy painting themselves into," Aidan Foster-Carter, Korea analyst at Leeds University, told the BBC. "We need to engage with them and draw them out but they have again made that harder."

China calls for calm

Meanwhile China has called for calm and for the international community to show restraint. While expressing concern over the launch Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China would continue communication with all sides. Zhang Xiao'an, vice-president of the United Nations Association of China, conveyed her worry over the launch saying, "China is concerned that DPRK-US relations, which had eased, may be dragged into a new vicious cycle and could even lead to an arms race."

Burma opens up

As North Korea backed itself into a corner, Burma [also known as Myanmar] was showing clear signs of opening up. A country that like North Korea was once isolated has made tentative steps in electoral reform. It has brought a small break through for international relations with promises of economic and business deals if the country continues with reforms.

As North Korea launched rockets, the British Prime Minister's convoy was showered with water as the country marked the water festival. Speaking during the first official visit for a British Prime Minister since the country gained independence in 1948, David Cameron said economic sanctions against Burma should be suspended in recognition of the changes taking place in the country.

Ruled for almost half a century by a military junta that stifled almost all dissent and wielded absolute power, Burma has held elections which gave former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi a seat in parliament, though it is more a token role in a government still dominated by unelected generals [BBC].

While Burma still has a long way to go in convincing the world it has changed, the situation there has very much improved from just a few years ago. In 2007 protests against the military junta in Burma saw a heavy clampdown which resulted in the deaths of dozens and the arrest and beating of Buddhist monks [BBC / CNN / tvnewswatch: Myanmar - 5 dead as troops shoot protesters / tvnewswatch: UK - Censorship at Burma protest / tvnewswatch: Aung San Suu Kyi released].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Neil Heywood 'murdered', Bo Xilai’s wife arrested

The wife of ousted Chinese official Bo Xilai has been arrested in connection with the death of British businessman Neil Heywood who was found dead in his hotel room in November last year. Gu Kailai and the family orderly Zhang Xiaojun have both been implicated in what is now being described by authorities as murder.

Media interest

The case has captured the imagination of western commentators and many Chinese netizens since Bo Xilai was ousted from his post as Chongqing governor on the 15th March [tvnewswatch: Bo Xilai purge, a return to dark days of Mao]. Wild rumours have circulated as to why he was purged from the party with speculation that he may have been involved in a planned coup with close supporter and member of the Politburo Standing Committee Zhou Yongkang. The speculation surrounding a coup attempt dissipated, helped by a broad sweep of censorship on Chinese micro-blogs [tvnewswatch: Rumours of coups & crashes point to unease in CPC]. But last month questions were raised over the death of the British businessman Neil Heywood who had close ties to the Bo family [tvnewswatch: 'Suspicious death' of Briton with links to Bo Xilai].

Wang Lijun incident

The speculation surrounding Heywood's death might also have been buried had Bo Xilai's ex-chief of police Wang Lijun not sought sanctuary at a US consulate in Chengdu on 6th February this year. Wang had apparently tried to meet British officials but never turned up at the appointed time. The reason for his failing to attend that rendezvous is unknown but a short while later Wang went to the US consulate where, it is believed, he divulged what he knew about a possible murder which the Bo family were somehow involved.

After a stand-off with Chengdu police, Wang eventually exited the consulate and was taken into custody. He has not been seen in public since. At this time none of the authorities were forthcoming. The US would only confirm that Wang Lijun had visited the consulate, but would not reveal further details. Days later the British divulged details that the former police chief had sought a meeting with them but had failed to turn up. Meanwhile the Chinese authorities stayed quiet. Even after the British asked that an investigation be re-opened into the death of the British businessman, the Chinese remained suspiciously quiet. When Sky News reporter Holly Williams asked a spokesman to comment on the case, he responded with apparent denial that anything untoward had taken place. "I have no information on this topic," Hong Lei, the spokesman for the Ministry of Information, said.

China breaks silence

But after two weeks of investigations Chinese authorities have broken their silence. In an article published by Chinese state media [Xinhua - Chinese  / Xinhua / - English]  yesterday [10th April] it was revealed that Neil Heywood was likely to have been murdered and that Bo Xilai's wife, Gu Kailai was the main suspect.

"Police authorities paid high attention to the case, and set up the team to reinvestigate the case according to law with an attitude to seek truth from facts," a statement in broken English said.

"According to investigation results, Gu Kailai, wife of Comrade Bo Xilai, and their son were in good terms with Heywood. However, they had conflict over economic interests, which had been intensified," the article read.

"According to reinvestigation results, the existing evidence indicated that Heywood died of homicide, of which Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun, an orderly at Bo's home, are highly suspected."

Damage limitation

The re-opening of the investigation into the death of Heywood and the arrest of Gu Kailai appears to be more a process of damage limitation and re-establishing party control. With a change in leadership due to start in less than six months, a scandal of corruption and murder, particularly that of a foreign national, will have created great unease in the top ranks of government.

An editorial in the People's Daily, the newspaper that the Communist party uses to communicate to its cadres across the country, said Neil Heywood's death was a "serious criminal case" and that "Bo Xilai's actions have seriously violated the party's discipline, caused damage to the party and to the country, and harmed the image of the party and the country" [People's Daily / Xinhua].

Confusion over facts

Heywood's death was conveniently ignored by authorities at the time. Two explanations were issued as to how he died, his family being told he died from a heart attack while police filed that he had died from excessive consumption of alcohol. There are also questions as to why the businessman was cremated so soon after his death, who authorised it, and why no autopsy was performed.

Little if any of this information may have come to light had Wang Lijun not gone to the US consulate in February. The Internet rumours, which have been heavily censored, have also helped to keep the case alive. But after official questions were put to the Chinese government by British authorities, Heywood's death could no longer be buried.

Family dismissive

Neil Heywood's family who seemed satisfied that he'd died of a heart attack will no doubt be angry at learning he was murdered. Family members had been dismissive of the speculation surrounding Neil Heywood's death.

"It's preposterous. The more description (in the media), the darker it becomes," one family member said, occasionally breaking into tears in an interview in the lobby lounge of a hotel on the outskirts of Beijing late on Thursday 29th March. The family denied reports that Heywood was a spy and that he was cremated against their wishes. "We requested the cremation. We were not forced to do so. We have no doubts about the police report," said one family member [Guardian]. However the family has yet to release any statement concerning the latest reports.

Bo Xilai stripped

As for Bo Xilai he has been stripped of all his party affiliations. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has decided to suspend his membership of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau and the CPC Central Committee, in line with the CPC Constitution and the rules on investigation of CPC discipline inspection departments, Xinhua reported [Xinhua - Chinese / Xinhua - English]. His whereabouts remain unknown, though he is believed to be held under house arrest in the coastal city of Beidaihe, some 260 east of Beijing.

Censorship continues

Despite official statements, China is still stamping out any speculative discussions on the case. Any mentions of Bo Xilai, his wife or Neil Heywood are being expunged from China's micro-blogs, in order to quash rumours [Reuters].

The real truth behind the events that left Neil Heywood lying dead in his Chongqing hotel on 15th November last year may never be known. Heywood had many business dealings in China and was involved with Hakluyt & Co., a firm set up by former MI6 operatives [Guardian / Telegraph].

The connections may have been a concern to Chinese authorities if previously known, but the recent publicity surrounding Heywood's involvement with companies connected to the intelligence community have also rattled organisations and bodies outside the country.

Chinese whispers

In an article published on 31st March, John Donovan discusses the "Chinese whispers" that point to a possible link to Heywood's untimely death. In particular he discusses the petro-chemical company Shell's displeasure at being associated with Hakluyt, saying that Shell was "not pleased by these latest reports of its involvement in the 'murky world of corporate intelligence' and has been keen to play down Heywood's role."

"Given the apparent role of Mr Heywood in China as a deal fixer with high level connections, and Shell's long association with Hakluyt, I wondered whether Mr Heywood and/or Hakluyt, had any involvement/connection with the shale gas deals recently announced by Royal Dutch Shell?" Donovan asks, in an email to Michiel Brandjes, Company Secretary & General Counsel Corporate of Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

Rumours persist

There is speculation that Gu Kailai may have had an affair with the businessman, though the truth of these rumours is unsubstantiated. Bo has previously been quoted as saying that people had been out to "get him" by deliberately "pouring filth" on his family.

According to one source Wang Lijun told central investigators that Gu Kailai turned on the British man because of economic interests and that she wanted to destroy Heywood.

Britain welcomes investigation

British authorities have been reluctant to say too much concerning the recent announcement for fear of prejudicing the investigation. Speaking to Sky News on Tuesday British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, "The Chinese are doing what we asked them to do, and we now look forward to see those investigations take place and in due course hear the outcome of those investigations."

"I don't want to say any more than that because having asked for the investigations I don't want to prejudice their conduct in any way," William Hague added. 

[Pictured: Gu Kailai, Neil Heywood & Bo Xilai. Playing cards based on an original design courtesy of MostWantedChinesePlayingCards]

[Further links: BBC / Sky / CNNTelegraph / Guardian / FT / Daily Mail]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Extradition ruling due on terror suspect Abu Hamza

Britain has been urged to turn its back on the European Court of Human Rights because its rulings over detained prisoners potentially undermine Britain's 'special relationship' with America.

'effective partner in War on Terror'

The call came from John Bolton, the American ambassador to the UN under George Bush, and comes as European judges sit to determine whether six terror suspects, including radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, can be extradited from the UK to the US.

"Britain should renounce the jurisdiction of this court. It's a question of what do British people want to do? Do you want to be an independent nation, or do you want to be a county in Europe?" Bolton said.

"This is just another example of Britain's mistake in allowing European institutions to develop to the extent they have. It is yet another infringement on British sovereignty that undercuts its ability to cooperate with the United States."

"It also calls into question the ability of Europe as a whole to be an effective partner in the war against terrorism."

The European court of human rights halted extradition proceedings in July 2010, arguing it needed more time to consider complaints that transferring Hamza and others wanted in the US risked breaching their rights by exposing them to possible life imprisonment without parole and solitary confinement.

Costly delays

However, according to Daily Telegraph the delays have cost the British taxpayer an estimated £2.6 million to keep the six men in high-security jails. A further £1.5 million is estimated to have been spent on legal costs, including legal aid for the men, and thousands more on benefit claims for their families.

"This is a crazy waste of money, and shows once again why we need a British Bill of Rights. People will find it incomprehensible," Dover MP Charlie Elphicke told the paper.

Nick de Bois MP, a member of the Commons justice committee, also weighed in to criticise the current system. "We have a very distorted system that allows taxpayers to pay an obscene amount of money as a result of the discredited European justice system exploited by these suspected terrorists."

Terror suspects

Hamza, who was granted British citizenship in 1986, is wanted in America on 11 charges related to the taking of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998, promoting violent jihad in Afghanistan in 2001, and conspiring to set up a jihad training camp in Oregon.

Amongst the six suspects the United States is seeking to extradite, is an alleged terror fundraiser Babar Ahmad and two men, Khaled Al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary, who are accused of a role in two 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

The other two men are Haroon Rashid Aswat, who is accused of a being part of an alleged terror camp in Oregon, and Seyla Talha Ahsan, accused by a US court of running an extremist website and funding the Taliban [BBC / SkyGuardian / Daily Mail].

'Human rights'

The European Court of Human Rights has considered whether human rights would be breached if the men receive lengthy sentences in certain prison conditions. The suspects argue that they might be held in a high-security prison in Colorado, known as a "supermax" prison and claim that if convicted there is very little or no prospect of ever being released.

The six suspects say conditions of detention at a so-called "supermax" prison would amount to ill-treatment under article three of the human rights code. The European code states: "No-one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

Earlier this year, the European Court ruled that Jordanian terror suspect Abu Qatada could not be sent for trial from the UK to his homeland because evidence obtained by torture might be used against him. There are fears that Hamza himself could be ordered to be released by the European Court, which could create havoc in the coalition government.

Even if the extradition goes ahead it will have been a long and arduous journey for the US judicial system. The offences committed date back to more than a decade ago preceding and following the 9/11 terror attacks.

9/11 suspects set for trial

Charges and an announcement of a trial in connection to suspects involved in those attacks were only announced last week. The Defense Department referred charges against five suspected 9/11 co-conspirators to a military commission on the 4th April. The charges allege that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi were responsible for the planning and execution of the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The case was referred to a capital military commission, meaning the five accused could be sentenced to death if convicted [ / BBC].

The decision concerning the six terror suspects including Abu Hamza is expected later today, Tuesday 10th April.


The European Court of Human Rights has backed extraditions from the UK to the United States for all but one of the six terror suspects. The Strasbourg court say there would be no violation of human rights for those facing life and solitary confinement in a supermax prison. However, judges said they could not yet give the go-ahead to the extradition of Haroon Rashid Aswat because they needed to see more submissions on his schizophrenia and how that would be treated were he sent to the US [BBC / Sky].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, April 09, 2012

Dissident who inspired Tiananmen Square protests dies

Fang Lizhi [方励之], a Chinese dissident whose speeches helped inspire the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, has died aged 76. But while his death was reported in western media, there has been little or no mention of his passing away in the Chinese mainland where he was born.

Fang was one of China's leading astrophysicists but he fell from grace and was expelled from the Communist Party in 1987, accused of stirring up unrest. Although he took no active part in the Tiananmen Square protests he was seen as an inspiration to the thousands of students who did take part.

But as Chinese troops cracked down on the protest and killed hundreds, if not thousands of activists [BBC], Fang and his wife took refuge in the US embassy where he remained for a year before leaving China.


Despite repeated requests by the Chinese authorities, the Americans refused to hand them over, and in 1990, the couple were allowed to leave for the US.

After spending some time at Cambridge University in Britain and Princeton University in New Jersey, Fang later moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he worked as Professor of Physics at the University of Arizona.

Human rights

He remained critical of the Chinese regime and in campus speeches Fang spoke on topics such as human rights and democracy as matters of social responsibility. He also served as a board member and co-chair of Human Rights in China [HRiC].

It is perhaps no surprise that the celebrated scholar and advocate of human rights failed to gain a mention in China itself, though there was a brief mention in the Global Times English language edition. His passing was mentioned in Hong Kong papers where different rules apply. Some also commented on the censorship and blocking of the news in mainland China.

The Sing Tao Daily  [Chinese] made reference to some of the messages posted on China’s micro-blogs, some of which expressed anger at the news media failing to report Fang’s death. Micro-blogger Fu Kuo-Chung [傅國湧] [blog / weibo] wrote a message celebrating the academic saying “his words had excited an era”. However, like many other posts referring to Fang Lizhi, it was removed by censors only hours later.


The censorship is in direct contradiction to assertions made by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei who only recently insisted China's Internet was open to all and that “users enjoy total freedom online.

A search on Baidu, China's home-grown search engine, for  方励之 [Fang Lizhi] results in few returns. A message is displayed at the top of the page which reads "Accordance with relevant laws, regulations and policies, some search results were not displayed" [根据相关法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示]. Most articles are several years old and refer to Fang's expulsion from the Communist Party. There are a few news articles though many were only published today [9th April], 3 days after he died [].

Fang Lizhi died in his home in Tucson on April 6, 2012 and along with him his hopes for freedom and democracy in China. His words however still resonate:  "Democracy is not a favour bestowed from above; it should be won through people's own efforts." [BBC / Telegraph / Guardian / FT / Reuters / NYT]

See also: Fang Lizhi - Bringing Down the Great Wall: Writings on Science, Culture, and Democracy in China [Amazon]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Anonymous hackers attack Chinese govt websites

The hacking of up to 500 Chinese websites by the group Anonymous may have rattled the authorities, though they were initially reticent to even confirm that attacks even took place.

Many of the sites targeted were government websites with messages posted calling for an end to the strict censorship that users of the Internet experience in the country.

Some of the pages were accompanied with the Guns n’ Roses track Chinese Democracy and pictures of people wearing Guy Fawkes masks, drawn from the movie V for Vendetta.

In a long message in Chinese, one post read: “Message to the Chinese government: Over the years, the Chinese communist government has used unfair laws and unhealthy processes to control the people.”

“Dear Chinese government, you are not infallible , and today the website is blocked, tomorrow it will be your evil regime that will collapse. So do not think we will give up, we will never give up. For what you have done to the people today, tomorrow will see retaliation. There will be no hint of forgiveness.”

In a message aimed at what the hackers called their Chinese friends, the hackers offer solidarity. “We are with you,” the post reads. “Tomorrow and beyond we will guarantee your freedom.”

It implores the Chinese not to give up hope and continue in what it calls a “revolution created in your heart.”

The hackers also criticised what it calls the “silence of other countries” which it claimed “has highlighted China's lack of democracy and justice.”

Many of the sites had been restored within hours of the attacks, however dozens of sites remained defaced some four days after the hacks began. and were just two examples that remained defaced on Sunday [8th April]. Others showed blank pages or a message in Chinese [网站正在维护中……] saying “The website is under maintenance …” [ Full list of sites attacked ]

As well as defacement, Anonymous hackers also leaked administrator accounts, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses [BBC / CNN / PA / Daily Mail / Washington Post / ZDNet].

The attacks are turn of the tables for China, which is itself often blamed for perpetrating its own concerted cyber-attacks on foreign competitors or governments. But where Beijing will be particularly concerned is over the apparent hacking and leaking of sensitive information from a military contractor.

The hacker who goes by the name Hardcore Charlie claims to have uncovered thousands of internal documents after breaking into the network of a Chinese company with defence contracts. In communication with Reuters, the hacker said he managed to access the computer system of the Beijing-based China National Import & Export Corp (CEIEC).

He posted documents on file-sharing sites ranging from purported US military transport information to internal reports about business matters. While the authenticity of the documents cannot be independently confirmed there will certainly be concerns running through government circles both in China and abroad [Guardian / Register / ZDNet / eSecurityPlanet / Softpedia].

Within days Hardcore Charlie’s Photobucket page had been taken down and returned a 404 error page. The files he uploaded were however accessible at the time of writing [DepositFiles] something he was encouraging his Twitter followers to download

China and the US have remained quiet and released no comment concerning the alleged breaches at the CEIEC, though China did finally admit it had been the target of cyber-attacks on a number of websites last week.

Spokesman Hong Lei said that "certain reports prove again" that Chinese sites had been hacked. But he condemned the motives of those who criticise Chinese censorship insisting China’s Internet was free.

"First of all, China's Internet is open to all, users enjoy total freedom online. China has gained 500 million netizens and 300 million bloggers in a very short period of time, which shows the attraction and openness of China's Internet," Hong said.

"Secondly, the Chinese government manages the Internet according to law and regulations. Thirdly, certain reports prove again that China is a victim of Internet hacker attacks."

Unsurprisingly reports of the hacking attacks were not carried in official news media. Xinhua failed to report the activities of Anonymous, despite having reported their attacks on US and other targets in the past. The claim that netizens had “total freedom online” was widely condemned on Chinese micro-blogs, though many such comments along with references to the hacking were being systematically deleted from the web by censors over the weekend.

The attacks come only days after the country suspended comments on China's most popular micro-blogging sites, Sina's Weibo and Tencent's QQ. The two-day suspension was required to "clean up rumours and other illegal information spread through micro-blogs," Xinhua reported. Authorities also closed 16 websites and detained six people for allegedly spreading rumours of "military vehicles entering Beijing and something wrong going on in Beijing," a spokesperson for the State Internet Information Office told Xinhua.

The ousting of former Chongqing boss Bo Xilai has driven much of the online speculation. His purge from office last month has prompted a flurry of news stories to surface ranging from connections to a planned coup to links to the death of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, who some suggest might have been murdered.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Full Chinese text posted on defaced websites: 患难见真情 大家好! 给中国政府的讯息: 这些年来,中国共产政府都以不公平的法律和不健康的过程去管制人民。 亲爱的中国政府,你不是永不倒下的,今天的网站被黑,明天就是你邪恶的政权倒下。 所以不要以为我们会放弃,永远都不会放弃。你今天向人民所做的一切,明天就会加倍还回去。不会有一丝宽容。