Documents on Democracy

Issue Date January 2022
Volume 33
Issue 1
Page Numbers 180–87
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Belarus/Global

After her husband, an activist and 2020 presidential candidate, was arrested during the campaign, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya ran in his stead against longtime dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Since the regime’s brutal crackdown against postelection protests—the largest demonstrations in the country’s history—she has led the prodemocratic opposition from exile. She spoke at the Summit for Democracy, a set of meetings that U.S. president Joseph Biden convened from December 8 to 10 with democratic stakeholders from around the word. Excerpts of her remarks follow. (To watch her full speech, see: https://youtu.be/Nw2bfsjTXhA?t=9150.

I feel angry. Thousands of my fellow citizens are in prison because they dared to speak up against a dictator. It all started as a protest against rigged elections, but it became something much bigger. It became a struggle for dignity and justice.

Belarusians had enough of the regime ruling the country for 27 years. They felt that they deserved to be respected and heard. We continue to pay a big price. Forty-thousand people have been detained since last year. Many suffered endless interrogations at the hands of the KGB and many were tortured and humiliated. You could see their forced confessions posted by the regime on YouTube. Many lost their lives. More than three-hundred thousand were forced to flee, and more than nine hundred have been recognized at political prisoners.

Among them is my husband, Sergei, who [is] likely to be sentenced to fifteen to twenty years imprisonment next week. It is because of him that I am here today.

I feel awful that my children haven’t seen their father for 18 months, and some mothers will never see their children again. . . .

For the last eighteen months, I have been trying to understand why the democracies of the world are so reluctant [to take more action against Lukashenka]. Taken together, they are the most powerful force in the world today. Their economies are vast. They have enormous wealth, expertise and power—both soft and hard. And many brilliant, charismatic leaders . . . are here today. Leaders that really could defeat dictatorships, if only they set their minds to it. If only they realize that the fight for our freedom is the fight for their own freedom, too.

I’m not an experienced politician, but I’m not naïve either, and I truly believe in the power of international institutions and our democratic community. Perhaps I believe in them more than you do, but this belief comes from the bottom of my heart. The heart of a mother and wife, but also a Belarusian who patiently desires [her] country and its people to be free. . . .

Let me put it in simple words. Imagine that your neighbor is an abuser. You can’t ignore him, but also you cannot change his ways. So what can you do? You can try to appease him or try to satisfy his demands, but that will only make the abuser feel that he can control you. That he can manipulate you. Because if you are accommodating, you lose ground. Twenty-seven years of oppression taught us that appeasement never works. If you give him an inch, he will take a mile.

Let me be clear. Dictators cannot be re-educated. On an individual level when we see an abuser we know what the right thing to do is: Send a collective message loud and clear that such behavior will have punitive consequences.

This abusing neighbor is a problem for the whole neighborhood. Not only for the left or right side. Why then does the world do so little when it comes to the abuse going on just across the border, in neighboring Belarus, and what hope is there for any us if we cannot stand up for our own values?

China

Olympic tennis player Peng Shuai disappeared after accusing Zhang Gaoli, China’s former vice-premier under Xi Jinping, of sexual assault in a November 2 social-media post. Despite global outcry, the Communist Party has not provided verifiable proof of Peng’s safety and freedom. In response, Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chairman and chief executive Steve Simon suspended the Association’s tournaments in China and Hong Kong. Excerpts of his December 3 announcement and call for an investigation into Peng’s accusations follow. (For the full statement, see: www.wtatennis.com/news/2384758/steve-simon-announces-wta-s-decision-to-suspend-tournaments-in-china.

Peng Shuai demonstrated the importance of speaking out, particularly when it comes to sexual assault, and especially when powerful people are involved. As Peng said in her post, “Even if it is like an egg hitting a rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, inviting self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you.” She knew the dangers she would face, yet she went public anyway. I admire her strength and courage.

Since then, Peng’s message has been removed from the internet and discussion of this serious issue has been censored in China. Chinese officials have been provided the opportunity to cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner. Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation—without censorship—into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation. . . .

. . . With the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong. In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault. Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.

. . . To further protect Peng and many other women throughout the world, it is more urgent than ever for people to speak out. As we do so, I hope leaders around the world will continue to speak out so justice can be done for Peng, and all women, no matter the financial ramifications. . . .

Hong Kong

In late November, democracy activist Tony Chung became the youngest person sentenced under Hong Kong’s draconian National Security Law (NSL), which was passed—despite great popular protest—in mid-2020. (See the essay by Michael C. Davis on pp. 100–15.) He was charged with “secessionism” for his leadership of a pro–Hong Kong independence group and social-media posts made before the law was passed. NGO Hong Kong Democracy Council’s November 23 statement on Chung’s case quotes Executive Director Brian Leung. Excerpts follow. (For the full text, see: https://hkdc.us/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/11.23-The-Sentencing-of-Tony-Chung.pdf.) 

Tony Chung is convicted for his work with a student group, Studentlocalism, which disbanded just before the NSL’s enactment. While the Beijing and Hong Kong authorities repeatedly emphasize that the law cannot be applied retroactively, the prosecution relies heavily on Mr. Chung’s past words and deeds; over half of its 69-page case summary focused on his social media posts and activism before [the NSL was passed]. The sweeping NSL not only has completely stifled free expression in Hong Kong, but has also blurred the line between retroactivity and prospectivity, which is crucial for protecting citizens from later laws that arbitrarily punish past behaviors.

Hong Kong authorities have adopted a strategy that exhausts every legal instrument in the common law repertoire to double down on their NSL-powered crackdown. Mr. Chung is guilty of ‘money laundering’ for simply maintaining the operation of his organization and receiving donations. He was previously also charged for conspiring to publish seditious materials, an outdated law from the British colonial era. This will continue to be the pattern of the Hong Kong government to punish prodemocracy activists.

Mr. Chung’s case is particularly tragic in that he was arrested en route to the U.S. Consulate last October, attempting to seek refuge there. He never made it to the building; the other activists who traveled with him would be turned away. Incidents like this underscore the desperation of many Hong Kongers with a well-founded fear of political persecution under the NSL and the urgent need for more institutionalized pathways for them to receive protection as soon as possible.

Honduras

In the November 28 presidential election, opposition candidate Xiomara Castro defeated Nasry Asfura of the incumbent National Party. He swiftly conceded. Castro, the wife of former president Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed in a 2009 coup, has promised to stem the corruption and democratic backsliding endemic to the National Party’s twelve years in power. Translated excerpts of her November 28 victory speech follow. (For a video of the entire speech in Spanish, see: www.youtube.com/watch?v=K92u6fbaqQc.) 

God takes time, but doesn’t forget. And today the people have rendered justice and rolled back the authoritarianism and rolled back the continuismo. . . . Today we sent the message that not through attacks, not through messages that could generate hatred and division among the people, we can bear anything.

We are going to form a government of reconciliation in our country, a government of peace, and a government of justice. We are going to initiate a process throughout Honduras to guarantee a participative democracy, a direct democracy. Because we are going to the popular referendums. This will be a norm, to govern through local governments, magistrates, deputies of the National Congress, and the power of the executive.

Never again, Hondurans—never again will power be abused in this country. Because from this moment on, the people will be the everlasting force in Honduras. We are going for a direct democracy, a participative democracy! And I am offering a hand to the opposition, because I have no enemies.

We are going for a permanent dialogue with the Honduran people. And beginning tomorrow, we are going to get together not just with the social organizations, the businesspeople, with the sectors of our country, but we are also going to get together with the international organizations, so that we can find the resources our land needs.

We are going to create a new era, we are going to create—together—a new history for the Honduran people. Today I want to say to you from the depths of my heart: Out with war, out with hate, out with the death squads, out with corruption, out with drug trafficking and organized crime, out with the [Employment and Economic Development Zones (ZEDEs)], no more poverty and misery in Honduras!

Until victory, always, the people, united, together—we are going to transform this country!

Nicaragua

President Daniel Ortega won a fourth term in fraudulent general elections held November 7. At least a dozen candidates—including Cristiana Chamorro, the country’s most prominent opposition leader—had been detained before the race, as had many journalists and activists. Campaigning was restricted, and misinformation on social media abounded. Civil-electoral group Urnas Abiertas estimated that Nicaragua’s regions averaged turnouts of less than 20 percent. In response, on November 10 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) denounced the human-rights violations reported during the election period. Excerpts follow. (For the full statement, see: www.oas.org/en/iachr/jsForm/?File=/en/iachr/media_center/preleases/2021/300.asp.

Over the period November 5–7, the IACHR received information about increased police pressure, acts of harassment, raids, threats, and arbitrary arrests against opposition leaders, human rights activists, members of civil society organizations, and journalists in several departments around the country. These acts of violence were allegedly mostly perpetrated by police officers, para-State agents, and government supporters. . . . At least 23 individuals were arbitrarily arrested in nine departments, without arrest warrants and without providing information to detainees’ families beyond asking them to wait 48 hours for additional details. Further, members of the former Citizen Power Councils . . . allegedly went door to door asking residents to vote for the ruling party, as a way to intimidate voters.

The IACHR’s Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression is concerned about the many reports on restrictions of freedom of the press on election day. These include not allowing reporters to get close to voting facilities; acts of harassment against media outlets and journalists; temporary arrests of journalists and confiscations of their personal property and work equipment; the obligation to broadcast to the whole country a speech delivered in the middle of election day by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega; the broadcast of electoral propaganda on pro-government media, in violation of the relevant domestic legislation; and deportations of and entry bans for international media reporters who wanted to cover the election on site.

After the election, the Commission and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights were told of public-sector employees who had been forced to vote for Ortega, and to make their vote clear with photographs or by showing their fingers stained with permanent ink to indicate they had voted, or risk being dismissed from their jobs. . . .

The Commission urges the State of Nicaragua to release all the people who have been arbitrarily arrested in the context of the election and since the current crisis started, and to end attacks against government critics and any actions that affect the rights of journalists and the media. The State should also restore the full enjoyment of civil and political rights, as well as fundamental liberties and guarantees. . . .

India

On November 22, human-rights activist Khurram Parvez was arrested during a raid on his home by Indian authorities. Detained under the country’s heavy-handed Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, Parvez leads the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, which investigates abuses by authorities in Kashmir, a majority-Muslim region claimed by both India and Pakistan. His arrest is the latest escalation in a continued crackdown on the region and its journalists, activists, and leaders. Excerpts of a statement by six international human-rights NGOs follows. (For the full statement, see: www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/india/india-kashmiri-activist-held-under-abusive-law.

Parvez’s arrest comes amid a growing nationwide crackdown by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led [central] government on civil society groups and media, and particularly in Jammu and Kashmir since the government revoked the state’s special autonomous status in August 2019 and split it into two federally governed territories.

The authorities are increasingly using the [Unlawful Activities Prevention Act] against activists, journalists, peaceful protesters, and critics to silence dissent. The law contains a vague and overbroad definition of terrorism that encompasses a wide range of nonviolent political activity, including political protest by minority populations and civil society groups. In 2019, the government further amended the law, granting officials the authority to designate an individual as a “terrorist” without charge or a trial. . . .

Journalists in Kashmir face increasing harassment by the authorities, including raids and arrests on terrorism charges. In September [2021], the police raided the homes of four Kashmiri journalists and confiscated their phones and laptops. . . .

Earlier in November, police arrested an activist and politician, Talib Hussain, for publicly questioning the security forces’ killing of a Kashmiri man in October. The authorities did not investigate Hussain’s allegations, but instead accused him of “promoting enmity between different groups” and “spreading rumors or fake news.” . . .

The Indian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Parvez and others arrested in politically motivated cases and drop all charges against them. . . . The government should also amend the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to bring it in line with international human rights law and standards and pending its amendment, [Indian authorities] should stop using it to target human rights defenders, critics of the government, and others exercising their basic human rights.

Nigeria

Obianuju Catherine Udeh (known as “DJ Switch”) is an accomplished disc jockey, musician, and creative producer. In 2021–22, she is a Regan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. She wrote “Nigeria Unite” with former band member Duby. She hopes the song helps Nigerians to “see beyond these antics which [have] sadly taken so many young lives while children of these political elites are safe in other countries, benefiting [from] our resources and getting proper education while many of us languish away in oblivion.” Excerpts from “Nigeria Unite” follow. (To listen to the song, see: ) 

Too much blood inna the news
Backayard you make a ghetto man confused
Die-hard!

Poison the minds of the youth
Ready and you steady and you aim, and you shoot.

Boom!

Political fanatics ’pon the loose
What is good for the gander also good for the goose

Some in the government, political fools
“Poli-tricking” the people and killing our people
And we must refuse. . . .

Yeah. . . .

Nigeria Unite!

Stop the hating, brutal killing
And you thinking that you
Fight for a cause

Nigeria Unite!!

Brutality is not the key
We fighting for our
Right to be free

Nigeria Unite!!!

Yeah. . . . Eya

Victim after victim. . . .

We live in a prison. . . .

Tell that man to breathe in. . . .

He’s poverty stricken

What one man has got

Will cause another clan to
Riot. . . Yeah

He has a corner plot

Ready set and he’s shot.

Boom!

The children think that it’s the latest groove
What is good for the gander also good for the goose

You play the weapon like an instrument
Of the blues

And every time you dance
Me I go see you inna the news. . . .

 

Copyright © 2022 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press