“Young Chinese Have No Sympathy For Tibet” Monday, Apr 14 2008 

China’s Loyal Youth, Matthew Forney, Opinion, New York Times, 13 Apr 2008

Many sympathetic Westerners view Chinese society along the lines of what they saw in the waning days of the Soviet Union: a repressive government backed by old hard-liners losing its grip to a new generation of well-educated, liberal-leaning sophisticates. As pleasant as this outlook may be, it’s naïve. Educated young Chinese, far from being embarrassed or upset by their government’s human-rights record, rank among the most patriotic, establishment-supporting people you’ll meet.

As is clear to anyone who lives here, most young ethnic Chinese strongly support their government’s suppression of the recent Tibetan uprising. One Chinese friend who has a degree from a European university described the conflict to me as “a clash between the commercial world and an old aboriginal society.” She even praised her government for treating Tibetans better than New World settlers treated Native Americans.

It’s a rare person in China who considers the desires of the Tibetans themselves. “Young Chinese have no sympathy for Tibet,” a Beijing human-rights lawyer named Teng Biao told me. Mr. Teng — a Han Chinese who has offered to defend Tibetan monks caught up in police dragnets — feels very alone these days. Most people in their 20s, he says, “believe the Dalai Lama is trying to split China.”

Educated young people are usually the best positioned in society to bridge cultures, so it’s important to examine the thinking of those in China. The most striking thing is that, almost without exception, they feel rightfully proud of their country’s accomplishments in the three decades since economic reforms began. And their pride and patriotism often find expression in an unquestioning support of their government, especially regarding Tibet.

The most obvious explanation for this is the education system, which can accurately be described as indoctrination. Textbooks dwell on China’s humiliations at the hands of foreign powers in the 19th century as if they took place yesterday, yet skim over the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s as if it were ancient history. Students learn the neat calculation that Chairman Mao’s tyranny was “30 percent wrong,” then the subject is declared closed. The uprising in Tibet in the late 1950s, and the invasion that quashed it, are discussed just long enough to lay blame on the “Dalai clique,” a pejorative reference to the circle of advisers around Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Then there’s life experience — or the lack of it — that might otherwise help young Chinese to gain a perspective outside the government’s viewpoint. Young urban Chinese study hard and that’s pretty much it. Volunteer work, sports, church groups, debate teams, musical skills and other extracurricular activities don’t factor into college admission, so few participate. And the government’s control of society means there aren’t many non-state-run groups to join anyway. Even the most basic American introduction to real life — the summer job — rarely exists for urban students in China.

Recent Chinese college graduates are an optimistic group. And why not? The economy has grown at a double-digit rate for as long as they can remember. Those who speak English are guaranteed good jobs. Their families own homes. They’ll soon own one themselves, and probably a car too. A cellphone, an iPod, holidays — no problem. Small wonder the Pew Research Center in Washington described the Chinese in 2005 as “world leaders in optimism.”

As for political repression, few young Chinese experience it. Most are too young to remember the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 and probably nobody has told them stories. China doesn’t feel like a police state, and the people young Chinese read about who do suffer injustices tend to be poor — those who lost homes to government-linked property developers without fair compensation or whose crops failed when state-supported factories polluted their fields.

Educated young Chinese are therefore the biggest beneficiaries of policies that have brought China more peace and prosperity than at any time in the past thousand years. They can’t imagine why Tibetans would turn up their noses at rising incomes and the promise of a more prosperous future. The loss of a homeland just doesn’t compute as a valid concern.

Of course, the nationalism of young Chinese may soften over time. As college graduates enter the work force and experience their country’s corruption and inefficiency, they often grow more critical. It is received wisdom in China that people in their 40s are the most willing to challenge their government, and the Tibet crisis bears out that observation. Of the 29 ethnic-Chinese intellectuals who last month signed a widely publicized petition urging the government to show restraint in the crackdown, not one was under 30.

Barring major changes in China’s education system or economy, Westerners are not going to find allies among the vast majority of Chinese on key issues like Tibet, Darfur and the environment for some time. If the debate over Tibet turns this summer’s contests in Beijing into the Human Rights Games, as seems inevitable, Western ticket-holders expecting to find Chinese angry at their government will instead find Chinese angry at them.

Matthew Forney, a former Beijing bureau chief for TIME, is writing a book about raising his family in China.

First-Hand Account Of Tight Security At Whitley Road Detention Centre Tuesday, Apr 1 2008 

Singapore’s great escape by Jufrie Mahmood, Singapore Democrats, 27 Mar 2008

It is exactly one month today since Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from the Internal Security Department (ISD) Whitley Road Detention Centre. While we await the findings of the Government appointed “independent” Committee of Inquiry.

I have not stopped wondering how the escape could have taken place. It is next to impossible for any detainee at the centre to escape. And I am saying this from personal experience.

I was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) sometime in 1979 for an offence I did not commit. I was then a translator attached to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Prior to my transfer to the CID I was serving in the same post in the ISD. I was unceremoniously transferred to the CID after being accused of having pro-opposition sentiments.

I had privately voiced out my disagreement towards certain government policies which I felt was discriminatory and against the spirit of multi-racialism. I was only being honest about my disgust for such policies. I was, of course, found not suitable for the ISD and thus transferred to the CID.

Not long after working in the CID, I was arrested and detained without trial. The authorities said that they had “found” some anti-government petition circulated to many organizations. The petition, I was told, was some sort of protest against the detention of a group of university students and had contained information about the ISD.

The Government’s immediate response was to arrest me. They thought I was responsible for drafting and circulating the petition. Actually the petition was drafted and circulated by a colleague, a fellow translator in the CID, who got so worked up over the detention of some of his friends, many of whom were university undergraduates.

Among those rounded up was Mr. Ahmad Khalis Abdul Ghani, an ex PAP MP who stepped down during the last GE. The ISD found out after I was already detained that the author of the petition was indeed my colleague, now deceased, and that I was not aware of its existence because it was drafted and circulated while I was on leave and absent from the office.

Nevertheless, I was charged under the Official Secrets Act for revealing ISD operational methods to the my colleague and sentenced to nine months imprisonment. After some two months in Whitley Road Detention Centre I was moved to Queenstown Remand Prison. I was released after six months for good conduct.

So as I had said, I am giving a first-hand account about the tight security at the detention centre. All movements in the centre are closely monitored. When a detainee needs to move from one station to another within the compound for further interrogation or for other purposes, he is physically escorted. The gurkha guards will hold the detainee’s hands tightly while moving from one station to another. When he goes for a toilet break the guards would stand guard outside the toilet entrance. And since toilets are not situated near or abutting the perimeter wall/fencing, escape is practically impossible.

That being the case I can think of three possible reasons that could have led to the escape – that is, assuming the escape really took place:

1. Some party or parties were in cahoots with, and assisted, Mas Selamat in staging his escape. If this is the case there seems to be a breakdown in the system of screening security personnel. This is indeed a very serious development.

2. For reasons only known to the powers that be Mas Selamat was deliberately let loose.

3. Mas Selamat has magical powers which he may have acquired through long hours of meditation during his solitary confinement.

In the meantime the Minister-in-Charge Mr Wong Kan Seng should take full responsibility for this embarrassing episode. I do not detect any signs of regret in his demeanour when making public statements concerning the case. He appears to be as cocky as ever.

Ministers who are quick to claim credit for Singapore’s achievements must also be as quick in taking the blame for any shortcoming. The economic costs resulting from the delays and traffic jams at the causeway will easily run into tens of millions of dollars.

Thus far the response by our security officials have been less than assuring and lacks professionalism. If the government is to be believed, Mas Selamat is a very dangerous individual. He is not a petty thief. But the immediate response to his escape smacks of a tidak apa (the devil may care) attitude.

If I remember correctly it took the authorities four hours before they decided to inform and engage the public, one whole week before telling the public what clothes Mas Selamat was wearing and another few days to release information that his limp would only be obvious when he runs.

I wonder at what point of time was the Home Affairs Minister informed of the “escape”, and having been informed, what his first reaction was and what directions he gave to his officers. This is very important because Singaporeans need to know the true quality of their leaders which is only evident in times of crises. After all, we citizens have been forced to accept the argument that our ministers are world class and should be paid handsomely.

I would like to suggest that the Minister for Home Affairs volunteers to have his pay cut by $1,000 for every day that Mas Selamat is not caught. And since the cabinet claims to take collective responsibility, other cabinet ministers can join him and have their pay cut as well.

The longer Mas Selamat remains free, the more money will be accumulated which can then be used to help the poor. This can also serve to mitigate PAP policies where the Poor Also Pay. Yes that has always been the PAP philosophy – the Poor Also Pay.

Coming back to Mas Selamat, if he is rearrested the Government should put him on trial. Let the world hear his side of the story. Let him defend himself in court. If after due process of law the evidence shows that indeed he is guilty, then let the law take its course.

In my opinion it is not that simple to seize a plane, pilot it over a distance and crash it into a building. According to information supplied by the authorities Mas Selamat is only a trained mechanic. Since when can a mechanic, acting alone, pilot a plane without first undergoing any formal or informal training. If the authorities have information on Mas Selamat’s flight training lessons, they have not told the public. We only keep hearing the mantra that “Mas Selamat tried to crash a plane into Changi Airport”. The people who crashed the planes into the world trade centre on 9/11 underwent months of training to learn to fly the planes.

Let Singaporeans hear the truth – on how he managed to do the impossible of escaping from the Whitley Detention Centre, the whole truth – including how he was going to fly a plane to crash into Changi Airport, and nothing but the truth – from the man himself and not some Committee of Inquiry.

Mr Jufrie was an opposition candidate in the 1988, 1991 and 1997 general elections.

Burmese Activists Call for Beijing Olympics Boycott Tuesday, Feb 26 2008 

By SAW YAN NAING, The Irrawaddy, 25 Feb 2008

The 88 Generation Students group on Monday called for an international boycott of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, including a boycott of products sold by Olympic sponsors, according to group leaders.

The Rangoon-based activist group released a statement urging international activists to launch campaigns to boycott the Beijing Olympics and to pressure the Chinese government to stop its unqualified support of the Burmese military government.

“In response to China’s bankrolling of the military junta that rules the country with guns and threats, we call for each and every citizen around the world not to watch the Olympic ceremonies on television,” said the statement.

Tun Myint Aung, a member of the 88 Generation Students group, told The Irrawaddy from his hiding place, “We [the Burmese people] lack democracy and human rights. So, to help our struggle for democracy in Burma, we want people around the world to cooperate with us and boycott the Chinese Olympics.”

The group called for a boycott of Olympic merchandise, and products from China and its Olympics sponsors during the time of the Olympic games.

The statement added, “We urge people of conscience throughout the world—including the hundreds of thousands of Burmese in dozens of countries—to pledge to not watch or support in any way the Beijing Olympics.”

The Burmese junta remains in power partly because of China’s support, said the statement.

China is a major trade partner, arms supplier and defender of the junta in the international arena, especially in the United Nations Security Council.

The group called on the Chinese government to pressure the Burmese regime for democratic change by using its influence over the junta.

A Web site located at www.beijingolympicsboycott.com cites 10 reasons to boycott the Beijing Olympics, including China’s involvement in Darfur and its human rights record.

Beijing, however, has repeatedly denounced efforts to link the Olympics and politics, saying it is playing a positive role and that it is wrong to criticize it for what is happening in other countries.

Recently, well-known film director Steven Spielberg withdrew as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics because of China’s policy over Darfur.

China will open the Beijing Olympics on August 8, 2008, the date of the 20th anniversary of Burma’s 1988 uprising, in which an estimated 3,000 people were killed following the regime’s refusal to honor the results of a democratic election.

VIDEO & REPORT: Human Rights Torch Relay Reaches Police State Wednesday, Jan 23 2008 

Singapore Welcomes the Global Human Rights Torch Relay, George Fu, Epoch Times, 22 Jan 2008

The Global Human Rights Torch Relay (HRTR) arrived in Singapore this Saturday, 19 January, following a receptive welcome of over 200 supporters in Batam last week. A ceremony to welcome the torch was held at Changi, on the east coast of Singapore.

HRTR relay in SingaporeLocal politicians, lawyers and representatives of the “SG Human Rights Organisation” were among the citizens who came to support the torch and its worthy message: “The Olympics and Crimes against Humanity Cannot Coexist in China”.

President of The Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China (CIPFG), Singapore Branch, human rights lawyer Mr. M. Ravi, welcomed the arrival of the torch, “This is an immensely important event as there has never been a human rights torch that has arrived in Singapore in this fashion.”

Veteran politician and lawyer JB Jayaretnam and John Tan, Assistant Secretary General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) both expressed their deep concern for and disappointment at the human rights abuses committed against various groups in China, especially Falun Gong – the most severely persecuted group in China today.

“This event for me is most symbolic above anything else. I hope it is going to have real pressure on the Chinese regime. They are not doing the right thing in terms of their abuse and they ought to stop the persecution,” said Mr Tan.

“If they want friendship of the world and if they want the participation of the Olympics in Beijing, they have to stop the abuse… not because they want business and cooperation, but it’s all part of being human and not to abuse the rights of other human beings”, he added.

Shortly after the human rights torch was ignited, a pick-up bearing the HRTR banner chauffeured two torch-bearing Olympic maidens, dressed in flowing white ancient Greek-style dresses, directly into the heart of the city and later to the Chinese embassy.

The sight was greeted with thumbs-ups and cheers by surprised weekend crowds and tourists along Orchard Road and City Hall. Motorists passing by the Chinese embassy looked on as a statement was read aloud, detailing the Chinese Communist Party’s various crimes committed against the Chinese people and humanity.

The statement closed with a demand that the crimes cease before the scheduled Beijing Olympics in August, especially the crime of harvesting organs from Falun Gong practitioners, while still alive, for profit. The statement was then handed over to a guard at the Embassy, who promised to pass it on to Embassy leaders.

“The torch turns on the spotlight on China’s atrocity against Falun Gong. We hope that at least today this torch will receive a given attention to all Singaporeans who would come to know that this torch has come to Singapore,” said Ravi.

The Global Human Rights Torch will be relayed through a total of 37 countries and more than 100 cities around the world until August this year. It is next scheduled to visit Sri Lanka, India and Africa.

Local Police Seize Human Rights Torch ‘For Investigation’

Shortly after the HRTR activities ended at Singapore’s landmark hill and frequent tourist spot, Mount Faber, six police officers, tagged by a cameraman, seized two Human Rights Torches and two HRTR banners from CIPFG members.

Categorizing the event as “illegal assembly”, the investigation officer said the torches and banners were needed to facilitate their “investigation”, and repeatedly demanded HRTR event participants to reveal their names and personal particulars, on the pretext of returning the props to the rightful owner after their investigation.

When the police were questioned about the purpose of the investigation and who would be held accountable for the confiscation of the items, no direct answer was given.

Some HRTR event participants told the police to arrest them if they had committed a crime, rather than take away the symbolic items. The police officers were hesitant and seemed uncertain. When the event participants walked away the police did not take any action.

The Human Rights Torch, gaining international attention from dignitaries and citizens around the world, is a symbol of justice and peace, standing for the sacredness of humanity’s fundamental rights.

The banners, which were also confiscated, read ‘Human Rights before Olympics’ and ‘Olympic Games and crimes against humanity cannot coexist in China’.

“The word ‘human rights’ has become a dirty word because of the government’s propaganda. There is no such thing as human rights, only until recent years, the notion of human rights at least,” said John Tan, who was at the scene.

“What is really significant is that Singaporeans are now vocal and daring enough to come out and say ‘hey, this is human rights, contrary to what the government has been telling us. Human rights do not belong to just the West. We want human rights too and we deserve human rights as well.”

VIDEO: Montage of Seelan’s 5-Day Hunger Strike Sunday, Jan 13 2008 

Related posts:

Singaporean Activist On Hunger Strike To Support Malaysian Hindus

VIDEOS: First Day Of Singaporean Activist’s Hunger Strike

VIDEO: Seelan Palay Ends Hunger Strike For Hindraf 5

VIDEO: Seelan Palay Ends Hunger Strike For Hindraf 5 Monday, Jan 7 2008 

Read Seelan Palay’s message

Palay ends hunger strike for Hindraf five, AP, 6 Jan 2008

A Singaporean artist calling for the release of five ethnic Indian activists detained in neighboring Malaysia ended his five-day hunger strike yesterday.

Seelan Palay, 23, had been camped outside the city-state’s Malaysian High Commission since Monday, consuming nothing but water. Seelan, an ethnic Indian, was protesting the arrest and detention of leaders from the Hindu Rights Action Force who led a massive rally on Nov. 25 in Kuala Lumpur to highlight what the group says is racial discrimination faced by ethnic Indians.

The group’s leaders were arrested last month under Malaysia’s Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial.

Yesterday, a crowd of supporters gathered around Seelan and presented him with a garland that he wore around his neck over a placard that read: “Give them fair trial.”

“What I have done is only what I can do as an individual. If we had a hundred, we could make a difference,” Seelan said. “One day, we will all achieve freedom.”

Seelan said he hoped his hunger strike would draw attention to the detentions.

“I hope that the international community, regardless of race and religion, to look into this issue and pressure the Malaysian government to release the Hindraf five,” he said.

Two men hoisted Seelan up and pumped their fists in the air as Seelan completed his protest.

“We are so proud that there is at least one Indian in Singapore supporting our cause,” said Mayil Sapapathy, 36, an ethnic Indian from Malaysia who works in Singapore. “Indians like us don’t get the same privileges in Malaysia like the ethnic Malays do.”

Ethnic Indians form about 8 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people, and complain that the government denies them opportunities in jobs, education and business. They say that years of systematic repression have kept them at the bottom of society.

The government denies this.

Officials could not be reached yesterday at the Malaysian High Commission, which was closed, while Singapore police said they had no comment on Seelan’s protest.

Protests are rare in Singapore, where police permits are required for outdoor gatherings of more than four people.

Join Seelan Palay As He Ends Hunger Strike At 9am On 5 Jan Friday, Jan 4 2008 

SeelanPalay - uncleyap

Show your support by joining Seelan Palay as he ends his hunger strike tomorrow at 9am in front of the Malaysian High Commission.

Updated at 2050hrs on 5 Jan: Click here for reports, videos and photos of the day’s events

VIDEOS: First Day Of Singaporean Activist’s Hunger Strike Tuesday, Jan 1 2008 

Related post: Singaporean Activist On Hunger Strike To Support Malaysian Hindus

Videos from Seelan Palay’s Singapore Indian Voice blog

Singaporean Activist On Hunger Strike To Support Malaysian Hindus Monday, Dec 31 2007 

Singaporean says on hunger strike to support Malaysian Hindus, 31 Dec 2007

SINGAPORE (AFP) – A Singaporean artist said Monday he had begun a hunger strike to seek the release of Malaysian Hindu rights activists detained under a tough security law.

“At 9:00 am (0100 GMT) I began,” 23-year-old Seelan Palay told AFP from near the front gate of the Malaysian High Commission.

SeelanPalay - AP
Singaporean artist Seelan Palay, 23, sits outside the Malaysian High Commission on Monday, Dec. 31, 2007 in Singapore. Seelan went on a hunger strike Monday to protest the indefinite detention by authorities in neighbouring Malaysia of five leaders of an ethnic Indian group. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Palay said he would drink water but not eat during the hunger strike, which will last five days — one day for each detained member from Malaysia’s Hindu Rights Action Force.

The five are being held under Malaysia’s Internal Security Act, which allows for indefinite detention without trial.

“I’ll sleep on the ground on a straw mat,” Palay said, adding he was wearing a sign around his neck that read: “Give them fair trial.”

The activists were detained after they enraged the government in November by mounting a mass rally alleging discrimination against Indians in Malaysia, where the majority are ethnic Malay Muslims.

Police used tear gas, water cannon and baton charges to break up the street protest by at least 8,000 people. Palay said he attended that rally.

In a statement released before the hunger strike, Palay called for global pressure on the Malaysian government to free the five and to prove allegations against them in open court.

“In line with the greater focus on human rights in ASEAN today … we surely cannot turn a blind eye to this matter,” his statement said.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last month signed a charter calling for the establishment of a regional human rights body.

Singapore currently chairs the 10-member ASEAN and Malaysia is a member.

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Lone protestor stages hunger strike, Malaysian Star, 31 Dec 2007

By NELSON BENJAMIN and GLADYS TAY

SINGAPORE: A lone protestor is staging a “hunger strike” outside the Malaysian High Commission here against the arrest of the five Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) activists under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

The man, also carrying a placard containing photographs of the detainees, has been outside the commission at Jervois Road since early Monday.

This is the second protest at the high commission in the past month. On Dec 17, several members from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) presented a memorandum urging the Malaysian Government to respect human rights.

Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore Datuk N. Parameswaran when contacted confirmed that a man was holding a placard outside the high commission on Monday.

“This incident is the second protest at the high commission.

“We are not sure whether he is a Malaysian. We leave it to the Singaporean authorities to handle the matter,” he said, adding that so far the man has not passed any memorandum to the high commission.

On the SDP protest, Parameswaran only said that a memorandum was received and sent to Kuala Lumpur.

Pseudonymity: More photos, videos and reports HERE

Short Shrift For Human Rights In South-east Asia Sunday, Dec 23 2007 

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Dec 22 (IPS) – For nearly 30 years Cambodians have grappled with a question that no one in the country could answer with certainty: will the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime face justice for the genocide they perpetrated on their own people in the mid-1970s?

The wait may be over in the New Year. Events through 2007 suggested that the special war crimes tribunal established to try the Khmer Rouge leaders for killing nearly 1.7 million men, women and children is expected to open in 2008. Significant in this regard was the arrest this year of five major leaders of that extreme Maoist movement that ruled the country during 1975-79.

The hunger for justice among ordinary Cambodians, who lost relatives to Khmer Rouge brutality, was evident in late November when large crowds gathered at the special court on the outskirts of Phnom Penh to hear the bail hearing of Kaing Khek Eav, also known as ‘Duch.’ He headed the notorious Toul Sleng prison, where nearly 14,000 people were tortured before being executed. Duch’s bail application was rejected by the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal.

But such events are rare on South-east Asia’s political terrain. Acts by most of the ten governments in this region during the year confirm that a greater priority is placed on state security than human security. And those who campaigned for human rights and political and civil liberties were often at the receiving end of rough, and at times brutal, measures unleashed by elected and non-elected governments.

‘’Human rights have deteriorated across this region in 2007. Even the few signs of hope have vanished,’’ Anselmo Lee, executive director of Forum-Asia, a Bangkok-based regional rights lobby, told IPS. ‘’Governments are still interested in protecting themselves at the expense of the rights of their people.’’

Consequently, activists like Lee are pursuing a wait-and-see approach to judge the move by the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member bloc of the countries in the region, to improve its human rights record through a new regional charter. At a summit in Singapore in November, government leaders backed the new ASEAN constitution’s call to protect and promote human rights and to create a regional human rights body.

‘’The inclusion of human rights in the charter and the plan to create a regional human rights body are positive developments. They offer a window of opportunity,’’ says Lee. ‘’But we have to wait and see how serious this language is and how effective the new human rights mechanism will be.’’

ASEAN’s members include Burma and Thailand, which were under the grip of military juntas, Singapore and Malaysia, which are one-party states where opposition voices are kept in check through harsh laws, and Brunei, which has an absolute monarchy.

The region also accounts for Laos and Vietnam, which have repressive communist regimes; and Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines, which have varying shades of democracy hampered by a culture of impunity that has enabled abuse of power by some quarters, including the military and officials in government.

Military-ruled Burma, in fact, emerged as a human rights embarrassment for the region, following a harsh crackdown of peaceful street protests in September. The anger in some South-east Asian capitals was palpable as officials, normally known for bland diplomatic statements, opted for sharp language to criticise their regional neighbour.

Vietnam escaped a similar rebuke despite Hanoi unleashing the police on anti-government protestors in Ho Chi Minh City in July. Thousands of uniformed and plainclothes policemen were used to crush a movement led by farmers demanding compensation for lands that were seized by officials for new ‘development’ projects.

Malaysia, one of the region’s more affluent countries, did not take too kindly to rare protests by the country’s ethnic Indian minority in November. Their complaints of economic, educational and cultural discrimination were met by police using batons and tear gas. Kuala Lumpur accused the leaders of this marginalised community of having ‘’terrorist’’ links and arrested them under the country’s harsh Internal Security Act, a British colonial-era relic that enables the authorities to keep detainees behind bars indefinitely.

The Philippines, on the other hand, was the subject of worry among human rights monitors for the spate of extra-judicial killings that continued unabated through the year. In November, a special U.N. investigator released a report that accused the country’s armed forces of killing leftist sympathisers in an effort to wipe out communist insurgents and left-wing activists.

The death toll in 2007 was 68 people, a dramatic drop from the 209 victims who were murdered in 2006 in that archipelago. At the beginning of this year, Filipino human rights groups like Karapatan revealed that over 830 people had fallen victim to extra-judicial killings since 2001, when the current president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo began her term in office.

Indonesia, an emerging beacon of democracy after ending a 30-year-long dictatorship in the mid-1990s, had a mixed record in trying to deepen its human rights culture. Jakarta won some praise by human rights groups for progress on two international human rights treaties, the 1996 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The region’s largest country took steps to implement both documents this year.

Yet Indonesian human rights activists castigated their government for dragging its feet on investigating rights violations and for failing to go after perpetrators while marking World Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. ‘’We can still see a lot of impunities; there’s no significant improvement in human rights protection in the country,’’ Soetandyo Wignjosoebroto, a leading human rights activist, was quoted as saying during the occasion in an issue of ‘The Jakarta Post’ newspaper.

And the prospect of the region having a better record in the New Year appears remote because governments are reluctant to broaden the language of human rights, says Sinapan Samydorai, president of Think Centre, a Singapore-based rights lobby group. ‘’There is very little human rights education in the South-east Asian schooling system.’’

‘’It is a way of preventing people to know what their rights are,’’ he added, during a telephone interview from the city-state. ‘’And I don’t mean only political rights, but labour rights, economic rights and the rights to information.’’

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