Friday, May 8, 2009

Using the Recession to Clamp Down Dissent

I've been stumbling over stories of international human rights abuses for the past couple of weeks. First, I saw the letter from Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo's wife begging for international pressure to win his release. His crime? He's a prominent intellectual who is vocally pro-democracy.

I spoke with Larry Siems of the Pen American Center, with which Liu Xiaobo's been affiliated, and he says the international organization of writers and journalists is hard at work trying to get the word out to put pressure on the Chinese government to release its political prisoners. He said the promise of the Chinese Olympics didn't come to pass - instead of loosening up its strangle hold on dissent, the government actually jailed more dissidents during the Beijing Olympics.

In Zimbabwe, Jestina Mukoko and 17 other pro-democracy dissidents were taken back to jail while recovering from torture suffered during their recent incarceration. Amnesty International's Amy Agnew in London told me all but three were quickly let go again, but it's an indication that there are factions trying to derail the new coalition government. Nondumiso Gasa, a South African human rights activist, says the economy in Zimbabwe has collapsed beyond anything we can imagine. She says soldiers are raping women and children, health care is non-existent, schools are closed there.

Women in Afghanistan are still treated like property. Experts say they believe there is no such thing as a moderate wing of the Taliban.

And I'm told by experts that the world's preoccupation with the economy has allowed these abuses to multiply.

Not only that, we've got our own civil rights issues here in America. Siems says much of Pen American Center's work now concentrates on trying to get the Obama administration to roll back Bush-era changes that put restrictions on freedom of speech and our right to privacy. But that's an issue that's been taking a back burner to the recession in Washington.

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