Archive for May, 2010

Criminal attack on Gaza aid fleet; and a bit of good news from China

Freedom Flotilla aid ship

Freedom Flotilla aid ship before Israeli attack

The attack by the Israelis on a flotilla of ships bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza is outrageous. The six Freedom Flotilla ships were in international waters, had cleared customs in four different nations, and were on a peaceful mission to bring desperately needed food and medical aid to the Gaza Palestinians, who have suffered under an Israeli blockade for three years now.

The casualty count is at least 20 civilian deaths and 50 injuries. Furthermore, the Israelis have arrested and incarcerated an unknown number of aid activists, taking them to a jail in the southern Israeli desert.

Reports indicate that the Israeli commandos came on board and opened fire. The aid activists attempted to defend themselves with wooden sticks. Reports by the Israelis that some of the aid activists had knives or rods, or even guns, have been flatly contradicted by observers on board the ships, and by the Israeli commando videos themselves.

International Responses:

Various international leaders have condemned the violence.

The Turkish Prime Minister described it as an act of state terror.

U.N. General Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he was “shocked” and demanded a full investigation.

German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said, “The German government is shocked by events in the international waters by Gaza…”.

Greek deputy foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas said, “There is no excuse. The level of violence cannot be excused … we condemn it and this is exactly the message I conveyed this morning to the Israeli ambassador.

Uri Avnery, an Israeli journalist, wrote: “This night a crime was perpetrated in the middle of the sea, by order of the government of Israel and the IDF Command A warlike attack against aid ships and deadly shooting at peace and humanitarian aid activists It is a crazy thing that only a government that crossed all red lines can do.” (Gush Shalom)

And Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg made the most important point of all: “This underlines that the blockade of Gaza should be ended as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg told reporters. “This type of military action is unacceptable. The shootings must be investigated and documented. It is clear that this is a use of force against civilians.”

Even if the Israelis had not intended to allow the Freedom Flotilla to dock, they could have found other ways of stopping it. They could have entangled the propellers (as has been previously done in similar operations), or surrounded and blockaded the fleet. These would still have been criminal actions, but that has never stopped Israel in the past, and at least there would have been no loss of life.

This action by Israel is a crime, plain and simple. Those who sanctioned it and those who perpetrated it have committed murder on the high seas.

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Inmates in a Chinese jail

Inmates in a Chinese jail

China Declares that Evidence Obtained by Torture is Inadmissible

Now, for a bit of good news. The Chinese government has declared that confessions obtained by means of torture can no longer be used in Chinese courts to prove guilt. This came about as a result of the case of Zhao Zuohai, who spent 11 years in jail for a murder that never happened. He says he was beaten by police until he confessed. Eleven years later, his “victim” was found to be still living. The Chinese government freed Zhao and paid him $96,000 in compensation. Two of the policemen who beat him have been arrested.

In fact laws banning torture are already in place in China, but are widely disregarded by the authorities. Convictions in Chinese courts depend heavily on confessions rather than the investigation and evidence-based systems found in the West, so Chinese police feel pressure to beat suspects into confessing.

I’m not naive enough to think that this will end torture in China, or will instantly end the routine beating of suspects. Nor does it ameliorate China’s abominable human rights record, with its oppression of human rights activists, use of secret prisons, and suppression of ethnic minorities.

But simply acknowledging the existence of one serious problem and declaring it to be unacceptable is a significant step in the right direction.

“Big Progress”

The Chinese government issued two new sets of procedures in the use of evidence – the first covers cases subject to the death penalty, and the second rules on evidence obtained under duress in all criminal cases.

For people appealing against the death penalty, testimony given under duress and evidence from unnamed sources is now to be excluded.

Death-penalty defendants have also been given the right to ask for an investigation into whether their testimony was obtained illegally.

Legal expert Zhao Bingzhi told the state-run China Daily that it was the first time a “systematic and clear regulation” had been given on the issue.

“Previously we could only infer from abstract laws that illegal evidence is not allowed. But in reality, in many cases, such evidence was considered valid,” he said. “This is big progress, both for the legal system and for better protection of human rights. It will help reduce the number of executions.”

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Should Vladimir Putin be Respected as a Judo Practitioner?

Vladimir Putin doing JudoMany people don’t know that Russia’s President Putin has been a long time practitioner of the sport of Judo. In sixth grade he took up the Russian grappling sport of Sambo, and then Judo. He eventually graduated to the high rank of 5th Dan in Judo, authored a Judo book, and a few years ago put out a DVD titled, “Let’s Learn Judo With Vladimir Putin.”

I also practice and teach martial arts, and I subscribe to the blogs of some well known martial artists. One extremely skilled martial artist, and someone who I have the greatest respect for, recently wrote a post expressing pleasure that Putin’s practice of Judo has helped to popularize martial arts.

Certainly it’s good to see a well-known figure publicizing martial arts. However, I’d be happier if it weren’t someone who is essentially a war criminal. Under Putin’s watch, hundreds to thousands of civilians have been kidnapped, tortured or “disappeared” in Chechnya.

Russian police in Russia itself are notorious for torture. And within the military, humiliation and torture of recruits is common. Journalists and human rights activists who try to speak out about these matters take their lives into their hands.

Consider the murders of opposition figures and journalists such as Anna Politkskaya, Yuri Schekochikhin, Galina Starovoitova, Sergei Yushenkov, as well as imprisonments of human rights defenders, scientists, and journalists like Trepashkin, Igor Sutyagin, and Valentin Danilov.

Some might say, “Well, we are speaking of him as a sportsman, not a politician.” I know that’s the argument of those who are against politicizing the Olympics, for example.

But why should we legitimize him in that way? If an ordinary citizen committed such crimes he would be a terrorist. Why should someone be allowed to hide behind the veil of presidential authority and therefore excused from responsibility from terrible crimes?

As a human rights blogger, I condemn Putin’s human rights record. As a martial artist, I still condemn him. Being able to throw someone to the mat does not excuse murder.

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