Asia’s week of iron-fist flexing

It’s been a rough week for activists, dissidents, and opposition movements of all types across Asia. On Friday, Christmas Day, the Chinese intellectual Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of "subversion" for his role in writing and promoting the Charter ’08 petition for political reform last January. Flouting international criticism ...

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575051_yellowribbons22.jpg

It's been a rough week for activists, dissidents, and opposition movements of all types across Asia.

On Friday, Christmas Day, the Chinese intellectual Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of "subversion" for his role in writing and promoting the Charter '08 petition for political reform last January. Flouting international criticism and calls for Liu's release, the sentence handed down in a Beijing courtroom is the longest ever for subversion charges.

By Sunday, police in Iran had opened fire into crowds of protestors as authorities sought to snuff out calls for political reform. As my colleague Blake Hounshell pointed out, "killing people on the Shiite holiday of Ashura [was] something even the shah never dared to do."

It’s been a rough week for activists, dissidents, and opposition movements of all types across Asia.

On Friday, Christmas Day, the Chinese intellectual Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of "subversion" for his role in writing and promoting the Charter ’08 petition for political reform last January. Flouting international criticism and calls for Liu’s release, the sentence handed down in a Beijing courtroom is the longest ever for subversion charges.

By Sunday, police in Iran had opened fire into crowds of protestors as authorities sought to snuff out calls for political reform. As my colleague Blake Hounshell pointed out, "killing people on the Shiite holiday of Ashura [was] something even the shah never dared to do."

On Monday, in Vietnam, a country that in recent years has enjoyed somewhat greater religious and political freedoms than China, former amy officer Tran Anh Kim who advocated for democratic reforms, was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison on charges of "subversion." The case is seen as an ominous sign of shrinking space for political discussion in Vietnam. In the coming weeks, four similiar cases will be tried in Vietnam; at least one would-be reformer, human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, may face the death penalty.

On Tuesday morning, at 10:30 am local time, the first European national to be sentenced to death in China in more than 50 years was executed. Akmal Shaikh had been convicted of drug smuggling. His execution sent a chill throughout the international human rights community. The frantic mercy pleas of relatives, lawyers, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown — all claiming that his history of mental illness impaired his judgement — fell on deaf ears in Beijing.

Meanwhile, new details emerged this week about the brutal conditions endured in prison by crusading Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who had taken the government to task for fraud. Magnitsky died in prison, after nearly 11 months in detention. Although it is little comfort to those who personally knew Magnitsky, at least the Moscow Public Oversight Commisssion is examining the case.

UPDATE: In response to a couple comments, I wanted to clarify that the British man executed in China was not himself comparable to activists in China, Vietnam, Russia, Iran, or elsewhere adovocating for domestic political reform — but the concern of the international rights community, and the sight of frustrated but helpless foreign ministers (here Gordon Brown) appealing to Beijing, was in some ways parallel.

Christina Larson is an award-winning foreign correspondent and science journalist based in Beijing, and a former Foreign Policy editor. She has reported from nearly a dozen countries in Asia. Her features have appeared in the New York Times, Wired, Science, Scientific American, the Atlantic, and other publications. In 2016, she won the Overseas Press Club of America’s Morton Frank Award for international magazine writing. Twitter: @larsonchristina

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