China’s ‘war on law’: victims’ wives tell US Congress of torture and trauma

Women whose husbands were targets of Communist party crackdown on human rights lawyers call for US sanctions

The wives of some of the most prominent victims of Xi Jinpings crackdown on civil society have stepped up their campaign for justice, backing calls for US sanctions against Chinese officials involved in allegedly barbaric cases of torture and abuse.

Addressing a congressional hearing in Washington on Thursday, the women, whose husbands were among the key targets of a Communist party offensive against human rights lawyers, detailed the physical and psychological trauma inflicted by Chinas so-called war on law.

Chen Guiqiu, who fled to the United States in March, told of how her husband, the attorney Xie Yang, had been imprisoned and brutally tortured because of his work defending victims of land grabs, religious persecution and dissidents.

She described her husbands ordeal as an example of Chinas lawlessness and claimed that at his recent trial Xie had been forced to refute detailed claims that he had been the victim of sustained and brutal campaign of torture.

Wang Yanfeng, the wife of Tang Jingling, a lawyer and democracy activist who was jailed in 2016 in what campaigners described as a gross injustice, said her husband had suffered repeated spells of abuse, threats and torture. Today other [lawyers and political prisoners] are still suffering from such torture, Wang said, calling on US president Donald Trump to challenge China over such abuses.

In a video message, Li Wenzu, the wife of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, said she had heard nothing from him since he was seized by police at the start of the campaign against lawyers in July 2015. I am deeply concerned about my husbands safety. I dont know how his health is. I dont know whether he has been left disabled by the torture. I dont even know whether he is alive.

Wang Qiaoling, whose husband, Li Heping, recently emerged from a 22-month stint in custody, said he returned home looking 20 years older and had told of being forced to sit for hours in stress positions and being shackled with chains. He suffered from very cruel and sick torture, Wang added.

Also giving testimony was Lee Chin-yu, whose husband, the Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che, vanished into Chinese custody in March after travelling to the mainland. I stand alone before you today to plead for your help for my husband, Lee said, calling on Washington to pressure China to end her husbands illegitimate detention.

Since Chinas crackdown on lawyers began almost two years ago, its victims wives have emerged as a relentless and forceful voice of opposition, often using humorous online videos and public performances to champion their cause. They say they have done so in defiance of a campaign of state-sponsored intimidation that has seen them trailed by undercover agents, struggle to enrol their children into schools or be evicted from their homes.

Terry Halliday, the author of a book about Chinas human rights lawyers, said the lawyers wives had opened up a new line of struggle that we have not seen before in China.

These women have become a very powerful and visible public presence both of criticism of the government, of appeals for the release of their loved-ones but also impugning China in the eyes of the world. It is remarkable.

Its a whole new front, Halliday added. It is not so easy for the government to silence wives and daughters.

Thursdays hearing was part of a push by human rights groups to convince the Trump administration to use a law called the Magnitsky Act to bring sanctions such as travel bans or property seizures against Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses.

We should be seeking to hold accountable any Chinese officials complicit in torture, human rights abuses and illegal detentions, said Chris Smith, the Republican congressman who chaired the session and said he was compiling a list of potential targets.

Smith said he hoped such action could help end the shocking, offensive, immoral, barbaric and inhumane treatment of Chinese activists that has accelerated since Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

While President Xi Jinping feels feted at Davos and lauded in national capitals for his public commitments to openness, his government is torturing and abusing those seeking rights guaranteed by Chinas own constitution, Smith said.

China has rejected claims of torture against the human rights lawyers it has imprisoned, dismissing such allegations as fake news.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/19/chinas-war-on-law-victims-wives-tell-us-congress-of-torture-and-trauma

Trump’s alleged boast to Russians could wreck the trust of America’s allies

The vital intelligence-sharing alliances could see permanent damage if it proves true that Trump shared highly classified information at a recent meeting

Donald Trumps Oval Office boasting to the Russians, if confirmed, could wreak its deepest and most enduring damage on vital intelligence-sharing by US allies.

A similar erosion of trust in the presidents loyalties and competence appeared to have accelerated among Trumps political allies in Washington. As the White House fought back hard against the Washington Post report, which was confirmed on Tuesday night by several other US news organisations, it was unclear how far his support from the Republican establishment essential to his survival as president had been weakened.

In the world of intelligence-sharing among nations, however, any semblance of doubt can be corrosive and irrevocable. Even before this latest indiscretion, there had been rumblings of concern from the CIAs partner agencies abroad, uneasy about the Trump campaigns seemingly cosy relation with Moscow, reports of possible collusion in the 2016 election campaign, and Trumps own disdain for the US intelligence community. He frequently appeared to give more credence to conspiracy sites and the Kremlin that the intelligence briefings he received before taking office.

During the transition, many allies voiced concern Trump team might share intel with Moscow. Todays news will compound that concern, Colin Kahl, a senior official in the Obama administrations national security council (NSC), said in a tweet.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/15/donald-trump-russia-classified-information-impact-allies

Beyond Bollywood: where India’s biggest movie hits really come from

The global success of fantasy epic Baahubali 2: The Conclusion underscores the power of the countrys billion-dollar regional film industry

The global success of SS Rajamoulis fantasy epic sequel Baahubali 2: The Conclusion has once again brought Indian cinema to the attention of the world. Its forerunner, the $31m-budgeted Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), grossed $100m worldwide but caused little more than a ripple outside India. Within the country, it made waves because the film, made in the south Indian Telugu and Tamil languages, saw the Hindi-dubbed version alone gross more than $20m.

It is a common misconception that the Hindi-language, Mumbai-based film industry known as Bollywood is Indias national cinema. The numbers tell a different story. India produces an astonishing 1,900 films a year on average, of which Hindi-language Bollywood accounts for about 340. The bulk of the rest comes from the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi and Gujarati languages. Domestic box office has remained stagnant at about $1.5bn and, while Bollywood might produce more films (Tamil had 291, Telugu 275, and Kannada 204 films in 2016), it contributes just a third of the box office gross. In short, Bollywood has the visibility, but not the profits, with the under-performers far outweighing the hits.

In this context, the numbers racked up by the regional Baahubali 2 budgeted at $39m, made in Telugu and Tamil, with Hindi and Malayalam dubbed versions are astonishing by Indian standards. The film opened on 28 April and grossed $194m in 13 days, making it the highest Indian grosser of all time and putting it on track to become the first Indian film to gross $200m. It easily outperformed the $123m collected by PK (2014), starring Bollywood icon Aamir Khan.

Baahubali 2 consolidated this performance by delivering an extraordinary result in the US, opening in third position at the box office, above The Circle starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. With $17m and counting, it is the highest grossing Indian film of all time in North America.

Baahubali 2 has the perfect blend of action, emotion and all the right ingredients that a moviegoer wants, says Soma Kancherla, of the films US distributors Great India Films. Baahubali 1s success and the curiosity factor had created a huge hype. The conclusion had lived up to the expectations.

Female
Female empowerment saga Parched, directed by Leena Yadav. Photograph: Brisbane Asia and Pacific Film Festival

Has the film broken out beyond Indian diaspora audiences to a broader audience? Yes, says Kancherla. We factored some of that into our promotion and targeted non-Indians, and to some extent it worked. We have seen many Americans in the theatres who watched and appreciated the film.

The film also collected $2.3m across 66 Imax screens around the world in its opening weekend. This included $1.8m from 45 Imax locations in North America, making it the highest ever opening in the format for a foreign language film.

In the UK, rather than the consolidated figure of the various versions charting as in North America, fragmented versions were listed, with the Hindi version bowing in sixth position, the Tamil one in ninth and the Malayalam and Telugu versions lower in the Top 20.

Creating and maintaining anticipation for the larger-than-life saga of warring cousins and fiery queens was a carefully calibrated task for producer Shobu Yarlagaddaof Arka Mediaworks, the company behind the films. As we started preproduction on the film, we knew that for the kind of efforts we were planning to put into the project, financial and otherwise, it would be sad if we didnt at least attempt to go beyond our regional strongholds, says Yarlagadda.

Global
Global hit Dangal has taken $143m worldwide. Photograph: Disney

Getting a wide release in the south Indian language markets of Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam was simple enough as director Rajamouli is a brand name there, with hits such as Eega and Magadheera behind him. For north India and the international markets, Arka promoted the project on social media platforms, as well as attending comic-cons and university festivals.

The so-called traditional market for Indian films is a block of 50 territories with the biggest being the US, the UAE, the UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indias south Asian neighbours, Australia and New Zealand, and North Africa, with some pockets in France, Germany and Switzerland. Elsewhere, Indian films were popular in Russia and China in the 1950s, particularly actor/film-maker Raj Kapoors blockbuster Awara, while dancing action star Mithun Chakraborty enjoyed fame there with his 1982 film Disco Dancer. However, of late, Indian studio majors have been striking out into non-traditional territories with dubbed or subtitled versions of films: Ki & Ka was released in territories as diverse as Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and Gibraltar; Bajrangi Bhaijaan in Morocco, Tunisia and Poland; and Mary Kom in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Indian producers have utilised every trick in the book to reach overseas audiences. Arka hired Franois Da Silva, former artistic director of Cannes directors fortnight, to sell and market the film internationally. Non-Indian behind-the-camera talent is increasingly common. Leena Yadavs female empowerment saga Parched, in Hindi, boasts Titanic cinematographer Russell Carpenter and The Descendants editor Kevin Tent.

Accessible English-language titles are also on the rise. Pan Nalins Angry Indian Goddesses, billed as Indias first female buddy movie, sold to 61 territories internationally. Nalin says: Based on my past movies and gaining some experience with international distribution one thing I realised is that its not enough to just have a great movie. We also need a great title which is universally appealing. Titling it in English has paid off. Across the world, the moment we utter or read Angry Indian Goddesses it puts a smile on faces.

All the major Hollywood films are released in English and in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil dubs, demonstrating that India loves global tentpoles, provided they speak in their own tongues. (Appropriately, the highest grossing Hollywood film in India is the India-set The Jungle Book, which roared to $28m in 2016.) Nevertheless, the dominance being enjoyed by Baahubali 2 could be under threat. Wrestling drama Dangal has taken $143m at the global box office, while fans of Baahubalis spectacle will be waiting for the big-budget adaptations of epic story cycles The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, which are in the works. Its fair to say that, with Hollywood accounting for just 10% of the local box office, the Indian film industry continues to enjoy rude good health.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2017/may/13/bollywood-india-film-industry-baahubali-2-the-conclusion

Robert Mugabe ‘not sleeping, just resting his eyes’

Zimbabwes 93-year-old president has been photographed seemingly nodding off at several conferences, but his spokesman says its an optical affliction

Robert Mugabe is not sleeping in meetings as a series of images would suggest. In fact, his PR man has said, he is simply resting his eyes.

The state-run Herald newspaper on Thursday quoted spokesman George Charamba as saying the 93-year-old Zimbabwean president has a medical condition that means his eyes cant handle bright lights.

He spoke after Mugabe left this week for medical treatment for his eyes in Singapore.

I feel like a failure when there is this reading that the president is sleeping in conferences no, Charamba said.

The comments came after Mugabe was captured apparently dozing at a World Economic Forum meeting in South Africa this month.

Theophilous (@tchiviru)

#Mugabe sleeping at the #WEF during a discussion on youth involvement in decision making. Sad…. pic.twitter.com/OYQjuTkFE3

May 4, 2017

It isnt the first time he has been photographed mid-nap. It also happened during Ghanas 60th anniversary of Independence parade in March.

Ismail Akwei (@akweiakwei)

#Ghana is 60 and ongoing is the independence day parade. Mugabe is caught sleeping while ceremony is ongoing. #Ghana60YearsOn pic.twitter.com/5qajyiFnUw

March 6, 2017

Mugabes weakening health is being watched carefully in Zimbabwe. Images of him struggling to walk on a red carpet and toppling from a raised lectern in 2015 have trended on social media.

He has been in power since 1980 and says he will run for election again next year.

Associated Press contributed to this report

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/12/robert-mugabe-not-sleeping-just-resting-his-eyes

‘I know he is alive’: wife of Taiwan activist seized by China pleads for release

Lee Ming-che has been detained by Beijing authorities amid a targeting of activists, dissidents and scholars based abroad

The wife of a Taiwanese human rights activist detained in China for over a month without charge has vowed to take her fight for justice to the US and European Union, urging them to pressure Beijing to release him.

It has now been 40 days since Lee Ching-yus partner, best friend and confidante suddenly disappeared while travelling to visit friends in Guangzhou, southern China.

Beijing, which views democratic Taiwan as a renegade province, admitted only after 10 days that Lee Ming-che, 42, a community college worker known for supporting human rights, had been detained for allegedly threatening national security.

He is feared to be the latest victim of an escalation in Chinas repression of rights and free speech.

It is only through international support that we can force a country that encroaches on human rights to stop this action, Lee Ching-yu told The Guardian in her first interview with the British press. She intends to seek help in Washington DC and Brussels next month.

Under standard Chinese criminal law, Lees husband should have been charged or released on Monday, after 37 days in custody.

Instead, her hopes of a speedy resolution were shattered on Wednesday when Chinas Taiwan affairs office announced that Lee was still under investigation, that his health was good, and that he has clearly explained the relevant situation to his family in a letter.

The letter, which contained scant information, was delivered in early April by an unofficial middleman Lee Ching-yu did not know whether to trust.

It was my husbands handwriting but he made no connection with me, she said. He did not write that letter voluntarily.

Lee, also 42, has struggled largely alone, with the support of a few local activists, to uncover the truth.

With little government support, she has fended off unidentified brokers offering help through unofficial channels.

One suggested her silence and inaction might buy her husbands freedom, or at least spare him the humiliation of a video confession. But Lee has refused to strike a backroom deal.

She is defiant but the strain of her ordeal has made her visibly more gaunt and she frequently fights back tears. I have to keep a strong face in front of the media, but when I see my husbands photo I get very emotional, she said.

The couple met at college 20 years ago and were drawn to each other through a shared passion for human rights.

Lee Ching-yu became a researcher at the Shin Ming-te foundation, studying the history of Taiwans own dark period of martial law, when thousands were disappeared. Her work both gives her strength and haunts her. I can imagine what my husband might have gone through, she said.

Lee Ming-che kept his human rights work low key. Supporters believe he may have been targeted after speaking openly on Chinese messaging service WeChat about Taiwanese democracy.

The values and beliefs that my husband holds and spreads would not be charged in any democratic or civilised country, said Lee.

She broke down describing how he had tried to help the poverty-stricken families of Chinese activists, imprisoned for their beliefs.

At least I know my husband is alive, she said. Others who disappear dont receive the same media attention and they might be in more danger. When I realise how severe the situation in China is, its hard to stay calm.

Lee has approached the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances for help.

Her husbands case has been complicated by Taiwans lack of international clout and by frozen diplomatic ties between Taipei and Beijing over Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wens refusal to endorse Chinas view that the self-governed island and mainland are part of a single Chinese nation.

Taiwans government maintains it is working behind the scenes to resolve Lees case, but local NGOs argue they could do more.

Mrs Lee is already standing so strongwe need support from the government, not only to just keep it low key, said E-Ling Chiu, head of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

Many fear Lee may have fallen foul of a harsh new Chinese law to monitor and control foreign-funded NGOs, enforced earlier this year as part of a crackdown on civil society.

The environment for foreign and domestic human rights NGOs had become treacherous, said Maya Wang an Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch.

The case of Mr Lee fits within the greater pattern of a new trend of the Chinese government targeting activists, dissidents, or even scholars based abroad, she said. All of these cases deserve equal press and attention.

However, Lee may also have become a pawn in internal Chinese politics by factions opposed to President Xi Jinpings perceived mild approach to Taiwan, ventured Michael Cole, a Taipei-based political analyst.

It would be difficult for Xi to back down while demonstrating strength over Taiwan, he said. Equally, Tsai had to tread cautiously.

It would not serve Mr Lees interests if she came out guns blazing. Ultimately his case is part of something thats much bigger.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/28/wife-of-taiwan-activist-seized-china-pleads-for-release-lee-ming-che

Robert Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance author dies aged 88

Book telling the father-son story of a motorcycle trip across the western United States was published in 1974 and quickly became a best-seller

Robert Pirsig, author of the influential 1970s philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has died at the age of 88.

Peter Hubbard, executive editor of his publisher William Morrow & Co, said in a statement that Pirsigs wife Wendy had confirmed his death at his home in Maine after a period of failing health.

Published in 1974 after being rejected by more than 100 other publishers, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was the father-son story of a motorcycle trip across the western United States. Loosely autobiographical, it also contained flashbacks to a period in which the author was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

The book quickly became a best-seller. Pirsig said its protagonist set out to resolve the conflict between classic values that create machinery, such as a motorcycle, and romantic values, such as experiencing the beauty of a country road.

Born in Minneapolis, Pirsig had a high IQ and graduated high school at the age of 15. He earned a degree in philosophy and also worked as a technical writer and instructor of English before being hospitalised for mental illness in the early 1960s.

His philosophical thinking and personal experiences during these years, including a 1968 motorcycle trip across the US West with his eldest son, Christopher, formed the core of the narrative of the novel.

Pirsig worked on the sequel, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals for 17 years before its publication in 1991. The story traced a sailboat journey taken by two fictitious characters along Americas eastern coast.

Pirsig lived the last 30 years in South Berwick, Maine and is survived by his wife Wendy, two children and three grandchildren. His son Chris died in 1979.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/25/robert-pirsig-zen-and-the-art-of-motorcycle-maintenance-author-dies-aged-88

Stroke and dementia risk linked to low-sugar drinks, study finds

Drinking a can of diet soft drink a day associated with almost three times higher risk, say researchers but critics warn against causal connection

Consuming a can a day of low- or no-sugar soft drink is associated with a much higher risk of having a stroke or developing dementia, researchers claim.

Their findings have prompted renewed questions about whether drinks flavoured with artificial sweeteners can increase the risk of serious illness, as heavily sugared drinks have already been shown to do.

Drinking at least one artificially sweetened beverage daily was associated with almost three times the risk of developing stroke or dementia compared to those who drank artificially sweetened beverages less than once a week, according to the American researchers who carried out a study published in Stroke, the journal of the American Heart Association.

After adjustments for age, sex, education (for analysis of dementia), calorific intake, diet quality, physical activity and smoking, higher recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks were associated with an increased risk of ischaemic stroke, all-cause dementia and Alzheimers disease dementia, the co-authors write.

Those consuming at least a can of so-called diet drinks every day were 2.96 times more likely to suffer an ischaemic stroke and 2.89 times more likely to develop Alzheimers disease than those who drank them less than once a week, they found.

Ischaemic strokes occur when blood cannot get to the brain because of a blockage, often one caused by a blood clot forming in either an artery leading to the brain or inside a vein in the brain itself. They comprise the large majority of the 152,0000 strokes a year which occur.

Surprisingly, though, the research also contradicted previous studies by finding that sugared drinks did not raise the risk of either serious outcome. It is based on data for more than 4,300 participants in the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term medical research project in the United States.

To our knowledge, our study is the first to report an association between daily intake of artificially sweetened soft drink and increased risk of both all-cause dementia and dementia because of Alzheimers disease, the co-authors added.

However, they admitted that they could not prove a causal link between intake of diet drinks and development of either medical condition because their study was merely observational and based on details people provided in questionnaires logging their food and drink habits.

Matthew Pase, a senior fellow in the department of neurology at Boston Universitys school of medicine who was one of the co-authors, said that despite no evidence of a causal link, the apparent connection between sweetened drinks and the two conditions does identify an intriguing trend that will need to be explored in other studies.

This is not the first time that sweetened drinks have been implicated in the development of serious ill-health. The paper quotes the Northern Manhattan study as having found that daily consumption of artificially sweetened soft drink was associated with a higher risk of combined vascular events but not stroke. It also cites the conclusion of the Nurses Health study and Health Professionals follow-up study that greater consumption of sugar and artificially sweetened soft drinks was each independently associated with a higher risk of incident stroke over 28 years of follow-up for women and 22 years of follow-up for men.

Sales of diet versions of soft drinks have boomed in recent years as sales of fully sugared ones have declined sharply.

Defras Family Food Survey, published last month, found that sales of regular soft drinks fell by 34.6% between 2010 and 2014, while low-calorie drinks purchases increased by 35.8%. Now just 38% of all soft drinks consumed are fully sugared, it said.

However, experts and health charities warned against reading too much into the findings reported in Stroke.

This research does not show that artificially sweetened drinks cause dementia. But it does highlight a worrying association that requires further investigation, said Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimers Society.

Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at Glasgow University, said: This is an interesting paper, but I would strongly caution against the conclusion that artificially sweetened drinks may increase the risk of stroke and Alzheimers. There is little other strong evidence to support a link between artificially sweetened drinks and adverse health outcomes.

The results could have been skewed by people who had already become ill before switching to low- or no-sugar drinks, Sattar added.

Dr Mary Hannon-Fletcher, head of health sciences at Ulster University, said: These data are sound as far as they go. However, it is important to note the associations between recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks and dementia were no longer significant after additional adjustment for vascular risk factors and diabetes mellitus as the editor also pointed out. So are the conclusions sound? Perhaps not.

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: Despite their claims, the authors of this observational study admit they found no cause and effect and provide no science-based evidence whatsoever to support their theories.

In fact, based on the evidence, Public Health England is actively encouraging food and drink companies to use low-calorie sweeteners as an alternative to sugar and help people manage their weight.

However, Tam Fry, a spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, warned consumers not to see low- or no-sugar drinks as healthy. Dont be fooled by the use of the word diet. Diet drinks were dreamed up as a description by an industry wanting to lull you into believing that it was a healthy thirst-quencher. Whether youre thin or fat and thirsty, and not near a good old-fashioned tap, buy yourself bottled water, Fry said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/apr/20/stroke-and-dementia-risk-linked-to-low-sugar-drinks-study-finds