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Gordon Chang: China Capitalizing on US Political Unrest

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China is capitalizing on the political unrest in the United States, using its propaganda to suggest Democracy is broken and China’s governance is superior, according to foreign affairs expert Gordon Chang.”



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Vietnam Court Rejects Appeal of ‘Constitution Group’ Protesters, Returning Them to Prison

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An appeals court in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City on Friday upheld harsh prison terms handed down last year to four activists convicted of planning protests on Vietnam’s National Day on Sept. 2, 2018.

Arrested in September 2018, the four were part of a group of eight named by police as members of the Hien Phap (Constitution) Group, a network of activists formed on June 16, 2017 to call for the rights to freedom of speech and assembly promised under Article 25 of Vietnam’s Constitution.

All eight were convicted of “disturbing security” under Article 118 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code, and were sentenced on July 31, 2020 to prison terms ranging from two years and six months to eight years in a trial from which family members were barred.

In a one-day hearing on Friday, judges upheld the sentences given by the lower court to Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh, sentenced to eight years in prison; Ngo Van Dung and Le Quy Loc, sentenced to five years in prison each; and Ho Dinh Cuong, sentenced to four years and six months.

All four were then returned to prison to serve their full terms, including two to three years on probation following their release.

“The four members of the Constitution Group again declared their innocence in court today, saying they had only engaged in protests according to their rights,” defense attorney Nguyen Van Mieng told RFA by phone following the trial.

They said their group had called for protests only to oppose a new law granting concessions of land in Vietnam to Chinese businesses, “and not to disrupt social order and security or act against the interests of the state,” Mieng said.

The court rejected the group’s arguments, though, saying that their goal had been to disturb social order and security, leaving them open to conviction under Article 118 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

Family members watch via TV

Huynh Thi Kim Nga, the wife of defendant Ngo Van Dung, told RFA on Friday that she and other family members had been allowed to watch the day’s court proceedings via television monitor in a separate room.

“Things were made easier for us than they had been at the last trial, and we later learned that the reason for this was that the U.S. Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City was present in the court,” she said.

“My husband said in court this morning that whether he was finally sentenced to five, 10, or even 100 years in prison, he still affirmed his innocence of the charge of causing harm to the country, and that everything he did was permitted under Article 25 of Vietnam’s Constitution,” she said.

The Hien Phap Group had previously played a major role in calling for widespread protests that rocked Vietnamese cities in June 2018 in opposition to a proposed cybersecurity law and the law granting concessions of land to Chinese businesses, and many of its members are now serving long terms in prison.

Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party congress in January.

According to the rights group Defend the Defenders, Hanoi is currently detaining at least 238 prisoners of conscience.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.



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250,000 small UK firms seen closing without more financial aid

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At least 250,000 small British firms could close as government emergency aid package falls short, industry group warns.



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EMA says conclusion on AstraZeneca vaccine possibly by end of January

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The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Friday that a decision to authorise the use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford coronavirus vaccine could be made by the end of the month, with the bloc being under pressure to speed out the vaccines rollout. 

“Possible conclusion – end of Jan, depending on data and evaluation progress,” the Amsterdam-based agency wrote in a Twitter post.

EMA said it was expecting AstraZeneca to submit a conditional marketing application for the vaccine next week, with its chief, Emer Cooke stressing that the conditional market authorisation “will of course depend on the data we receive and the evaluation progress.”

Should the medicines watchdog recommend the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, the European Commission will also need to give its nod, through a procedure that is considered a formality. 





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Erasmus and Brexit

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No policy decision better encapsulates the entire Brexit process better than the UK’s decision to withdraw from the Erasmus Programme. For those in Brussels, it was a baffling move that left many scratching their heads, whilst for those in Westminster it was the fulfilment of the promise of the referendum to ‘take back control’. However, for anyone who truly understood the reasons why the UK decided to leave the EU in the first place, the decision acts as the perfect anecdote for the whole thing.

Many in Brussels today will no doubt still be confused as to the reasoning of leaving Erasmus, especially given its place as the jewel in the EUs crown when it comes to cross-continental cooperation. And there is certainly no doubt that Erasmus, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017, is something for the EU to be proud of. But for the UK leaving it was as much about the financial aspects of the project as it was the political ones.

For the United Kingdom, the Erasmus Programme hasn’t aged well at all. What was once seen as an ambitious project to bring the world’s top academic institutions together has instead ended up a costly programme stuck in another era. From a British perspective, this lack of ambition in the Erasmus programme comes from the fact that it is limited to just Europe (and Turkey), when the reality is that the vast majority of world-leading academic institutions are outside of the continent.

According to the annual publication of university rankings by Quacquarelli Symonds, of the top 100 universities in the world, only 12 are inside the European Union. Whilst 18 are in the United Kingdom, 27 in the United States, and 13 in the Commonwealth, the remaining 30 are spread across the rest of the world. The Time Higher Education index presents similar results.

Additionally for the United Kingdom, what reason is there to continue to limit itself to just European cooperation. The proposed Alan Turing Programme, that was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in effect the creation of a new exchange programme that is everything that Erasmus should be. Rather than limiting itself to one geographic region, it offers students and academics the chance to cooperate with others across the entire world, from the United States to Israel to Japan. Whilst at the same time saving the British taxpayer money – after all the UK put more money into the programme than it got out of it.

Which leads on to the second reason for withdrawing from Erasmus, the finances. For the United Kingdom, Erasmus made little financial sense – especially given that the uptake by British students was much lower on average the than the rest of counties in the programme.

Ultimately the withdrawal from Erasmus is a microcosm of the reasons that many Brits had for voting to leave during the referendum. Rightly or wrongly, for a large number of Brits the EU has become unambitious, inward-looking and expensive. Rather than opening up to the rest of the world through free trade, it has become protectionist. And rather than delivering value for money to its members, it has become a perceived drain on national resources.

Pulling out of Erasmus captures the essence of those concerns held by leave voters and demonstrates that those people who voted to leave the EU weren’t on the whole nativist, protectionist, nationalists like Nigel Farage, but rather more flexible internationalists. People like Farage represent a minority view amongst Brexiteers, especially those in government in the UK today. Over the last four years since the United Kingdom held its referendum to leave the European Union people in Brussels have been drip-fed a particular narrative as to why people voted the way they did which is unrecognisable to those who cast their ballots.

Brexit was driven by an altogether more liberal motive than is portrayed in the media. It was to do with being a global player rather than just a European one, it was about getting value for money and fiscal responsibility, and it was about pursuing a far more ambitious approach to free trade than that of the EU. And whilst yes it was also to an extent about controlling immigration, it wasn’t about ending it but rather creating a level playing field that allowed people from South Africa, Canada and Australia to be able to enter on an equal footing to those from Poland, Romania and France.

The decision to leave Erasmus encapsulates all of that. The new Turing Programme won’t just be for Europeans, it’ll be for everyone. It’ll be more cost-effective. And perhaps most importantly of all, it’ll be much more ambitious in its aim of bringing together academic institutions from across the world. A step towards a more global Britain.



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This Day in History: Jan. 11

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Nine days before leaving the White House, President Ronald Reagan bids the nation farewell in a primetime address.



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The Japan International DX Meeting (JIDXM) Committee Announces Awards

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The Japan International DX Meeting (JIDXM) committee, in cooperation with CQ magazine, has announced awards to DXpedition teams and individuals who made outstanding contributions to the world’s DX community. The 2020 JIDXM award program will recognize the VP8PJ South Orkney DXpedition Team (February 2020), the VP2VB Yasme Memorial Expedition Team (March 2020), and the TO0Z St. Barthelemy Expedi…



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Biden's Cuba Rewind Made 'Quite Difficult' by Trump

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The unwinding of the Obama administration’s policies on Cuba during the Trump administration might culminate with a renaming Cuba as a state sponsor of terror, complicating the Biden administration plans, according to The Hill….



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Opposition Officials in Exile ‘on Their Own’ to Enter Cambodia, Face Trial: Government

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Opposition officials living in self-imposed exile must find their own way back into Cambodia if they hope to defend themselves against charges of “incitement” and “treason,” a government spokesperson said Friday, because they “organized a coup d’état” and will not be granted passports or visas.

In November, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court summoned at least 113 individuals connected to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to stand trial together, most of whom face charges of conspiracy and incitement to sow chaos in society—crimes punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Presiding judges later split the defendants, including many who live overseas, into two groups for hearings to be held in January and March.

Last month, CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua said she would lead party brass and activists back to Cambodia in January to face the charges, which they insist are politically motivated. However, members of the party in exile say Phnom Penh has canceled their Cambodian passports and those with foreign travel documents have been unable to obtain visas to enter the country.

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan told RFA’s Khmer Service Friday that Mu Sochua and other CNRP members are not welcome in Cambodia, despite their upcoming trials. He said the government will not grant them passports or visas and they will “have to find a way to enter Cambodia on their own.”

“Not only did they not recognize the government, but they also organized a coup d’état to overthrow it by calling on the military to turn their weapons against the Prime Minister [Hun Sen],” he said.

“They have to resolve these issues,” he added, without providing details.

Phay Siphan’s comments appeared to suggest the CNRP exiles are already presumed guilty of the charges against them and that the government does not intend to provide them the right to defend themselves in court.

CNRP President Kem Sokha was arrested in September 2017 for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, and two months later the Supreme Court banned the CNRP for its supposed role in the scheme.

The move to dissolve the CNRP marked the beginning of a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in the country’s July 2018 general election.

Acting CNRP president Sam Rainsy, who has lived in self-imposed exile since late 2015, vowed to return on Nov. 9, 2019 to lead nonviolent protests against Hun Sen, urging Cambodian migrant workers abroad and members of the military to join him. However, his plan to enter Cambodia from Thailand was thwarted when he was refused permission to board a Thai Airways plane in Paris.

Rights to nationality, fair trial

Mu Sochua, who holds dual U.S.-Cambodian citizenship, has said she will use her U.S. passport to return to Cambodia on Jan. 17 to face charges even without an entry visa, which the Cambodian consulate in Massachusetts has so far refused to give her.

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said Friday that any CNRP member traveling on a foreign passport will be granted entry at the discretion of Cambodian immigration authorities.

RFA was unable to contact Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kuy Kuong or Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak for comment.

Mu Sochua told RFA Friday that the government’s refusal to grant her a visa or valid passport proves it to be “cowardly, irresponsible and in serious violation of the law.” She noted that Article 33 of the country’s constitution states that no Cambodian citizen can be deprived of their nationality, deported, or arrested and sent to another country.

“Not allowing us to return to the country is equivalent to withdrawing our citizenship and deporting us,” she said. “If this is truly a legitimate government, please demonstrate it.”

According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to a fair trial combines many fundamental rights, including: the right to a court, the right to a public trial, the right to equality, the right to an independent and impartial trial, the right to an expedited trial, and the right to presumption of innocence.

Legal experts say these rights are interrelated, so any violation of one can also violate others. Most important, they argue, is that defendants be provided the opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law.

Security forces confront members of the 'Friday Wives' group outside of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Jan. 8, 2021.
Security forces confront members of the ‘Friday Wives’ group outside of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Jan. 8, 2021.
RFA

‘Friday Wives’ dispersed

Also, on Friday, authorities dispersed nearly a dozen members of the so-called “Friday Wives” group of weekly protesters as they attempted to hold a demonstration in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court calling for the release of their husbands—CNRP activists detained on incitement charges.

Around 40 members of the 7 Makara district security forces confronted the women as they held up photos of their jailed family members, demanding that charges against them be dropped and all political prisoners be freed.

Seng Chanthorn, the wife of former CNRP councilor for Kampong Thom province Sun Thun, told RFA that authorities kicked, pushed, and insulted the women gathered at the court on Friday.

“I insist that the court give us justice and release them,” she said, adding that she and other members of the group will only end their protests when their loved ones are freed.

“I want the government to solve the country’s political problems and stop arresting activists so that democracy can return.”

The 49-year-old suffered internal injuries in September when security personnel violently dispersed a similar protest in front of the court, slamming her onto a paved street and knocking her unconscious.

In the meantime, Seng Chanthorn said, she is having trouble making ends meet and constantly worries about the safety of her husband in prison.

After being dispersed, the women walked to the U.S. Embassy, where they handed petitions to staffers calling for an intervention in the cases of their family members.

Calls for intervention

Sok Bolima, the wife of former CNRP commune chief of Phsar Depot 3 Khem Theana, told RFA she was “very disappointed” with the security forces for suppressing citizens’ rights and threatening them. She said she submitted her petition to U.S. Embassy officials because authorities threatened to harm her 21-year-old daughter if she does not stop protesting.

“The actions by the authorities remain the same, and I continue to face abuse,” she said. “Where is the justice? Where is democracy?”

Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman San Sok Seiha repeated claims used by authorities in crackdowns on earlier Friday Wives protests that they lacked permission to gather, forcing police to “maintain public order and protect security.” He denied that security forces had used violence or threatened the women.

Ny Sokha of the Cambodian rights group Adhoc said authorities should be helping to protect the freedoms of protesters as enshrined in the country’s laws instead of violating their rights.

He also called on the court and the government to release all activists and to bring an end to the country’s political stalemate.

“The government must address this issue and facilitate a political resolution in the interest of developing our country and creating a just society,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.



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Welcome to real life Mr Biden, and keep the chair warm for Ms Clinton

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Joe Biden is now about to take over as president of the United States, and certainly without the view of the outgoing president to “Make America Great Again”.

Yet, he has the moral obligation “to make America democratic again”. The more so because his party is the “Democratic Party”, unless it is euphemistically “Democratic”, in which case further reading of this article is useless.

The shelf-life of both traditional parties in the US has expired and it is up to the American people and their president to meticulously safeguard their Constitution in the long process of a peaceful restoration democracy. It is not easy, believe me, as all behavioral indications of the aged American rulers, starting with the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, suggest the opposite.

The bottom line, however, is that the restoration of democracy in America is in the hands of a president who will have to prove that besides being a faithful party Democrat, that he is also a real democrat.

President Biden has two most urgent issues to address, one before and one immediately after January 20 when he is officially sworn-in.

Pelosi is planning to bring a new article of impeachment to the House aimed at removing Trump from the presidency days before the end of his term and replace him with Vice President Mike Pence. And, if he refuses, replace Trump with herself, as it is stipulated by the US Constitution. Then grant a presidential pardon to Trump and his family, and thinking that the issue will be over, the pardoned ex-president will be politically neutralised forever, and the heavily shackled by “bucolic” Trump establishment will turn back to be happy family.

However, it is rather unlikely that the Pelosi plan will work that way, because if Trump is impeached and removed, it is improbable that he will be able to accept the pardon. In this case, somebody will have to order his arrest, and I do not see who will take the initiative to trigger a new civil war. Therefore, Trump will be free and although impeached, will rule America from Mar-a-Lago, in parallel with the White House.

This potentiality will turn the American dream of democracy into a nightmare for the Democrats.

Consequently, in a damage minimisation attempt, Pelosi should find an excuse to resign, given her age, while President-elect Biden will take advantage of a smooth succession to the White House and try to unite the American people again.

Uniting the American people again will be the last political act of his career and he may be remembered for that. However, he has not much time, as his early retirement seems to have been already orchestrated, and what is missing from the puzzle is the last piece. The resignation of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her replacement by Hillary Clinton. The recipe worked perfectly for the first time in 1974. At that time, President Richard Nixon was removed after being impeached for the Watergate scandal and was succeeded by Gerald Ford who was appointed as vice president days before Nixon’s removal and after Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned.

Under the circumstances, the first task of the president-elect, before he assumes his official duties officially, will be to tame his 81-year-old Speaker of the House and send her home to rest, as the House of Representatives is a “Res Publica”, not a “Thermopolium”.

The other first task of the new president should be a tribute to American democracy by defending free speech, which was grotesquely violated by Twitter after it banned Trump for life. Democrats certainly do not agree with what Trump says, but real democrats, despite their disagreements, must fight for Trump’s right to free speech. This is not my belief, but that of the great political philosopher Voltaire claims.

By asking the Attorney General of the United States to refer to the Justice Department Twitter and its executives for their part in an attempted coup against the democratic government of the United States, which is a criminal offense and constitutes high treason, Biden will contribute to the restoration of democracy in his country. He will also politically “check mate” Trump by displaying an unprecedented magnanimity, which is a must for the leader of the Western world.

Twitter’s attack against Trump is, however, a very convenient excuse as half of Americans hate Trump and, in their enthusiasm, they neither paid attention to what Twitter did  nor have they bothered to wonder why it was done and what may follow.

In this venture, Twitter is not alone. It has the backing of all social media giants that would love to take the power of the world into their hands. Before the Internet, and for almost a century, the real political power in the Western world was exclusively in the hands of a few print newspaper publishers – not more than a dozen titles which were present all over the planet.

Millions of newspapers were sold every day and a small number of publishers were dictating the political agenda of the day with no resistance or objections. The ability to destroy, in no time, the reputation of any politician with a “character assassination” practice was enough for the Western world to be dominated by these newspaper moguls. Needless to say, radio and TV never had any major leverage in the political order as their orientation has always been entertainment and not the exercise of political influence.

Influencing tittles were very few for a simple reason. Distribution. Newspaper distribution to the final points of sale was exclusively done by a few distribution agencies, which were controlled by the big publishers who kept the newspaper distribution under strict control.

This limited number of publishers together with the few distribution agencies under their control were unionized under a trade association that had two purposes – they kept the market closed to any newcomer and set newspaper prices, commission levels and other terms of the retailers. The head offices of the association, named Distripress were purposely located in Switzerland, where the European Commission did not have the authority to investigate competition law violations, and everybody was happy.

With the arrival of the Internet, news distribution became suddenly free to all and political power begun gradually returning to the hands of the politicians. The attempt of Twitter to silence Trump is the first step for a return of political power back into the hands of a few billionaires, this time instead of newspaper owners, social media owners.

In this context if social media owners secure their right to exert content censorship under their rules, the next step will be to limit news distribution on the Internet.

Freedom of expression is the democratic right of free people and the law is very clear and sufficient to stop any abusers. Should President-elect Biden officialize the right of privates to censor politicians, it will be the last nail in the coffin of American democracy.



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