TDB Vol. 3 No. 2: Building Tolerance and Inclusiveness: An NGO Conversation with 2018 ADHRA Laureate Gusdurian Network Indonesia

TDB Vol. 3 No. 2: Building Tolerance and Inclusiveness: An NGO Conversation with 2018 ADHRA Laureate Gusdurian Network Indonesia

Three leaders talk about the importance of building a culture of communication to counter intolerance, conservatism and radicalism. Olivia Yang reports.

“Justice will never be an accomplished state. As long as there are individuals and people on this earth, there would always be conflicts. Justice and a world equal for all will always be an elusive state. But humanity progresses. It is almost like a dance as old as time. Two steps ahead, one step back. Sometimes one step ahead and two steps back.”

Thus spoke Alissa Wahid at the 2018 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award (ADHRA) ceremony in Taipei on Dec. 10, 2018.

Wahid is the founder and national coordinator for the Gusdurian Network Indonesia (GNI), laureate of the 13th ADHRA. The non-governmental organization is currently one of Indonesia’s leading groups combating radicalism and defending those who are discriminated against due to religious and minority suppression.

Established in 2010, the GNI is named after late Indonesian President K.H. Abdurahman Wahid, who was also known colloquially in Indonesia as “Gus Dur.” President Wahid was the first democratically elected president in Indonesia and had strived to promote interfaith dialogue and multiculturalism. His work became an inspiration for many Indonesians, also called “Gusdurians,” even after his death in 2009. The GNI was founded after his passing to encourage and consolidate interaction among Gusdurians, and further promote Gus Dur’s advocacy for minority rights, religious freedom and tolerance.

The main challenges in Indonesia today are religious populism, “hate spins,” radicalism and violent extremism, said Ms. Wahid. This is where the GNI comes in, as the arena for people from all backgrounds to work together as a democracy, especially at a time when the space for human rights activists is becoming gradually restrictive.

“‘God needs no defense,’ Gus Dur used to say. But now we see how God and religion are capitalized to gain political power, to discriminate [against] others, to do injustices. And when done in the name of God, how powerful. So this is [what] we currently focus on,” Wahid said in her acceptance speech.

Reverend Lazarus Chen (陳思豪) of the Koteng Presbyterian Church in Taiwan echoed similar concerns during a conversation with Wahid.

Chen is one of the religious leaders who have publicly supported marriage equality, especially during the lead-up to Taiwan’s referendum on the issue late last year.

Taiwan’s Constitutional Court on May 24, 2017, ruled that Taiwan’s Civil Code violates the Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of marriage and people’s equality. It gave the Taiwanese government two years to amend the law or pass new legislation to legalize same-sex unions.

In the local elections last November, a total of five referendum motions regarding LGBTQI rights were put on the ballot. Three of the motions aimed to refuse same-sex marriage under the Civil Code and ban LGBTQI education in schools. All three motions were approved in the referenda, while the other two pro-LGBTQI rights motions were not.

In the conversation with Wahid, Chen lamented the fear-mongering in Taiwan’s recent anti-same-sex-marriage campaign. According to him, most Christians in Taiwan believe that the Bible claims that homosexuality is a sin and therefore they do not support same-sex marriage. The results of the referenda, the reverend said, were “manipulated by Christians in Taiwan.”

“They use any kind of resource, including spreading disinformation, to influence and frighten the people in Taiwan to refuse same-sex marriage,” he said.

But he also pointed out that Christians only account for 6 percent of the island-nation’s population and called for non-Christian Taiwanese to “not be led by the few vicious Christians.” The reverend then stressed the importance of building a culture of debate and communication in Taiwan.

Wahid emphasized the value of dialogue, adding that although initiating theological conversations on LGBTQI issues in Indonesia is still very challenging — dangerous, even — “it has to start somewhere.”

“I think GNI is the only group that would put a transgender speaker in front of people on a stage, said Wahid. “But it takes a lot of work.”

The GNI national coordinator also emphasized the importance of staying close to those who hold different opinions and not treating them “as enemies because we need to influence them to have different perspectives.”

While working to enhance communication between groups that hold different values, Taiwan also strives to build tolerance toward Southeast Asian migrant workers, who currently account for nearly 700,000 of the country’s population.

Chang Cheng (張正), also a speaker at the conversation with Wahid, works to resolve the discrimination between Southeast Asians and Taiwanese through his Southeast Asia-themed bookstore, Brilliant Time Bookstore.

The bookstore runs a program called, “Bring Back A Book that You Cannot Read.” It encourages Taiwanese who travel to Southeast Asian countries to return with a book which is then given to migrant workers or spouses in Taiwan. This gives Taiwanese an opportunity to show kindness towards the migrant workers, said Chang. In addition to the program, the bookstore hosts around 30 talks each year on Southeast Asia topics to help the Taiwanese people learn more about the region and its cultures.

Chang also launched the Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants in 2014 with a goal to give and facilitate the Taiwan society in learning more about them. The first prize for the literature award is NT$100,000 (US$3,200), and last year, the award also received submissions from migrant workers in Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Singapore. Chang said they are expecting to expand to South Korea and Japan this year.

“If we learn more about them, discrimination will be less,” said Chang. “In the dark, it is everyone’s duty to hold the torch.”

Reverend Lazarus Chen, Chang Cheng, Alissa Wahid, and moderator Taiwan Foundation for Democracy Vice President Ketty W. Chen (left to right). Photo Credit: Taiwan Foundation for Democracy

 

Feature photo: 2018 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award Recipient Gusdurian Network Indonesia National Coordinator Alissa Wahid. Photo Credit: 黃謙賢/Taiwan Foundation for Democracy

TDB Vol. 2. No. 3: Deportations of Taiwanese Suspects to China Violate Rights of Taiwanese

Several countries have deported Taiwanese fraud suspects to China in recent years, a new trend that undermines Taiwan’s sovereignty and raises issues as to the ability of the suspects to receive a fair trial. Olivia Yang looks at this development.

 

Philippine authorities on Jan. 13 arrested 133 Taiwanese and Chinese suspects in a crackdown on telecom scams. While it remains to be seen where the suspects will be deported, over 500 Taiwanese nationals worldwide have been deported to China since 2014, nearly 300 of them last year alone.

The deported Taiwanese have been suspected of working with telecom or cyber fraud rings in countries including Kenya, Malaysia, Cambodia, Armenia, Vietnam, and Spain.

The Spanish National Court last December made two decisions that granted Beijing’s request for 214 Taiwanese and Chinese fraud suspects to be deported to China.

“The international community, except for those countries with which (Taiwan) has diplomatic relations, consider Taiwan to be part of China and take the view that its independence cannot be achieved unilaterally,” reads the Madrid Court’s written ruling.

While the move was “welcomed” by the Chinese side, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) “expressed deep regret and dissatisfaction” over the decision.

“[T]he Republic of China (ROC) is a sovereign state. Mainland China must face the fact of the existence of the ROC,” reads a statement from the MAC. “The various tactics used by Beijing to pressure Taiwan in the international arena only increase the resentment of the Taiwan public and are absolutely unacceptable to the people of Taiwan.”

It has yet to be determined how many out of the over 200 suspects arrested in Spain are Taiwanese, said Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), since officials have been unable to visit and identify them.

Beijing’s argument

Countries that have sent Taiwanese fraud suspects to China have cited Beijing’s “one China” — often confused with a country’s “one China” policy — in which Beijing maintains that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. Beijing has also defended the deportations, saying that the victims of the crimes were Chinese citizens, a claim that has been backed by China’s diplomatic allies.

Another argument China uses is that Taiwanese suspects often receive lighter sentences, or none, when sent back to Taiwan.

Twenty suspects arrested in a Malaysian telephone scam case were deported back to Taiwan and then released due to lack of evidence in April 2016. However, after Latvia last year turned down Beijing’s request to send 110 Taiwanese suspects to China, 44 of them on Jan. 20 were charged with aggravated fraud by a Taiwan court.

China, on the other hand, on Dec. 21, 2017 convicted 44 Taiwanese of operating telephone scams from Kenya and Indonesia. Two were sentenced to 15 years in jail, while the remaining 42 received sentences of up to 14 years in jail and fined.

Taiwan’s MOFA has protested against Beijing’s actions and condemned them as violations of human rights, especially in cases like Armenia, where the government “neither released information concerning the case during the investigation nor disclosed the location of the ROC nationals.”

But the objections have had little effect, as overseas Taiwanese suspects are continuously deported to China.

Regarding the 2016 Kenya case, international human rights organization Amnesty International expressed concerns that Taiwanese suspects “face a real risk of human rights violations” when sent to China.

“If deported to China, they could face serious violations of their fair trial rights.There is no doubt Kenya cherishes its relationship with China, but by no means should it sacrifice these individuals’ rights for political expediency, the due process of the law must be respected,” said Victor Odero, Amnesty International’s East Africa Campaigner.

According to the Human Rights Watch 2017 World Report, Taiwanese suspects deported from Armenia, Cambodia, and Kenya, “were given no discernible opportunity to contest their deportations before a competent court in those countries.”

Corruption and politics meddling in China’s legal system

Academics and experts have over the years written extensively on corruption within the Chinese legal system and how politics control law in Beijing.

In a 2016 Foreign Policy article, Jerome A. Cohen, co-director of the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University School of Law, wrote that even though Chinese President Xi Jinping has emphasized the government’s efforts to end corruption within China’s legal system, “in principle the party controls the legal system at every level.”

“Despite his emphasis on ‘rule of law,’ Xi wants local courts reliably to submit to the discipline of the central party and judicial officials. He doesn’t want local judges to be independent of the central government, but he does aim to stop the local influences that distort local judgments,” Cohen wrote.

China’s criminal justice system is also known to violate human rights by denying suspects’ access to family members or lawyers of their own choosing while awaiting trial. There have also been many cases in which the state prevented lawyers from meeting clients or accessing necessary court material.

In March 2017, Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che disappeared while traveling in China. Chinese authorities later that month confirmed they were detaining Lee on suspicion of “subverting state power.” Lee went on trial in September 2017 in the Yueyang Intermediate People’s Court for attempts to promote human rights and democratic values on social media and messaging platforms. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced five years in jail last November.

The Taiwanese activist was unable to contact his family since his detention. Lee’s lawyer was also appointed by the Chinese court.

On May 29, 2009, China and Taiwan signed a “Cross-Strait Joint Crime-Fighting and Judicial Mutual Assistance Agreement” which stipulates that each side should “provide facilitation for visits by family members in accordance with each Party’s own rules and regulations.”

After Lee’s verdict was handed down, Taiwan Presidential Office Spokesperson Alex Huang said the manner in which China handled Lee’s case had damaged cross-Strait relations and challenged Taiwanese people’s belief in freedom and democracy.

This development has also raised fears that China may eventually pressure governments worldwide to send to China Taiwanese nationals who are suspected of having committed other types of “crimes” as defined by Chinese law, such as encouraging “separatism.”

Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che.

 

Top photo: From Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0.

TDB Vol. 2 No. 1: BERSIH 2.0: More than Just Street Protests

TDB Vol. 2 No. 1: BERSIH 2.0: More than Just Street Protests

Maria Chin Abdullah, head of the recipient of the 2017 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award, shares her views on democracy and the role of civic groups with Taiwanese NGOs. Olivia Yang reports.

 

“We are trying to define democracy in Malaysia, to say that it is all right for you to speak up, it’s all right to not fear them. Because once we show fear, we back down, we compromise.”

BERSIH 2.0 Chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah is speaking at a discussion with Taiwan NGOs in Taipei on Dec. 10, 2017. The Malaysia-based coalition had just been presented with the 2017 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award earlier that day, and proceeded to share her experiences with Taiwan NGOS on how civil societies in Asia advocate for fair and clean elections.

While BERSIH 2.0 is well-known for its sea of bright yellow-clad protesters in the streets of major cities around the world, rallies are not the only approach the coalition takes in expanding civil political participation throughout Malaysia.

“At any time now we can confidently say we can bring 100,000 people to the streets, but it took us 10 years to build up this momentum,” says Maria Chin Abdullah. “The other thing we are saying to the government is that you have to respect rule of law. We are actually challenging them.”

To build more awareness among Malaysians on the importance of civil participation in public affairs, BERSIH 2.0 has come up with new strategies. These include organizing electoral observations, forming a Delineation Action and Research Team (DART), and holding boot camps that provide education on the basics of democracy, elections and mass mobilization.

But the coalition’s efforts have not all been carried out smoothly.

Maria Chin Abdullah says that “as we get more sophisticated in reaching out to people, the state also gets more sophisticated in trying to counter us.”

BERSIH 2.0 Chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah at the 2017 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award Ceremony. (Photo: 黃謙賢 / TFD).

Pushback from the government is not unexpected; however BERSIH 2.0 is also seeing frustration from the civil society. Sometimes people want quick solutions to changing the government, which is very difficult due to the “uneven” system, says the BERSIH 2.0 chairperson.

“People think that just because they vote they should get the results they want. But it doesn’t work that way.”

While elections in Taiwan are comparatively clean and fair, challenges like vote-buying still exist.

Huang Shiow-duan is a standing board member at Transparency International Chinese Taipei (TICT) and chairperson of Citizen Congress Watch (CCW), a coalition of NGOs that monitors the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s Parliament.

During the conversation with BERSIH 2.0, Huang gave examples of how the organizations she is affiliated with are fighting corruption in the island-nation.

From 2013 to 2014, TICT collaborated with the Tainan District Prosecutors Office to produce a series of anti-corruption animated education videos. Huang says it is crucial to start anti-corruption education from a young age, and children can also be more persuasive in communicating information to older generations.

CCW, on the other hand, supervises Taiwan’s parliamentarians by broadcasting legislative sessions and making legislative documents accessible to the public. It also evaluates legislators once every six months and the evaluation report is made public so that civil society, along with legislators, are aware of their performance.

“I don’t think the government will clean itself. It needs supervision. That’s why we need to create a system of separation of power,” says Huang.

Compared to TICT and CCW, Watchout Co. is a younger NGO founded in 2013 with a mission of lowering the threshold of political participation. Being a media platform, Watchout empowers the people by sharing facts and informed opinions in a way that is easy to consume. It also utilizes social media and technology to oversee the government.

But echoing Maria Chin Abdullah, Yu Chih-hao, design and technology lead at Watchout, says that “empowering the people is the ultimate solution — but it’s the toughest solution.”

The main challenges Watchout faces is coming up with methods to free people’s time and minds, and getting other media outlets to distribute its information so the facts flow between different eco-chambers.

Yu nevertheless emphasizes the importance of democratic countries defining their own democracy and learning from each other.

“Practicing democracy in Taiwan is our lifeline,“ says Yu. “It’s one of the factors that differentiate Taiwan from China, and it’s one of the factors that get Taiwan international recognition and respect.”

“Democracy does not happen overnight. Democracy takes time,” says Maria Chin Abdullah. “We are struggling. We are backsliding. But I still believe in the power of the people.”

Top photo:  BERSIH 2.0 Chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah speaking at a discussion with Taiwan NGOs in Taipei on Dec. 10, 2017. (Photo: Olivia Yang).

 

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