April 15th, 2008

The killing re-revisited

It’s that time of year again. Amnesty International published the death penalty report (Abstract. Links to the entire and detailed report at the end of the linked page).

The figures also show an increase in executions in a number of countries. Iran executed at least 317 people, Saudi Arabia 143 and Pakistan 135 – in comparison to 177, 39 and 82 executions respectively in 2006.

Eighty-eight per cent of all known executions took place in five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the USA. Saudi Arabia had the highest number of executions per capita, followed by Iran and Libya. Amnesty International has been able to confirm at least 470 executions by China – the highest overall figure. However, the organization has said that the true figure for China is undoubtedly much higher.

China, which the report refers to as the world’s top executioner, classifies the death penalty as a state secret. As the world and Olympic guests are left guessing, only the Chinese authorities know exactly how many people have been killed with state authorization.

“The secretive use of the death penalty must stop: the veil of secrecy surrounding the death penalty must be lifted. Many governments claim that executions take place with public support. People therefore have a right to know what is being done in their name,” said Amnesty International.

Please note the numbers are the absolute verified numbers. China is by some believed to execute around 6.000 of their citizens yearly. From another, related part of their website:

The death penalty violates the right to life. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. It has no place in a modern criminal justice system.

An execution, just like torture, involves a deliberate assault on a prisoner. Even so-called ‘humane’ methods such as lethal injection can entail excruciating suffering.

Capital punishment is irrevocable. All judicial systems make mistakes, and as long as the death penalty persists, innocent people will be executed.

It is also discriminatory and is often used disproportionately against the poor, the powerless and the marginalized, as well as against people whom repressive governments want to eliminate.

The death penalty does not deter crime more than other punishments. In Canada the homicide rate has fallen by 40 per cent since 1975; the death penalty was abolished for murder in 1976.

Added April 16th: Oh yep, Injection is legal, so all the stalled executions will commence again. Virginia announced they will start immediately.

November 16th, 2007

The killing revisited

Sorry this subject returns. From a local newspaper; it didn’t seem to show on CNN’s website.

New York, Nov. 16. The Human Rights Commission of the General Assembly of the UN voted yesterday with a large majority in favor of a moratorium on executions.

99 countries voted in favor, including the Netherlands and other EU countries. 52 States voted against and 33 abstained from voting. In particular, the United States, China and a number of developing countries, particularly in the Islamic world, want to retain the death penalty.

During the at times fierce debate, among others Malaysia, Singapore, Egypt, Botswana, Iran, Barbados and the Bahamas argued against the resolution. Europe has been criticized for imposing Western values on the rest of the world. According to the Singapore UN representer that is “hypocritical and intolerant”.

According to the resolution that was eventually adopted, the death penalty undermines human dignity. In addition to a moratorium on executions it calls for a reduction in the number of offenses for which the death penalty may be imposed.

The ultimate goal of the resolution is for the death penalty to gradually be abolished altogether. The adoption of the non-binding resolution by the General Assembly plenary of the 192 members in December is seen as a formality.

According to human rights organization Amnesty International the resolution adopted Thursday is a “historic and significant step towards universal abolition of the death penalty”.

I pre-translated this using the just released Dutch version of Google translate. Posting the raw result in comments. How sad, now I cannot play the “you have to learn Dutch” game anymore.

October 2nd, 2008

The breach of trust

Skype is a communication platform for instant messaging, video and voice. One of it’s virtues is that the communication is end to end encrypted, meaning any middleman cannot intercept the communications, an important reason I use it a LOT.

In China, you cannot download Skype, only a localized version, distributed by a company called TOM. I already knew this version blocks IM sentences that contain a set of “unsafe” words. What probably not many people know is that when these words are encountered (and god knows what other criteria like usernames), the conversation is being logged by the TOM skype client on (insecure) webservers in China.

Major Findings

  • The full text chat messages of TOM-Skype users, along with Skype users who have communicated with TOM-Skype users, are regularly scanned for sensitive keywords, and if present, the resulting data are uploaded and stored on servers in China.
  • These text messages, along with millions of records containing personal information, are stored on insecure publicly-accessible web servers together with the encryption key required to decrypt the data.
  • The captured messages contain specific keywords relating to sensitive political topics such as Taiwan independence, the Falun Gong, and political opposition to the Communist Party of China. (y-t: I can confirm it blocks the word “fuck” too.)
  • Our analysis suggests that the surveillance is not solely keyword-driven. Many of the captured messages contain words that are too common for extensive logging, suggesting that there may be criteria, such as specific usernames, that determine whether messages are captured by the system.

Sounds a bit like yahoo and google eh?

If you happen to chat with Chinese people, do NOT rely on the security model of Skype. While I am reasonably convinced skype is one of the best secured applications and I like it’s end to end encryption a lot better than my conversations going over say Microsoft’s servers, the Chinese client is proven spyware. And to be honest, it makes you wonder what “our” cient is doing.

Skype, the company allowed this is telling us TOM did this without their knowledge. I am very disappointed.

Added: whoa, this is all over the place. Herald Tribune‘s on it. Others will follow soon.

Added: Skype president’s response.

You may have seen some reports in the media about a security and privacy breach in the software provided by our Chinese partner, TOM Online. I’m writing to let you know where we stand, and what we’re doing to resolve the problem.

Some brief background: In China, TOM is the majority local partner in our joint venture that brings Skype functionality to Chinese citizens. The software is distributed in China by TOM and TOM, just like any other communications company in China, has established procedures to meet local laws and regulations. These regulations include the requirement to monitor and block instant messages containing certain words deemed “offensive” by the Chinese authorities.

It is common knowledge that censorship does exist in China and that the Chinese government has been monitoring communications in and out of the country for many years. This, in fact, is true for all forms of communication such as emails, fixed and mobile phone calls, and instant messaging between people within China and between China and other countries. TOM, like every other communications service provider operating in China, has an obligation to be compliant if they are to be able to operate in China at all.

In April 2006, Skype publicly disclosed that TOM operated a text filter that blocked certain words in chat messages, and it also said that if the message is found unsuitable for displaying, it is simply discarded and not displayed or transmitted anywhere. It was our understanding that it was not TOM’s protocol to upload and store chat messages with certain keywords, and we are now inquiring with TOM to find out why the protocol changed.

We were very concerned to learn about both issues and after we urgently addressed this situation with TOM, they fixed the security breach. In addition, we are currently addressing the wider issue of the uploading and storage of certain messages with TOM.

It’s important to remind everybody that the issues highlighted in yesterday’s Information Warfare Monitor / ONI Asia report refer only to communications in which one or more parties are using TOM software to conduct instant messaging. It does not affect communications where all parties are using standard Skype software. Skype-to-Skype communications are, and always have been, completely secure and private.

I passionately believe in Skype’s mission to enable the world’s conversations. Allowing the world to communicate for free empowers and links people and communities everywhere. Our challenge is to bring this valuable service to people all over, including China, while being transparent to our users and staying within the boundaries of the local laws. We are committed to meet this challenge.

Please note that “fixing” (my emphasis) means: securing the breached webserver where the logs are stored, not killing the logging.

Added: I am not copying Josh’s second post. Yack yack local laws, yack yack continue in the Chinese market, yack yack looking into. BS. My prediction is a follow up version will tell the user the counterpart is using TOM-Skype and will, in very vague words hint that might not be ENTIRELY secure. Trust is plummeting. Oh well, probably everybody will have forgotten about this in less than a week. Again, trust is very affected.

July 20th, 2008

The games

As mentioned many times before, China is top killer-of-it’s-own-inhabitants, by a long shot. With the upcoming games (and despite human rights pressure building, although that agenda seems to have magically diluted), the government seem to have stepped up it’s “effort” a bit. (Washington Post)

Shortly after dawn on July 9, the local government here bused several thousand students and office workers into a public square and lined them up in front of a vocational school. As the spectators watched, witnesses said, three prisoners were brought out. Then, an execution squad fired rifles at the three point-blank, killing them on the spot.

Capital punishment is barbaric, wrong, often racially, ethnically or religiously biassed. The civilization of a state can clearly be measured by their misuse of it. Have a nice visit to the Beijing games. Thanks Ruth.

March 17th, 2008

The situation in T*bet

Coincidence? The US removed China (by far the worst official non-wartime killer of it’s own citizens) from the list of 10 worst human rights violators. A few months before the Olympics. And T*bet (although I do see some smart timing from the folks in T*bet too). I know this blog is not blocked in China, so while the chances are slim ANYONE reads it, let me at least try it.

The Chinese army is violently smashing down protests against the Chinese let’s say ruling in T*bet. Numbers of citizens killed are very unclear but mark my words, it will go in the hundreds if not thousands. What can we do? How about:

  • Quit buying Chinese goods (that will be the toughest, though most effective one)
  • Start pissing off Olympics sponsors like Lenovo (the Chinese PC maker, formerly known as IBM), Volkswagen, McDOnald’s, Coca Cola, Samsung, Adidas, General Electric, etc. Here is a good article in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Inform Chinese contacts, chat mates, foreign students, etcetera.

I agree to NOT press sporters into an impossible split. They are there to do their thing and to ask them to boycott the games or speak out aloud (remember, they are in China, governed by Chinese laws, as would foreigners in US based games.

Earlier on the nest: lots

January 2nd, 2008

The lethal injection

China is replacing the method of execution from rifle shot to lethal injection. China is believed to be by far the largest executioner in the world.

The use of lethal injection will be expanded to replace gunshot executions, a senior judicial official has said.

Jiang Xingchang, vice-president of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), said half of the country’s 404 intermediate people’s courts – which carry most of the executions – use lethal injections.

“It is considered more humane and will eventually be used in all intermediate people’s courts,” Jiang told China Daily without revealing a timetable.

I don’t know what to think of it.

Thanks nu.nl

Earlier on the nest: The killing, The killing revisited, The day against the death penaly…, The death penalty, The Saudi’s, The end of another dictator.

April 27th, 2007

The death penalty (aka murdered by your own government)

Amnesty international published its statistics about captial punishment. Let me quote a bit.

At least 1,591 prisoners were executed by their own governments in 25 countries last year, while 3,861 new death sentences were issued (in 55 countries). Over 20,000 prisoners currently languish on death row across the globe.

91 per cent of all known executions in 2006 took place in six countries: China, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan and the USA.

“These hard core executioners are isolated and out of tune with global trends,” said Ms Khan. “The figures are inexcusable, but even officials in Iraq and China have spoken of their desire to see an end to the use of the death penalty.”

Note: I have a distinct feeling my Chinese friends will not be able to look at amnesty’s website. As I am a small fish that is probably not blocked, I am attaching the relevant page here as a pdf hosted on the nest. The report says about China:

Based on public reports available, AI estimated that at least 1,010 people were executed by the Chinese government last year. These figures are only the tip of the iceberg, with credible sources suggesting the real total is closer to 8,000.

To make sure we all know what we’re talking about, here is the list of execution methods for the top 5 countries. If you decide to follow the links, you will find that i.e. “hanging” can mean either a drop (more or less instant kill) or hoisted with a crane, insuring a long and extremely painful death struggle. Shooting in most cases means a head or neck shot.

  • China: shooting, lethal injection
  • Iran: shooting, hanging, stoning
  • Iraq: shooting, hanging
  • Sudan: shooting, hanging, stoning, crucifixion
  • Pakistan: hanging, stoning
  • USA: lethal injection, electrocution, hanging, lethal gas

p.s.: don’t give me the humane killing discussion bs please, nor the male/female rates. It’s entirely irrelevant. Thanksikoni

February 24th, 2007

The cluster bombs revisited

I wrote earlier about cluster bombs in Lebannon. Banning cluster bombs proved impossible to put on the agenda of the U.N. disarmament negotiation table. For some countries, this refusal to even talk about it was enough. 49 countries assembled in Oslo, Norway last week, which resulted (please read carefully) in a statement calling for a ban on the usage, production, trade and storage of cluster bombs. Of those 49, 3 (Romania, Poland and Japan) did not support the vote. The other 46 did (a.o. the U.K., Germany, Italy and my country). Countries refusing to even take part and thus not even there were a.o. the U.S., China, Russia, Australia, Israel, India and Pakistan.

Although I am very sceptical in the sense that calling for a treaty is a long, long way for actual results, I am glad there is a start. The next meeting in Peru, scheduled for either May or June will concentrate on compiling the actual treaty text. I am also glad that more than before, not everybody is being a sitting duck for the sole reason others aren’t moving.

P.S.: The ban on the use of anti-personel mines, initiated by o.a. Human Rights Watch, started like this too. By now, about 150 countries have ratified that treaty. Among those who have NOT ratified are the U.S. and Israel, but they do not use them anymore. What we are talking about are either explosives ripping off feet and legs, but there are also more “sophisticated” types called bounding mines, that jump up using a small explosive to about waist height and then explode their shrapnel in a horizontal plane, wounding or killing as much people as possible.

Added March 20th: The U.K. announced as of today, no “dumb” clusterbombs will be used anymore, only “smart” ones (read: guaranteed to explode completely). OK, again, its a start. I assume the delayed fuse bombs, used to “litter” a field uncrossable, is off limits then too?

Added June 26th:  The use of cluster bombs by my country is “postponed immediately”, although the administration “does not feel this type of ammunition should be forbidden. Use should be possible after special consideration”. Although I welcome the moratorium, it shows exactly the value of a politicians word: the vote described above clearly meant that others should not use this ammunition. Remember please, we vote these people into power.

October 11th, 2006

The fleeing children who were shot

Remember the (rightful) outrage when then Eastern German border guards shot people trying to cross the wall, flee the country? It still happens every day, including children. Status so far of this incident: 2 (or 3) killed, 9 or 10 children arrested, diplomatic silencing efforts.

A Tibetan monk who managed to reach Nepal was quoted in the paper as saying: “We started walking early through the Nangpa La Pass. Then the soldiers arrived. They started shooting and we ran; there were 15 children from eight to 10; only one escaped arrest.

“I just ran to save my life by praying to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I think the soldiers fired for 15 minutes.”

“They were shouting, but I did not hear them … I just heard gunshots passing my ears. I don’t remember how many people were shot.”

Another said: “When the Chinese started shooting, it was terrifying. We could only hear the gunfire and our friends screaming. We tried to take care of the seven-year-old girl with us.”

The nun who was killed, Kelsang Namtso, 17, was leading the children. A 13-year-old boy was also gunned down during 15 minutes of shooting witnessed by Western climbers, including two British policemen, 1,000 yards away at Cho Oyu camp.

Later three Chinese soldiersmarched the children through the camp – some 12 miles west of Mount Everest – as climbers and Sherpas looked on. None of the Westerners tried to help the Tibetans.

Hey but we need Beijing to control North Korea right? Well in my opinion this is sickening.

P.S: I regularly chat with a Chinese student in Beijing. Very nice person. I will try to blog in a while over the difference that a lot of people are unable to make between disliking a country (read: administration) or it’s people. I sense a lot of US citizens, with a little help from their administration, seem to be in the “they hate us” mode, whoever “they” might be.

Update: Interestingly, public radio here was broadcasting this news today. No way this can be silenced I guess. And there is more. They interviewed a Romanian ProTV camera man who filmed the whole massacre through a tent-window. According to him, not 2 but 8 people were slaughtered and 2 wounded, out of a group of almost 60. The bodies were left on the mountain, but the Chinese police came back next day and buried them in the glacier. He said “he never let the Chinese know he was filming to avoid being buried as another dead tibetan. Later, he found out one of the group had managed to flee and hide in the camp’s toilet and he interviewed him. According to him, the group was enroute to the Daya Lama, their spiritual leader, their “pope”, as he called him.

Now what is interesting in my opinion is this. Assuming the cameraman is bona fide and his filmed report will show on Romanian television soon, it will of course show up on YouTube in no time. But given google’s giving in to the Chinese regime’s request to ban i.e. all posts about Falun Gong (sp) AND their acquisition of YouTube, how much will really be shown? And will it be shown in China?

Update: Boing Boing picked it up, including a link to the Romanian video, which as been posted on the stations website. Still growing.

Update: Found and added the YouTube link. Not nice I must warn you. ProTV’s own link doesntseem to work anymore.