The Scientific Activist

China Behaving Badly

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Chinese ship carrying arms bound for Zimbabwe that was turned away thanks primarily to the actions of the South African dockworkers’ union. A news story from the Mail & Guardian today gives a pretty good indication of just how those weapons might have been used if they had made it to their intended destination:

Zimbabwe’s army is supplying militants with weapons to intimidate voters to ensure that Robert Mugabe wins a possible run-off in the presidential election, Human Rights Watch said.

In a statement released late on Tuesday, it said military forces had equipped war veterans with weapons and trucks to scare Zimbabweans into backing Mugabe.

“The army and its allies — ‘war-veterans’ and supporters of the ruling party Zanu-PF — are intensifying their brutal grip on wide swathes of rural Zimbabwe to ensure that a possible second round of presidential elections goes their way,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The group called on the African Union and the United Nations Security Council to take immediate steps to prevent an escalation of violence.

Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has accused Mugabe of unleashing militias to help him rig victory and activating veterans of the independence war, who have used violence in the past to support the former guerrilla leader.

The MDC has said at least 15 party members have been killed by Zanu-PF. The government denies accusations that it has launched a violent campaign against opponents in the post-election crisis.

The timing of this arms delivery was in some ways just unlucky for China, since the purchase was made before the March 29 Zimbabwean election (the event that sparked the latest government crack-down). Regardless, no country should be doing business with such a thuggish regime in the first place, and China shouldn’t be let off the hook here.

On the home front yesterday, China sentenced the first 30 of the unknown number being held in response to the March riots and demonstrations in Tibet, and apparently China wanted to make an example out of them. From The New York Times:

One of the men given a life term was Soi’nam Cering, 20, a driver for a local real estate company who was accused of burning cars and throwing stones at fire engines and police stations.

“He was convicted of arson and disrupting public services,” the court said in a news release.

Another man who received a life sentence, a monk named Basang, was blamed for leading a rampage by 10 people who attacked the police and destroyed shops and a local government office. The other members of the group, including five monks, were sentenced to 15 or 20 years.

Based on China’s awful record stifling political dissent, I doubt that this was anything resembling a fair trial. Even if we assume that it was actually a fair trial–and that these are true criminals instead of political prisoners–the fact remains that these are incredibly harsh sentences. Even in prison-happy America (which can currently claim close to one-fourth of the world’s prison population), these offenses wouldn’t merit anything close to a life sentence.

If China was still planning on improving its image before the upcoming Beijing Olympics, it really needs to step up its efforts–because the last couple of months have been disastrous.