World How Dissent Dies
The push toward a new totalitarian normal: CJ Hopkins
American playwright and author C.J. Hopkins warns of nascent totalitarianism and conforming to a "New Normal."C.J. Hopkins is an American playwright and author living in Berlin and a self-described "creature of the left." Over the past year and a half, Hopkins has been increasingly concerned about long-term implications of what he deemed the "radical restructuring of human society" toward a post-COVID "New Normal," a term often used by the political class.
For most of her life, Gulfisha Fatima showed little interest in anything beyond academics. By late 2019, the 27-year-old Delhi resident had finished her M.B.A. and was getting ready to apply for a Ph.D. Even as a student, she stayed away from activism. “Her world,” her brother Aqil told me, “revolved around books.”
That began to change in December of that year. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government had proposed a bill that would alter the country’s, effectively barring Muslim refugees in neighboring countries from seeking asylum in India. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) sparked outrage among critics, civil libertarians, and minority-rights activists, who worried that Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would use the potential law to erode the status of India’s as well. Before long, women in Muslim-majority northeast Delhi began staging street protests and sit-ins, demonstrations that over the following weeks would balloon to include tens of thousands nationwide.
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Hong Kong police detained one of the organisers of the annual vigil commemorating Beijing's deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown, as authorities sought to prevent any show of pro-democracy people power on Friday's sensitive anniversary. Chow, 37, is one of the vice-chairs of the Hong Kong Alliance which organises the annual vigil. Police confirmed two people -- Chow and a 20-year-old male -- had been arrested on suspicion of publicising an unlawful assembly through social media posts.
Fatima did not immediately join the protests in Seelampur, the Delhi neighborhood where her family lived. But as the month progressed, Aqil said, she began to drop in. “Gulfisha would sit at the site for a bit, see what was going on,” he told me. She watched as protesters drew graffiti, raised placards, and read the Indian constitution aloud. Slowly, she became more interested, at one point putting up a whiteboard and writing out the English, Hindi, and Urdu alphabets to teach the older women protesters, many of whom were illiterate. “Her work was visionary,” Apeksha Priyadarshini, a student activist from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University who was often at the protest sites, told me. “She understood the value of education,” she continued. “She was equipped with a sense of identity and power, which she wanted to share.”
Hong Kong park empty on Tiananmen anniversary but protests flicker
A Hong Kong park that traditionally hosts huge vigils on the anniversary of China's deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown lay empty for the first time late Friday as police blocked access, but flashes of defiance still flickered across the city. Huge crowds have routinely gathered in Hong Kong's Victoria Park to mark the anniversary of Chinese troops crushing peaceful democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Hundreds wereHuge crowds have routinely gathered in Hong Kong's Victoria Park to mark the anniversary of Chinese troops crushing peaceful democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
Before long, she was delivering speeches to the assembled crowd. “Our fight, my Hindu brothers and sisters, is not with you,” shein a February 26 address, a microphone in one hand and a smartphone in the other. “Our fight is with the government—against its ideology, which manufactures Hindu-Muslim riots to win votes.”
She made the speech against the backdrop of Delhi’s worst sectarian riots in decades. On February 23, afterby BJP leaders, including one by a minister in the Modi government, Anurag Thakur, calling on BJP supporters to “ ,” riots broke out in Delhi. Over the course of 53 people were killed, more than 200 were injured, and numerous houses, shops, schools, and factories were looted and burned. Fatima and her family stayed at home until the violence ebbed.
Though the demonstrations continued for a time, growing fears of COVID-19’s spread forced India into a national lockdown, and the protest sites were eventually cleared in late March.
Moscow Court Bans Navalny Opposition Group in Shocking Anti-Dissent Ruling
MOSCOW—On Wednesday, a Moscow court designated dissident Aleksei Navalny’s political organization, the FKB, as “extremist”—effectively banning it in a historic ruling that stunned Kremlin critics across the country. The group is now banned from distributing information, from carrying out financial operations, from organizing rallies, and from taking part in elections. If employees continue to work with the group, they could face up to six years in jail. One day, when the Kremlin publishes transcripts of the secret court hearings, Russian law students will study the case of the state prosecuting a key opposition movement as radicals.
Quiet descended on Delhi. The anti-CAA movement was effectively over. The fallout, however, was still to come. On the morning of April 9, 2020, Aqil got a call from a police constable. His sister had been arrested.
Fatima and 20 others were detained through April, and in September she and 14 others wereof orchestrating the February riots to destabilize the Modi government. Yet the charge sheet was , built on a series of unsigned “confessions,” some of which matched others verbatim. None of the confessions was made in the presence of a magistrate, so they were inadmissible in court. The only thing that linked the group, many of whom had never met one another, was their participation in the anti-CAA protests.
That was more than a year ago, and Fatima remains in prison, yet to face trial. Since the police filed the charge sheets,have castigated them for making “irresponsible” allegations, “total non-application of mind,” and “vindictiveness.”
Fatima’s lawyer, Mehmood Pracha, says the authorities are going after her to set an example for others. That Delhi’s police answer to the national home minister (who is also the BJP president, and theof the CAA) only fuels that sentiment. “Gulfisha has not done anything,” Pracha told me “None of these accused has done anything. Zilch.”
Hong Kong activist Agnes Chow released on city's pro-democracy protest anniversary
Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow was released Saturday from prison on the second anniversary of the city's huge democracy rallies, with police out in force and protests now all but banned. Protests have been all but illegal for the last year in Hong Kong but anniversary events can focus attention. On Friday, two activists from Student Politicism, a pro-democracy group, were arrested on suspicion of advertising an unauthorised assembly.Last week authorities banned an annual candlelight vigil to commemorate victims of Beijing's deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
In other words, she is being held not for having committed a crime, but for her opposition to government policy—for her political beliefs. India, feted as the world’s largest democracy by the United States and Europe, is detaining Fatima and many others as political prisoners.
The Citizenship Amendment Act marks modern India’s most significant departure from its tradition of secularism, but is only one of many controversial laws being passed by Modi’s government. Just since his reelection in 2019, the government has the historic autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, and sought to the country’s enormous agricultural sector—in both cases without consulting either or .
This high-handedness is part of Modi’s style. In 2016, he gave Indiansbefore demonetizing the majority of the country’s high-value banknotes, wreaking havoc on the economy, and similarly announced a last year with little warning or safety net for the millions of who were suddenly unable to go to work.
Hong Kong activist Agnes Chow released on pro-democracy protest anniversary
Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow described prison as "agony" on Saturday after she was released on the second anniversary of the city's huge democracy rallies, with police out in force and protests now all but banned. Two thousand officers have been placed on standby after social media calls for residents to commemorate the failed democracy demonstrations. Authorities have kept a coronavirus prohibition on public gatherings, despite the city recording just three local infections in the last month.
Throughout, Modi remained popular. That has started to change. Two new surveys show that his. Criticism of his government’s priorities and performance is louder than ever before. and social-media outbursts now also feature and .
The government’s actions, and its responses to criticism, raise more troubling questions than Modi’s electoral viability does. Cases such as Fatima’s fit a pattern. In recent years, BJP governments at the federal and state levels, as well as investigative agencies under their power, have—priests, professors, poets, lawyers, journalists, and stand-up comedians among them—as to turn the act of dissent itself into a jailable offense.
Modi’s seven years in power mark thesince the 1970s, when Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, suspending all civil liberties and curtailing the press.
Perhaps most troubling has been this government’s use of India’s anti-terrorism law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, a piece of legislation so harsh that several former judges have. It the state to detain someone without a charge for 180 days, conduct closed-room trials, and produce secret witnesses.
In 2019, it wasto allow the government to designate any individual a terrorist without them having to face trial, and to enable the National Investigation Agency, the country’s main anti-terror force, to in state and local jurisdictions—a move that critics say allows the national BJP government to intervene in areas where the party is not in power.
Tucker Carlson Bizarrely Suggests Capitol Insurrection Was Orchestrated by FBI
Taking his Jan. 6 denialism to another level on Tuesday night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggested the Capitol insurrection was a false flag orchestrated by the FBI in an effort to “suppress political dissent.” Almost since the moment that former President Donald Trump incited thousands of MAGA supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol in order to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory, Carlson has downplayed the violent riots, repeatedly insisting there was “no insurrection” and that it was nothing more than a “political protest that got out of hand.
The authorities were “distributing UAPA like prasad,” Nodeep Kaur, a labor-rights activist, told me, using the Hindi word for Hindu religious offerings. (Kaur herself was arrested in January for protesting the denial of minimum wages to industrial workers in a BJP-ruled state; she was charged with, though not under the UAPA.)
This: Sweden’s V-Dem Institute, which studies and rates democracies, this year classified India as an “electoral autocracy.” Its report traces much of the decline of democratic freedoms to the BJP’s initial electoral victory in 2014, and calls out the party’s weaponization of UAPA. Last year, the Economist Intelligence Unit, a research firm linked to the magazine, lowered India’s ranking by two places in its Democracy Index, attributing the decline to “democratic backsliding” and “crackdowns” on civil liberties.
Yet this year alone, Modi has been either hosted at or invited to meetings by the United States, the European Council, the World Economic Forum, and the G7 summit, being held this weekend in Britain. At these gated clubs of democracies, he has spoken about how to, , and . (India has been badly hit by COVID-19 and is still grappling with a brutal, albeit lessening, wave.) Modi’s ministers have mocked the reports of their attacks on democracy: Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar said in March, for example, that “a set of self-appointed custodians of the world, who find it very difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval, is not willing to play the game they want to be played.”
The bottom line: India knows it does not have any real reason to worry about international censure of the kind that trails similarly threatened democracies, such as Hungary and Turkey.
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“The fact of the matter is that the United States, and much of the West, has made a long-term strategic bet that India will provide a democratic counterweight to an authoritarian China,” Milan Vaishnav, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., told me. Yet, he continued, India “possesses many of the trappings of electoral democracy, while democracy between elections atrophies.”
The case against Fatima is remarkable not for its novelty, but for its ostentatious frailty: The Delhi police’s charge sheet accuses her of “a conspiracy,” but fails to establish any links between anti-CAA protesters, such as Fatima, and the February riots. In theory, Fatima should have been released long ago. That she is still being held, more than a year after her arrest, points to the flaws of India’s justice system.
For instance, once arrested, dissidents cannot depend on timely trials (as the cases involving Fatima and others illustrate) or impartial investigations. In one incident, an independent American cyberforensics firm called Arsenal Consulting found this year that a hacker hadon the laptop of an activist accused of coordinating with an armed group. Mark Spencer, Arsenal’s president, said the effort was “very organized” and “extremely dark” in its intent.
(The Delhi police’s Special Cell, which is investigating the riot-conspiracy cases, did not respond to multiple telephoned, texted, and e-mailed requests for comment. In a September 2020, the force denied any prejudice on its part, saying the charge sheets were being taken “out of context in order to create a controversy and doubt about the investigation.” Separately, the National Investigation Agency did not respond to my requests for an interview, but in an affidavit filed with the Bombay High Court, it the activist’s laptop.)
Incredibly, the fact that India is going through renewed pandemic difficulties does not affect bail from its horrifically overcrowded prisons. Under the UAPA, bail is granted only in extraordinary circumstances. Yet multiple detainees, held on spurious charges, have contracted COVID-19 and been kept in prison. In May, the Bombay High Court denied bail toa Jesuit priest and activist who campaigned to strengthen rights for India’s tribal communities, but who had been arrested and charged with having Maoist links. The 84-year-old, who has Parkinson’s disease, the court that he was going through “a very difficult moment” in jail. The court sent him to a private hospital where, days later, he . The same month, Siddique Kappan, a journalist, was to jail from a Delhi hospital where he’d been treated for COVID-19, before having fully recovered. He had been while en route to report on a provincial BJP government’s of a lower-caste teenager’s rape and murder. The police accused him of working for the Popular Front of India, a controversial Islamic organization, and using “ ” to incite caste-based riots, but haven’t yet provided any proof of his involvement with the PFI, and until India’s Supreme Court intervened. He has been charged under the UAPA anyway.
When Fatima completed a year in prison, this past April, dozens of activiststo mark the day. One of them, Anuradha Banerji, described Fatima’s evolution at the protest sites, from just helping out to exhorting fellow demonstrators to chant slogans. Others, some of whom have never met Fatima but see in her situation symptoms of a deeper malaise, still go to court whenever a hearing is called in her case. “She smiles, then she walks peacefully into the court—it is a signal to us that she is okay,” Nabiya Khan, a Jawaharlal Nehru University student and one of the regular court attendees, told me. “Her parents start crying every time she disappears from view, but she says, ‘Ammi main theek hoon bilkul’ (‘Mom, I am all right’), before going in. They wave at her; she waves back at them.”
Aqil can’t bring himself to go to court, but has seen his sister on the occasional video call she is allowed with family—COVID-19 has meant that physical meetings are no longer permitted. “She doesn’t talk that much about herself,” he told me. “She wants to know how things are at home. She never asks about what’s going on in the outside world.” He said they never talk about her case on these supervised calls, partly because he is certain she will be free soon.
“We would only worry if she had done anything wrong,” Aqil said. “How long can anyone keep an innocent person in jail?”
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