- The House passed a bill condemning the Chinese treatment of Uighurs and recommending sanctions on top Chinese officials.
- The Senate passed a version of the bill in September. The two chambers must now come up with a unified version to pass on to President Trump.
- China responded by condemning the legislation, and saying it “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs.”
- The move comes as the U.S. is already in hot water with China following Trump’s decision to sign an act last week authorizing the U.S. to impose sanctions on Hong Kong for human rights abuses, among other things.
House Passes Uighur Bill
The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would place sanctions on top Chinese officials involved in perpetrating human rights abuses against China’s Muslim Uighur minority, as well as formally condemn the country’s treatment of the Uighurs.
The bill, which was passed with an overwhelming vote of 407-1, also details the efforts of the Chinese government in recent years to ramp up control of the Xinjiang region where the Uighurs reside.
In addition to implementing advanced AI surveillance systems all over the region, the Chinese government has also detained upwards of one million Uighurs in internment camps.
Numerous reports, as well as both public and leaked Chinese government documents, show that the Uighurs are detained against their will in the camps, where they are forced to learn Mandarin, swear loyalty to President Xi Jinping, and renounce their faith.
There have also been multiple reports of torture and other human rights abuses, prompting rights groups and countries all over the world to argue that the camps are systems of mass-incarceration for an ethnic minority and a violation of human rights.
China, which originally denied the existence of the camps, now claims that they are vocational boarding schools where they help the Uighurs by giving them job training and education skills. They also claim that it is a safe way to combat terrorism.
Contents of House Bill
The House bill comes a few months after the Senate passed a similar version of the legislation back in September.
According to the text of the bill, the purpose of the Act is to “direct United States resources to address gross violations of universally recognized human rights, including the mass internment of over 1,000,000 Uighurs” and other Muslim minorities in the region.
The Act also accuses the Chinese government having policies that have “systematically discriminated” against the Uighurs, including:
- “Pervasive, high-tech surveillance across the region, including the arbitrary collection of biodata, such as DNA samples from children, without their knowledge or consent.”
- “The use of QR codes outside homes to gather information on how frequently individuals pray.”
- “Facial and voice recognition software and ‘predictive policing’ databases.”
- And “severe restrictions on the freedom of movement across the region.”
The bill also accuses China of using the threat of terrorism as a justification for “pervasive restrictions on, and gross human rights violations against, the ethnic minority communities.”
If implemented, the legislation would direct the president to “condemn abuses against” the Uighurs and call on President Xi to “recognize the profound abuse and likely lasting damage” of China’s policies, “immediately close” the camps, and “lift all restrictions on and ensure respect for internationally guaranteed human rights across the region.”
Perhaps most significantly, the bill would also “impose targeted sanctions” on members of the Chinese government and other officials who have been involved in these abuses.
This would include officials who have been “credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere.”
Among other things, the Act would also direct the Secretary of Commerce to consider prohibiting the sale of U.S. products and services to state agents in Xinjiang.
China condemned the House’s actions in a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“This bill deliberately smears the human rights condition in Xinjiang, slanders China’s efforts in de-radicalization and counter-terrorism and viciously attacks the Chinese government’s Xinjiang policy,” the statement said.
“It seriously violates international law and basic norms governing international relations, and grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs.”
The statement went on to say that the situation is not about human rights, but “fighting violence, terrorism and separatism.” The ministry also claimed that “the international community speaks highly” of its policies in Xinjiang.
“We urge the US to correct its mistakes at once, prevent this bill from becoming law, and stop using Xinjiang-related issues to interfere China’s internal affairs,” the statement concluded. “China will take further reactions according to how the situation develops.”
Congress and U.S.-China Relations
Now, the House and Senate will have to work together to decide on a final version before passing it off to President Donald Trump, who has not said if he will sign the bill.
Despite the legislation’s bipartisan nature, whether or not Trump will sign it up in the air.
The president is already in hot water with China after signing an Act last week, which, among other things, authorizes the U.S. to impose sanctions on Hong Kong for human rights abuses.
Trump had initially been hesitant to sign the Act because he was worried it would complicate trade talks with China, but he ultimately went forward with it after pressure from Republican leaders.
China responded by imposing sanctions on several U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations.
With the Uighur bill almost certain to further disrupt trade negotiations, it remains unclear if Trump will risk sacrificing a possible deal to approve the legislation.
Trump may find himself stuck in double-bind if Congressional leaders again pressure him to sign this bill, and especially if Congress has a veto-proof majority, as was the case with the Hong Kong legislation.
As divided as Congress is right now, they have recently worked together to push through a number of bills targeting China with huge bipartisan support in both chambers.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Al Jazeera)
Malaysia Tells Women Not to Nag Spouses During COVID-19 Lockdown
- The Malaysian government released a series of infographics advising women on how to maintain a happy home during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
- The posts told women to take on the playful tone of a cartoon character, wear makeup and dress up at home, and avoid nagging their partners, among other advice.
- Many were outraged by the infographics, slamming them as “sexist.” Others called it a poor response to concerns of spiking domestic violence cases as more people are forced indoors with their abusers.
- The government issued an apology following the backlash.
Malaysia’s government has apologized after receiving backlash for advising women to dress nicely and avoid nagging their spouses in order to maintain a happy home as the coronavirus prompted a nation-wide lockdown.
The advice came from online posters that were released across social media by the country’s Ministry for Women, Family, and Community Development and accompanied by the hashtag #WomenPreventCOVID19.
“If you see your partner doing something wrong, avoid nagging – use ‘humorous’ words like saying: ‘This is how you hang clothes my dear,’” the ministry wrote in a now-removed infographic.
This piece of advice was paired with another seemingly-bizarre nugget: use a high-pitched, squeaky voice instead, specifically imitating the popular Japanese cartoon character Doraemon, and follow your statement with a giggle.
The Ministry also encouraged women to avoid the use of sarcasm, and to continue to wear makeup and dress up even if working from home.
After the posters’ release earlier this week, the Ministry and its advice faced a slew of backlash, ranging from mockery to anger.
“[It] is extremely condescending both to women and men,” Nisha Sabanayagam, a manager at the Malaysian advocacy group All Women’s Action Society, told Reuters.
“These posters promote the concept of gender inequality and perpetuate the concept of patriarchy,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over the phone.
Sabanayagam’s frustration was matched by many online.
“This is violently sexist,” one person tweeted. “Makes me angry even thinking about this.”
This is violently sexist. Makes me angry even thinking about this. Malaysia isn’t a theocratic state like Saudi but appareny treats its women the same.— Aditya Jain (@adityajain98) April 1, 2020
In one poster, Malaysia’s gender equality movement regresses five decades. Dah la illegitimate govt, incompetent pulak tu. @KPWKM— Lee Lian Kong (@leelian_kong) March 31, 2020
Some mocked the more ridiculous elements of the advice, like the hashtag’s message that somehow women can prevent the virus itself.
“How will dressing up and putting on makeup at home [prevent] Covid-19? Pray, tell?” one person wrote online.
Another piece of advice that was largely ridiculed was the suggestion to imitate the cartoon character Doraemon.
“I think my husband should speak to me in a Doraemon like voice. That will amuse me to bits and put me in a good mood,” a Twitter user said.
I think my husband should speak to me in a Doraemon like voice. That will amuse me to bits and put me in a good mood.— Wee Su Lin (@sulinwee) March 31, 2020
Others were outraged that these were the solutions to a happy home in the Ministry’s eyes, especially as more serious problems stem from stay-at-home orders, like a rise in domestic violence.
“How did we go from preventing baby dumping, fighting domestic violence to some sad variant of the Obedient Wives Club?” one person asked online.
After being scraped over the coals, the Ministry addressed the controversial advice and issued an apology Tuesday night.
It said its intentions were aimed at “maintaining positive relationships among family members during the period they are working from home.”
“We apologize if some of the tips we shared were inappropriate and touched on the sensitivities of some parties,” the Ministry said in a statement, adding that they will take caution in the future.
- Many are warning against April Fools’ Day pranks as the world deals with coronavirus outbreaks, but others say laughs are needed now more than ever.
- Companies like Google have pulled their annual pranks while countries like India, Thailand, and others announced punishments for those spreading coronavirus misinformation on this day.
- K-pop star Kim Jaejoong has already come under fire for lying about being hospitalized with the virus as an April Fools’ stunt, then later passing it off as an attempt to raise awareness about social distancing.
April Fools’ Day Debate
Internet users are weighing in on whether or not April Fools’ Day is officially canceled this year as the world battles against the growing coronavirus pandemic.
For some, the annual day devoted to pulling practical jokes and hoaxes feels completely inappropriate given the current state of society.
But others argue that we need some fun and laughter during this dark time.
One of the biggest companies to take a side in the debate was Google, a company that has pulled major April Fools’ Day pranks for two decades. Earlier this week, the company said it would “take the year off from that tradition out of respect for all those fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let’s save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one,” it added.
Other brands are likely to follow Google’s lead, especially since many people are waiting to call out anyone who they feel has crossed a line. The Verge, for instance, even promised to keep an eye out and make a list of brands pulling pranks this year.
K-Pop Star Lies About Coronavirus
But of course, despite desperate calls for people to think twice about insensitive pranks, reports have already surfaced of coronavirus-related stunts. On Wednesday, K-Pop Star Kim Jaejoong, of the group JYJ, told his nearly 2 million Instagram followers that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“It is a result of my negligence, ignoring the cautionary words shared by the government and those around me,” he wrote according to a translation by K-pop news site Soompi.
“A person’s individual actions can have such a big impact on society as a whole. I am so sorry to those who may have been infected because of me. My foolish judgment to live as though it couldn’t happen to me is why I am like this today. I am currently hospitalized. I am reflecting on my past a lot and feeling both grateful and sorry. There are many things I want to say. There are many people I want to see so much,” he added.
Soon after, he was of course flooded with support in the comments and fan sites began reporting his shocking announcement.
His agency, CJeS Entertainment, even released a statement saying they were trying to confirm the news after seeing the post themselves. Less than an hour later, Jaejoong edited his caption, replacing it with a message clarifying that he doesn’t actually have the virus. Instead, he tried to suggest that his prank was intended to raise awareness for the importance of social distancing.
“What if the people we love, someone precious to us, contracted the virus? It’s such a heart-wrenching thing to think about. Despite this, so many people walk the streets and live their lives without their guards up, ignoring it… and thinking it won’t happen to them, and it makes me so worried that my family and friends might get sick,” he wrote in the updated post.
He went on to say that a number of his acquaintances are testing positive and encouraged people to “stay alert.”
“Although this did go quite far for April Fool’s Day, so many people worried about me in a short span of time. Oh… and I don’t think of this as an April Fool’s joke. My family and my friends are getting sick.. and dying.. It’s never!! just someone else’s problem. I wanted to tell you that protecting myself is protecting the precious people around us,” he continued.
“I will accept all punishment I receive from this post. I hope all of you are healthy.”
Jaejoong eventually deleted the entire post and was hit with a ton of backlash from people who were upset by his lie. Many called it disrespectful while others noted that there are better ways to raise awareness if that was truly his intent.
Following the outrage, he posted longer statement to his Instagram account apologizing. “I am also personally aware that it was something that shouldn’t be done…I want to express my sincere apologies to the people who have suffered because of COVID-19 and to the people who were disrupted in their administrative work,” he wrote.
He called his post “bad judgment” and again expressed that he was trying to raise awareness about the virus.
“My post today… it went very far, but I thought that if people paid a large amount of interest to it, then they might listen. This method has hurt a lot of people and I am receiving criticism for it.
“For causing distress, I sincerely apologize to the government agencies and medical professionals who are working hard because of COVID-19 and to the many people who are following instructions to give up on their lifestyles and are doing all they can to overcome this,” he concluded.
Countries Warn Against Spreading Misinformation About COVID-19 as Pranks
Jaejoong’s initial post is essentially what many people are afraid of seeing on this day. But even aside from lying about having the virus, more people are worried that misinformation will be spread under the guise of April Fools’ jokes.
Governments worldwide have been taking steps to combat this issue. Police in Thailand, for instance, warned that anyone disseminating false information about the coronavirus on April Fools’ Day could face up to five years in jail and a fine of up to about $3,000.
Taiwan’s president warned people not to pull virus-related pranks, adding that anyone spreading false rumors or information could face up to three years in jail and/ or a fine of up to $99,200.
In India, Maharashtra’s cybersecurity unit promised to pursue legal action against anyone spreading misinformation or rumors today as well, with Home Minister Anil Deshmukh tweeting “the state govt won’t allow anyone to spread rumors/panic on #Corona.”
Tomorrow’s April 1st. The annual tradition making an ‘April Fool’ of people has already begun on WhatsApp & social media. The state govt won’t allow anyone to spread rumours/panic on #Corona. I’ve instructed @MahaCyber1 to act swiftly & strongly such miscreants.#NoCoronaRumour— ANIL DESHMUKH (@AnilDeshmukhNCP) March 31, 2020
Germany’s health ministry issued a similar warning under the heading “Corona is no joke,” according to Reuters. Meanwhile, authorities in South Korea have said misinformation related to the virus would fall under laws on obstruction of official duties and defamation.
For those who choose to take their coronavirus pranks a step further by pulling them against others in person, keep in mind that anyone who threatens or attempts to spread COVID-19 in the U.S. can be hit with terrorism charges.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Forbes) (The Hill)
Hungary, Iran, and Other Countries Use Coronavirus Pandemic to Suppress Journalists
- On Monday, Hungary passed a law allowing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to indefinitely rule by decree, giving him the power to rule the country how he sees fit.
- Hungary also passed a law banning the spreading of “false” information, a move critics call a censor to free press.
- Other countries such as the Philippines, Egypt, Iran, and Brazil have also made moves to block journalists, either by censoring, harassing, detaining, or attempting to discredit them.
- Facebook and Twitter, in turn, have removed posts by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for misinformation relating to the use and promotion of hydroxychloroquine, a drug being investigated as an antiviral COVID-19 treatment.
Hungary Gives PM Power to “Rule By Decree”
As governments around the world struggle with how to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Hungary has given its prime minister the power to indefinitely rule by decree.
Hungary’s parliament overwhelmingly passed that bill Monday, and as of Tuesday, it is now in effect. In essence, it gives Prime Minister Viktor Orban the legal ability to govern the country unchallenged for as long as he sees fit. Notably, that means he doesn’t need to consult with other lawmakers when it comes to making decisions.
In theory, the bill stills allow for the country’s constitutional court to act as a check; however, Orban had already stacked that court with loyalists. That means a check against him is extremely unlikely to happen.
Hungary’s government has justified this new law by saying emergency powers are necessary to fight the outbreak, but rights groups are fighting back by saying such a move suspends democracy. Many political analysts have also questioned whether or not Orban will give back his newfound power once the coronavirus crisis is over.
In fact, some say there’s precedent to suggest he might not. In 2016, Orban was granted emergency power to deal with Hungary’s migrant crisis, but he’s yet to relinquish those powers and still holds them today.
“He is using this crisis to further increase his power,” the director of a Budapest-based think tank told The Washington Post. “The Hungarian prime minister enjoys the situation where he can act as a captain in a crisis. I don’t see him giving up these powers again easily.”
Because of that, there are concerns that Orban and his administration might also use “rule by decree” to suppress independent voices and free press. It’s possible that the country might already be taking such steps, as the law that gave Orban rule by decree also criminalizes any attempts to stop the Hungarian government from fighting the outbreak. Notably, that includes the spreading of false information, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Of course, the kicker is that whenever a government allows a single person to call the shots, they can decide what is considered “false” information.
The European Union, of which Hungary is a member, has already launched punitive measures against the country, saying Orban’s attacks on the media, the courts, and minority rights pose a “systematic threat” to its core values.
Hungary has defended itself against that criticism, with a spokesperson saying, “False claims of a power grab in Hungary are just that. Such insinuations are not only incorrect but defamatory and impede the government’s efforts in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus.”
Other Countries Make Moves to Block Journalists
It’s not just Hungary making big moves to potentially change freedoms and block journalists.
Last week in Egypt, authorities forced a reporter for The Guardian to leave the country after she reported on a scientific study that said Egypt likely had many more COVID-19 cases than officially reported.
In the Philippines, journalists can now face sentences up to two months and a fine up to $20,000 for “spreading false information” related to the coronavirus.
In Iran, authorities have been aggressively working to contain independent reporting by harassing, detaining, and censoring journalists. Officials there have also ordered the media to only use the government’s statistics when covering COVID-19.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has called the coronavirus a media trick, saying: “The people will soon see that they were tricked by these governors and by the large part of the media when it comes to coronavirus.”
“It is a shameless campaign, a colossal and absurd campaign against the head of state…” he also said. “They want to force me out however possible.”
Facebook and Twitter Remove Bolsonaro Posts
By contrast, multiple social media sites have removed posts from Bolsonaro that they say feature him making false, harmful, or misleading statements.
The posts all contain video of Bolsonaro walking through Brazil’s capital. He then talks to a street vendor and insinuates an end to social distancing.
“This medicine here, hydroxychloroquine, is working in every place,” he adds in the video that was posted Saturday.
Notably, that is incorrect. Both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are being investigated as possible antiviral treatments for COVID-19; however, while those drugs are approved for use in patients with malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, they have not been approved for use in people with COVID-19.
Twitter banned two tweets featuring the video on Sunday. According to NBC News, Twitter ordered Bolsonaro to take down that video himself if he wanted to keep using the platform.
“Twitter recently announced the expansion of its rules to cover content that could be against public health information provided by official sources and could put people at greater risk of transmitting Covid-19,” a spokesperson for the site said in a statement.
Monday night, both Facebook followed suit by removing the video on its platform. It also removed the video from Instagram, which it owns.
“We removed content on Facebook and Instagram that violates our Community Standards, which do not allow misinformation that could cause real harm to people,” read a statement to media outlets.
Bolsonaro is not the only world leader to be hit by social media platforms hoping to cut down on misinformation surrounding COVID-19. Last week, Twitter also deleted a tweet from Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro for promoting a “natural brew” to cure COVID-19.
Though not governmental leaders, it has also deleted tweets from President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Fox host Laura Ingraham for promoting the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine before its widespread approval.
On Saturday, the Food and Drug Administration gave the Trump Administration emergency approval to distribute millions of doses of those drugs to hospitals. Even with that, that does not mean that the FDA is approving the long-term use of these drugs against COVID-19.