- Prominent human rights lawyers in China have accused the state of disbarring attorneys for taking on sensitive cases.
- The most recent controversy involves lawyers representing Hong Kongers attempting to flee to Taiwan after taking part in the 2019 protests and violating the controversial National Security Law.
- Officially, the lawyers are being disbarred for social media posts and other writings advocating their cases, a violation of 2016 regulations mandating they only speak about cases inside a courtroom.
- The attorneys allege that Chinese security officials have also prevented them from meeting with clients behind bars and giving proper legal consultation.
Chinese Defense Lawyers Need to Defend Themselves
Chinese human rights lawyers are fighting the state not only for their clients but for themselves.
Authorities are accused of targeting lawyers who take on particularly ‘sensitive’ cases in the country – notably those dealing with religious minorities or defending Hong Kong protesters.
Ren Quanniu, for instance, was disbarred in January after defending one of 12 Hong Kongers who attempted to escape the territory for Taiwan. The group was caught by the Chinese coast guard and faced criminal charges for crossing a Chinese border and taking part in the 2019 Hong Kong protests.
Ren is one of two lawyers representing clients from that incident who has since been disbarred. Throughout the process, authorities prevented Ren from visiting his client – a standard and necessary practice for lawyers. Police claimed Ren couldn’t provide any proof that his client, Wong Wai-yin, had hired Ren himself, despite the fact that Ren had video and written statements from Wong’s family stating that was the case.
In the end, Ren was removed from the case after he was informed by the court that Wong had reportedly acquired another lawyer.
Throughout the situation, Ren claims that he “received several calls from national security officers. They said they had high-level orders from Beijing that I had to drop this Hong Kong case or my lawyer’s license might be affected.”
In December Wong was found guilty of all charges. Shortly after Ren was given notice that he was facing disbarment. Officially, he was in violation of 2016 regulations that prevented lawyers from discussing their cases outside of the courtroom. The regulation has been selectively enforced as human rights lawyers have born the brunt of violations of those regulations. It’s common for lawyers to speak and write about cases outside of the courtroom since they are advocates for their clients in court, to the media, and to the public.
Changing Tactics for Changing Regime
The move to disbar lawyers is a change in tactics, in multiple ways, by leader Xi Jinping. In the early 2000’s, China had a blossoming legal profession as courts became increasingly independent of the Communist Party and the rule of law began to take root. Many activist lawyers managed to bring serious cases to the limelight, such as one lawsuit that exposed tainted baby formula that led to food safety regulations.
At one point, American judges were invited to China to interact with their local counterparts and help implement some judicial independence.
However, since Xi’s rise to power, that has largely changed. He has centralized power and enforced an older style of government that sees the Communist Party as the bastion of what’s right and wrong, rather than the rule of law.
In 2015, he initiated a campaign that jailed or disqualified more than 200 of the country’s most aggressive legal advocates. After widespread backlash, he and the party changed course, implementing the 2016 regulations that removed lawyers through a softer approach.
The regulations to dissuade defense lawyers from taking politically sensitive cases makes the profession that much harder. The country had a 99.965% conviction rate as of 2018.
German Catholic Priests Defy Vatican by Blessing Same-Sex Unions
- Priests throughout Germany openly defied the Roman Catholic Church and blessed same-sex marriages over the weekend as part of an organized effort that has extended into this week.
- In the past, the vast majority of willing priests would refuse to bless such marriages due to the ambiguity of the Church’s position, which was clarified in March 2021 as against blessing same-sex unions.
- The effort by German priests has received some support in progressive nations but has been widely opposed by the greater Church.
- The Vatican is unlikely to back down from its position; however, the challenge is large enough to potentially set off a debate on the issue within the Church.
Pope’s Stance on Blessing Same-Sex Unions
Catholic priests throughout Germany openly challenged a group of new rules by the Vatican this weekend and set the stage for a large debate over LGTBQ+ issues within the church.
At the center of the debate is a clear and complete ban on blessings of same-sex marriages by the Holy See from March of this year. Pope Francis’ official stance, and thus the Church’s official stance, is that priests cannot bless gay marriages because they are sinful, and the Church cannot “bless sin.”
Blessings are different from engaging in marriage ceremonies themselves and are used to bring marriages carried out by secular officials “into” the church.
The Pope’s stance received a lot of push back both within and outside of the church. Activists around the world felt it was overly restrictive and undermined Pope Francis’ other statements about loving LGBTQ+ members of the church. At the same time, hundreds of clergymen around the world, and especially in Germany, signed open letters with plans to defy the pontiff and bless same-sex unions anyways.
Such blessings weren’t completely unknown in the church because even without the Holy See’s official stance in March, it was assumed by clergymen that such blessings were forbidden; however, some carried them out anyways in secret.
Open Defiance of the Church
That secrecy largely came to an end this weekend in Germany. Sunday morning saw one of the first seemingly organized efforts in that defiance, with priests throughout Germany openly blessing same-sex marriages. The organized effort also includes another event planned for Monday, May 10, including live-streamed services.
Despite the progressive push by parts of the German church, most Catholic dioceses in the country back the Church’s official stance, and that support is even more widespread worldwide.
Beyond doctrinal differences, many German parishes are pushing for more progressive stances to cope with the fact that people are leaving the church in droves, partly because of its social stances. In some respects, those decisions have proven popular.
As it stands, it’s unclear what will happen next to the priests and bishops who backed blessing same-sex unions, and whether or not other dioceses in progressive countries will take a similar stance and back them. It’s also unlikely that the church will change its stance on same-sex marriages.
In the meantime, hundreds of gay Catholic couples throughout Germany and neighboring countries plan to get their marriages blessed at a Catholic Church for the first time.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (BBC) (National Catholic Reporter)
Mukbangs and Ordering Too Much Food Banned in China
- China recently passed a law that bans ordering too much food and sharing content online that portrays overeating.
- Though food scarcity is not an issue in the country, the law is meant to combat food waste, with authorities pointing out that China tosses 35 million tons of food annually.
- The law doesn’t penalize consumers at restaurants. Instead, it fines restaurants $1550 for allowing diners to order “more than they need.”
- TV stations, media companies, or people who post overeating content, such as Mukbangs, can face a $16,000 fine.
The End of Mukbangs
Some of the most popular content across Chinese social media has effectively been banned under an anti-food waste law that authorities passed late last week.
The law bans diners from ordering more than they need, which could hurt an entire class of eating videos, including ones where people enter all-you-can-eat restaurants to consume thousands of dollars worth of food. While it could be argued that if the creators eat all that food, they’ve satisfied the “more than they need” clause, the law also bans binge eating and posting such content online, meaning no more mukbangs for Chinese fans.
Censors have already begun removing overeating content, and much of it went missing overnight from Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister app.
The law also affects far more than a fringe group of people making food content. It’s so vague and open to interpretation that it could disrupt everyday restaurant-goers.
President Xi Jinping called food waste a “distressing” problem that threatens China’s food security, despite the fact that China is not facing any imminent food shortages.
Nearly 35 million tons of food go to waste every year in China, though that’s a relatively small amount for its population size. The U.S., for comparison, manages to throw away 66 million tons of food yearly.
Still, the legislation does not come as a complete surprise since Xi launched a food-saving campaign back in August claiming that COVID-19 was threatening the food supply chain.
Across China, restaurants have already begun to comply with the new rules. Some have set up scales at their entrance to give recommended food portion sizes to customers based on their weight. Meanwhile, others have promised to offer smaller-sized plates as an option.
One standard that many are seeking to enact is the “N-1” rule, which states that the number of dishes should be one less than the number of guests. The rule could be an attempt to curb a cultural practice that sees hosts ordering far more food than could be eaten in an effort to show off wealth.
Under the law, much of the blame towards a consumer wasting food is placed on restaurants, as there’s no clear cut fine for diners violating the law. Any establishment found allowing customers or misleading customers into ordering excessive amounts of food facing a $1550 fine. Showing content related to binge-eating could result in TV stations, online media companies, or even content creators facing a $16,000 fine.
Tuesday seems to have been the first time regulators went after a particular business, warning a Nanjing bakery to stop throwing away pastries that the business didn’t believe would sell because of visual defects. It has promised to donate them instead.
See what others are saying: (SCMP) (The Guardian) (Vice)
Zimbabwe Considers Controversial Mass Elephant Killing
- Zimbabwe is considering culling its 100,000 elephant population over concerns of how they destroy other habitats and interact with farmland.
- The plan isn’t unheard of, as Zimbabwe has done similar culls in the past, while other countries have done their own more recently.
- However, the large-scale killing of elephants has faced pushback, with some suggesting the animals should instead be transported to areas with falling elephant populations.
- For the time being, the plan is still just a proposal, and the government of Zimbabwe has promised to make a decision based on “scientific advice.”
Killing Elephants Is What’s Best for Them?
For the first time since 1988, Zimbabwe is considering a mass killing of elephants.
In a local radio interview on Wednesday, Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism, and Hospitality Mangaliso Ndlovu said, “We are trying to see ways in which we can reduce the numbers. We have to discuss it at policy level as government. Options are on the table…”
“It’s an option but not a decision yet,” Ndlovu later added by text message to the station. “We will obviously rely on scientific advice.”
The country is home to about 100,000 elephants, the second largest population in the world after neighboring Botswana. The mass killings are better known as culls, and the concept isn’t completely unknown in areas with large animal populations. They can happen for a variety of reasons, such as removing sterile males from the mating population that prevent fertile ones from accessing mates.
In Zimbabwe, authorities are worried that the elephant population has outgrown the resources available, causing the animals to destroy habitats that other species need to survive by eating the bark off trees and killing them. Additionally, the large population increases the chances of violent human-elephant interactions as elephants encroach on farmlands.
Elephants are known for their great intelligence and advanced emotional states compared to other animals, and therefore authorities are concerned about how a cull could affect populations. Notably, elephants can experience Post-traumatic stress disorder. In an effort to minimize those effects, other countries that have initiated culls, such as Uganda, have targeted entire herds for eradication while leaving others completely untouched.
Any discussion of a cull causes alarm bells among animal conservationists, particularly as total elephant populations in Africa have been on the decline over the last decade. However, in both Botswana and Zimbabwe the populations have actually risen considerably. Despite this, the possible plan has received considerable pushback online.
Many people have pointed out that there are other viable solutions to control the population and protect both the animals, other habitats, and farmland. As journalist Yashar Ali pointed out, “The only reasonable solution for Zimbabwe and other countries with large elephant populations is to work on human-wildlife conflict mitigation measures, contraception for elephants, and translocation.”
In particular, translocation has been touted as a viable alternative to not only help reduce the elephant population in Zimbabwe but also bolster the falling populations in other countries. Now, some have wondered why there has been any pushback against a cull, pointing out that animals such as deer are regularly culled across the world.
But it’s not quite apples and oranges. Take the U.S., which often hosts deer culls. The country has over 30 million deer, compared to Zimbabwe’s 100,000 elephants. On top of that, deer can give birth to over 20 fawns in their roughly 10-year lifespan, compared to less than 10 for an elephant during its more than 60 years alive.
For the time being, the plan is still just a proposal. It remains to be seen if Zimbabwe’s government will take such a large-scale cull seriously.