April 30, 2016

Fish farmers claim proliferation of red tides is worst ‘unnatural disaster’ to hit industry in years

Hong Kong has seen 29 days with red tide sightings in the first three months of the year
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 9:40pm
On April 1, a thick brownish-white froth floating off Shek O beach caused a stir among residents and tourists. Smartphones at the ready, they flocked to the shoreline to capture the morbid spectacle, braving the putrid stench.
Scenes like these are common in Hong Kong come springtime. Algal blooms, also known as “red tides”, are a natural phenomenon, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).
Peaking between March and June, the department has received more than 80 reports of red tide this year, six of which have been confirmed as actual cases.
Red tide season appears to have struck early, too. According to the Post’s review of data from the department’s red tide monitoring network, Hong Kong has seen 29 days with red tide sightings in the first three months of the year, more than any year in the same period over the last decade.
While formations of algal blooms are indeed completely natural, scientists believe their frequency and persistence are anything but. Glow-in-the-dark blue waves caused by the phenomenon known as harmful algal bloom or
“They are correct when they say they are formed naturally by natural organisms. But it’s their abundance and occurrence, which is extremely unnatural,” said ecologist Dr David Baker, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong Swire Institute of Marine Science.
“Red tides are associated with the Pacific Northwest of the US where you have upwelling conditions that provide the nutrients to cause red tides. In that case, it’s a very natural phenomenon.”
There were 55 reports of red tides last year, nine which the department was able to confirm. The year before that, 2014, went on record for the most confirmed reports – 23 out of 99 – in nearly a decade.
“There are few other places where you have red tides occurring so often throughout the year ... and in a very unusual environment where it is not the natural upwelling off the continental shelf that is providing the nutrients but really human waste.”
Algal blooms are areas of seawater discoloured by large concentrations of microscopic algae. Depending on the species, they can appear murky brown rather than red and are often associated with inorganic nutrient pollution from sewage and fertilisers.
Their key defining nature of a red tide is eutrophication, the excess of nutrients in the water and their composition, which is dominated by nitrogen and phosphorous. Like plants, they thrive on photosynthesis – the conversion of light energy into chemical energy.Dead fish washed up on the banks along the Shing Mun River in Sha Tin. Photo: SCMP Pictures
Red tides can be harmful to marine life. In December to February, more than 220 tonnes of fish died off across mariculture zones as a result of red tides formed by the toxic karenia papilionacea or karenia mikimotoi, a rare but harmful species. It was the first massive fish kill to hit in more than a decade.
Fish farmers claim this is the worst “unnatural disaster” to hit their livelihoods in years. More than 200 fishermen had to apply emergency relief fund, costing the government HK$2.57 million.
Even non-toxic “harmless” species such the omnipresent akashiwo sanguinea or the noctiluca scintillans – famous for its spectacular bioluminescent glow – can suffocate and kill fish due a process called hypoxia, which sees large concentrations of algae cells sink to the ocean floor when they die, consuming all oxygen as they decompose.
Gruesome images in the media of large schools of dead fish floating belly up at sea are often victims of this oxygen depletion.
Alas, both the scientific community and government are still struggling to find the exact causes which cause red tides. Like plants, red tides thrive under precise conditions that include the right amount of sunlight, temperature and nutrients. Dead fish washed up on the banks along the Shing Mun River in Sha Tin. Photo: SCMP Pictures
The finger is often pointed to nutrient discharge in the form of agricultural run-off and waste water from the Pearl River. But the none of this explains the heavy concentration of blooms in and around Tolo Harbour, which alone accounts for more than one-third of algal bloom occurrences.
Fishermen have suspected illegal waste discharges from the Shing Mun River. But environment and fisheries officials have allayed these concerns.
Red tide expert Professor Ho Kin-chung, Open University’s dean of science and technology, attributes the recent spate of red tides to the El Nino phenomenon, which caused water temperatures to be warmer and more saline than usual.
“The El Nino has affected the temperature and timing of water [currents],” he said. “It means warm, saline water was concentrated here for a longer period time before being pushed out west.”
An El Nino occurs when the warm water accumulated in the western Pacific shifts east with the weakening or reversal of westerly winds, causing the eastern Pacific to warm up.
Ho said such conditions – brinier water and warmer waters – were very favourable for rare species of red tide such as the karenia mikimotoi.
Baker said the main driver of red tides was obvious – local sewage, the biggest source of nutrient inputs to Hong Kong waters.
“Very few wastewater treatment plants that are operating at very high levels of nutrient removal. Areas where most Hong Kong people live still use primary or preliminary waste water treatment, or simply removing solid material from the wastewater,” he said.
Baker said the city’s upgraded Harbour Area Treatment Scheme, which connects most of Hong Kong to a central treatment works on Stonecutters Island, was encouraging as it treated waste and removed solids and microbes chemically and in very rapid fashion.Red tide observed near the waterfront of TST at Victoria Harbour in 2007. It hit the southern waters of Hong Kong and spread to Cheung Chau and Tung Lung Island. Photo: SCMP Pictures
“Nutrient removal is still not 100 per cent and quite low,” he said.
Baker said another possible contributor to nutrient pollution in Tolo Harbour was “atmospheric deposition” or, simply, rain. Last year, Baker’s research team at HKU collected rainwater and measured 25 micromolars of nitrate, which he said was “extremely” high amount and almost on par with what was coming out of a Hong Kong river.
“Twenty five micromoles coming from the sky is pretty scary. This is something like 250 times greater than what you would have in a coral reef in the south Pacific, which is a low nutrient environment.”
Even the industry most affected by red tides could be a possible culprit. Twenty years ago, nutrient loading from local fish farming to the marine environment was significant enough for the AFCD to begin working with the trade to improve husbandry practices, including promoting use of pellet feed instead of trash fish, to reduce the impact of fish farming activities.
As a result, the overall nitrogen loading from mariculture activities into the local waters has reduced substantially by some 88 per cent compared to the 90s.Graph shows red tide incidents in Hong Kong.
Hydrologists such as Professor Jimmy Jiao, of the University of Hong Kong’s school of earth sciences, point to a lesser known driver – groundwater pollution, especially around the Tolo Harbour area.
Jiao, who has studied the matter for over a decade, believes there is clear correlation between polluted groundwater discharge and the formation of red tides in Tolo Harbour.
He pointed to the failure of the government to reduce the frequency of red tides in the area even after a major clean up scheme in the 1980s, which reduced the level of dissolved oxygen and total nitrogen.
“The Tolo Harbour Action Plan carried out in the 1980s reduced river and sewage nutrients by some 82 per cent, theoretically red tides should have decreased by this amount too, but they didn’t,” he said. “They haven’t regulated all possible sources.”
While no government statistics are available on groundwater volumes, Jiao calculated that some 32.5 million cubic metres of groundwater are released into the harbour every year, which is similar in volume to the input from rivers.
In 2005, Jiao’s chemical analysis of the groundwater samples from Sha Tin and Ma On Shan revealed nitrite, nitrate and phosphate concentrations exponentially higher than from river water samples measured by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD).
Jiao says polluted groundwater, which is metres below ground, can seep into the seas through diffusion, dispersion along freshwater - saltwater interfaces or swept into the sea by tides. Underwater springs formed by “cracks” in geological faults were also potential discharge outlets.
The fractures could be a conduit for groundwater polluted by surface run-off from large areas such as villages, landfills, infrastructure or storm water.
However, Jiao said there was no way to trace where the groundwater pollution is coming from and it was strange for a civilised society like Hong Kong not to have a single information source or monitoring point for groundwater.
“If we don’t start to control this nutrient pollution, it will get worse and more frequent. This is something that is affecting the entire ecosystem,” he said.
A survey published by China’s Ministry of Water Resources earlier this month found that about 80 per cent of groundwater in the mainland’s major river basins was unsafe for human contact.
Baker and Ho echoed Jiao’s concerns. “We can’t control light or temperature easily but we can control the nutrient levels,” said Baker. “If we turn off all the nutrient inputs to the coastal environment, I can say with some certainty that red tides will decrease or completely disappear altogether.”
Both the EPD and AFCD said red tides occur naturally in both “polluted and unpolluted waters” initiated by a combination of natural factors including light intensity, salinity, nutrients, trace elements, water current and motility of algal cells.
The Environmental Protection Department argued that its existing water quality monitoring programme was able to reflect the overall quality of groundwater infiltration and their organic and nutrient loadings.
“Indeed, while some research has suggested submarine groundwater discharge could be a significant source of nutrients to coastal waters for algal growth, [there is a] need for a fuller picture on the nutrient budget in the Tolo Harbour,” a spokesman said.
Tolo Harbour’s “semi- enclosed” nature, poor tidal dispersion and relatively long retention time prevent the effective flushing of nutrients from the harbour, the spokesman added.
The department said the number of red tide incidents in Tolo Harbour had actually decreased from a high of 43 incidents in 1988 to generally below 10 incidents per year in the last decade.
While research interests differ, however, the scientific community is unanimous on one thing. Red tides are indicative of a bigger ecological problem, which warrants greater attention and concern.
“We are turning our ocean into a primordial soup, a microbial soup, ” said Baker. “It’s going to be like what the oceans were like after the emergence of life, a very different ocean, one that totally lacks many of the functions we value as a species.”
Baker points to the degradation and removal of important ecological buffers such as mangroves, wetlands and coral reefs, which have traditionally been served a role natural nutrient removal systems.
“A mangrove forest or a seagrass bed is far more efficient at removing nutrients and maintaining water quality and diversity, boosting fisheries and attracting tourism,” he said. “We need to start thinking more about ecosystems and their biodiversity with respect to the functions and services that they provide to mankind.”

Relief for Leon Lai fans with Canto-pop king’s second concert to go ahead as scheduled


UPDATED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 4:24pm

Fans line up ahead of Leon Lai’s Friday concert, which finally went ahead at 9.30pm. Photo: David Wong

Canto-pop king Leon Lai Ming’s concert will go ahead tonight at 8pm as scheduled – but organisers are racing to surround the Central site with cloth after last night’s show exceeded government noise limits.

In an announcement that was music to the ears of thousands of fans, Lai revealed on Facebook late this afternoon that the much-anticipated show would go ahead after the Friday spectacular began 90 minutes after its scheduled start.

It finally ended at about 11.20pm due to noise control regulations.

“Concert-goers can enter from 6pm and so the concert will begin at 8pm,” he said. “We have exceeded the Environmental Protection Department’s noise control level. I am sorry that we have brought inconvenience to the people we have affected.”

Lai had fans sweating over the concert after performing at the Central Harbourfront on Friday night.

“We are all visitors on Earth. Heaven has allocated us to live in different areas. I’m very lucky to be able to meet all of you! Thank you everyone. When I wake up, I will let you know if there are time changes for the show on [April] 30! Goodnight,” he posted.

The 49-year-old’s latest series of concerts – originally scheduled to begin on April 28 – have had a stuttering start.

Just two hours before its original starting time on Thursday, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department announced it had refused to issue a temporary permit for the concert, as the event organiser had failed to meet fire safety standards.

Lai later explained it was the fireproof material for the outdoor venue’s marquee that fell short of the required standards.

Friday night’s show was eventually given the go-ahead after the singer agreed to remove the marquee, though it was delayed for about 90 minutes past the scheduled 8pm start time as fans continued to stream into the venue.

Leon Lai’s face adorns the Hong Kong Observation Wheel at Central ahead of his Friday concert. Photo: David Wong

It finally ended at about 11.20pm due to noise control regulations.

“I have been following you for 24 years. I could finally see you when I came to work in Hong Kong. You are the most perfect man on earth,” one fan wrote on Facebook.

Another fan wrote: “Even though I did not have tickets for the show, I still rushed to the outside of the venue to support you. I felt very warm listening to you talk and sing by the promenade.”

Leon Lai apologises to fans after his Thursday concert was cancelled.

The singer’s handling of the saga, with frequent video updates of the situation on social media, won him many plaudits.

“Mr Lai is more transparent, responsible and efficient than the SAR government! [He] has successfully resolved a potential public relations disaster! Amazing,” one fan wrote.

From Respected Judge to State Enemy in China|Larry Ong

China – The Epoch Times
(Illustration by Jens Almroth/Epoch Times; Photo by Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times; background photos by Getty Images)

On Dec. 31, 2011, Zhong Jinhua, a former Chinese judge and successful attorney, suddenly became an enemy of the state.

“If the ban on political parties and limits on the press are not removed within five years … the people and intellectuals won’t stand for it,” he wrote on his Sina Weibo microblog. “I’ll be the first to announce my resignation from the Chinese Communist Party, and organize democratic political parties to overthrow the dictatorship!”

Zhong Jinhua, a former judge and lawyer in China, in Manhattan on April 12, 2016. Before arriving in the United States in August 2015, Zhong was a judge for over a decade and a lawyer who took on civil rights cases for many years, until being forced into exile. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

Zhong Jinhua, a former judge and lawyer in China, in Manhattan on April 12, 2016. Before arriving in the United States in August 2015, Zhong was a judge for over a decade and a lawyer who took on civil rights cases for many years, until being forced into exile. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

Zhong’s sizable Weibo fanbase shared the comment thousands of times within hours, and he received a flood of praise before the post was purged.

The Party’s mechanisms of control and suppression kicked in immediately: Security agents began calling his cellphone, he was ordered back to Shanghai, and the head of his law firm began thinking up ways to fire him. In the end he managed to keep his job, but the damage had been done: Zhong was now an “anti-Party element.”

Criminal cases become political cases when they get a lot of attention.
— Zhong Jinhua, former Chinese judge and human rights lawyer

Zhong Jinhua, a judge who became a lawyer and then an activist, was a relative latecomer to the “weiquan,” or rights defense movement in China, when he began his activism in earnest. But the story of his legal work on both sides on the bench, and then how the Party came down hard and forced him into exile, affords a glimpse of the frontlines of the struggle for Chinese to realize the rule of law and the regime’s all-out efforts to shut them down.

‘Justice Is in My Genes’

If China was to do business with the world, the former Party patriarch Deng Xiaoping reasoned in the early 1980s, the regime needed a legal system that would instill confidence in foreign investors. Law schools began taking in eager young Chinese and minting thousands of new lawyers and judges each year.

In 1990, a 20-year-old Zhong began his legal training at Minzu University of China in Beijing. He graduated in 1994 and found a job as a clerk in the criminal trial division of the Wenzhou Intermediate People’s Court, in the coastal province of Zhejiang. He was soon made chief judge, a position he retained until July 2008.

Zhong Jinhua, formerly a judge in the city of Wenzhou, poses in judicial robes. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

Zhong Jinhua, formerly a judge in the city of Wenzhou, poses in judicial robes. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

“Justice is in my genes,” Zhong said in a recent interview with Epoch Times in New York City. But he began finding it increasingly difficult to balance being a clean judge—he was often beset with gifts of cigarettes or expensive wines, all of which he curtly returned—and bringing home adequate income for the family.

Weibo … was a way for other like-minded lawyers to know what we were doing and express support.
— Teng Biao, Chinese human rights lawyer in exile

“Practically all government officials will be bribed at some point in their careers,” Zhong said. “The irresponsible and corrupt abuse their position.” Zhong said he never did so, instead explaining to the parties that his decisions were based solely on merit.

After he joined the Shanghai branch of the Yingke Law Firm, the second-largest in China, he felt he would finally be able to start speaking his mind, especially on questions of justice.

The first spark came with the Beihai case in Guangxi in southern China, late 2011, when lawyers defending five people accused of murder—on what the lawyers said was woefully insufficient evidence—were themselves prosecuted and detained by the authorities. The case summed up the essence of politics and law in China, Zhong says: “Criminal cases become political cases when they get a lot of attention.”

Zhong Jinhua (back, 3rd R), a former judge and lawyer in China, with other human rights lawyers who supported the Beihai case in late 2011. Lawyers who defended five people accused of murder in the southwestern coastal city of Beihai were prosecuted and detained by the Chinese authorities. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

Zhong Jinhua (back C), a former judge and lawyer in China, with other human rights lawyers who supported the Beihai case in late 2011. Lawyers who defended five people accused of murder in the southwestern coastal city of Beihai were prosecuted and detained by the Chinese authorities. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

Zhong had been keenly following human rights issues since 2009 and was increasingly disillusioned with the injustices perpetuated under communist rule, and frustrated with the Party’s inability to reform itself. Turning over the Beihai case and other instances of unfairness in his head, Zhong felt a surge of unhappiness and anger. In a moment of rashness, he broadcast his desire to quit the Party on the eve of 2012.

Controlling an ‘Anti-Party Element’

When Zhong wrote the fateful Weibo post, his education in the political sensitivities of the Communist Party really began.

He was in Inner Mongolia on a case at the time, and within hours began receiving frantic calls from the Shanghai domestic security department, the Shanghai justice bureau, and his own law firm. He was told to return immediately. Fearing detention, he slipped on a plane to his native Wenzhou, where he lay low for a week, renting hotel rooms using ID cards borrowed from friends. He only returned to Shanghai when he got assurance that he wouldn’t be arrested outright.

The first guest he entertained in the firm’s conference room was the Party secretary of the Bureau of Justice of Shanghai’s Zhabei District, who brought an entourage of local Party toughs. “Lawyer Zhong, today I represent the Shanghai Zhabei Justice Bureau Party Organization,” the man announced in a slow, stentorian voice, Zhong recalled. “They were acting serious and formal, so to break the tension, I would crack jokes and get them to loosen up.”

Zhong’s attempt to introduce some levity didn’t change the seriousness of the situation. He was told that unless he signed a confession and apology, he would be seen as an “anti-Party element” and face “serious consequences.” He was pounded with questions about who had “instigated him” to write the note and whether there were any “outside forces” behind the scenes.

The cadres, speaking at a later interrogation session, seemed particularly exercised about the fact that, within hours, his Weibo outburst had been reported by New Tang Dynasty Television, a New York-based Chinese language broadcaster. NTD is part of the same media group as this newspaper.

When people are being unfairly treated, it’s only natural to want to help.
— Zhong Jinhua

Zhong escaped the encounter without making any concessions, but he was now under close watch. His friend at the firm—the deputy of its Party cell—was made his minder, responsible for monitoring his meetings and online activities, and reminding him constantly whenever he made “sensitive” posts on Weibo or WeChat.

For months he was subject to increasingly insistent urging to leave the firm because of the trouble he was bringing. Even many of the colleagues who had headed off his earlier, imminent dismissal were now exhorting him to leave. “Go back to Wenzhou,” they’d say, Zhong recalled. “There’s no place for you in Shanghai.”

Zhong wasn’t run out of town, but he did quit, the upshot of a negotiated blackmail by his own firm, which planned to effectively disbar him otherwise. He was allowed to keep his law license as long as he moved on.

This period was characterized by tight surveillance: regular computer hacking, overt monitoring by the security guards working at his own apartment complex, intrusive visits by “household residency” inspectors, and random encounters with officious women in the Neighborhood Committee—China’s block monitors.

Three women claiming to be from the Neighborhood Committee in the area where Zhong Jinhua stays visit his home for an unscheduled home inspection in Shanghai, China on Dec. 2015. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

Three women claiming to be from the Neighborhood Committee in the area where Zhong Jinhua stays visited his home for an unscheduled home inspection in Shanghai in December 2015. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

For the next two years, Zhong labored under both stressful surveillance and the psychological burden of being prevented from human rights work. His new law firm, Jingheng, had been directly instructed by Party judicial officials that he was not to be allowed near “sensitive” cases.

For two years, Zhong handled vanilla commercial and criminal matters, at one point successfully defending a young woman wrongly accused of transporting drugs. The surveillance slowly relaxed.

“But I couldn’t take it,” he said. “I felt like I needed to be concerned with and involved in resolving cases of injustices in society.”

He added that his reaction was simply to act against injustice. “When people are being unfairly treated, it’s only natural to want to help. It’s that simple.”

Zhong was about to start his own law firm in 2014 to regain autonomy in the type of legal cases he could do, when he received an opportune offer to be a partner at the Ganus Law Office in Shanghai.

“They didn’t do a thorough background check,” Zhong said with a grin. “So they let me take on human rights cases.”

‘Defending Rights’

Zhong Jinhua was a latecomer to the human rights scene—and so he missed some of the signal developments while he was turning down bribes.

These include the national uproar caused by migrant worker Sun Zhigang’s abuse and death in 2003. Three legal scholars, Teng Biao, Xu Zhiyong, and Yu Jiang, submitted a legal petition to the regime’s faux legislature to change the custody and repatriation system—a means of arbitrary detention used by police—and while they didn’t receive an official response to their petition, the abusive system was eventually abolished.

Zhong also missed the significant stir that Gao Zhisheng, a rights lawyer, created in 2005 and 2006 when he broke the Party’s taboo on providing legal aid to practitioners of Falun Gong, a persecuted spiritual discipline. In three open letters to the Party’s top leaders, Gao called on the regime to end the suppression of Falun Gong, and later publicly announced his resignation from the Communist Party. He was abducted in 2006, was severely tortured on at least three occasions, and has spent most of the past decade in some form of detention.

Gao Zhisheng in his cave home in the northwestern province of Shaanxi in China in 2015. (AP Photo/Isolda Morillo)

Gao Zhisheng in his cave home in the northwestern province of Shaanxi in China in 2015. (AP Photo/Isolda Morillo)

When lawyers are arrested for no good reason, I get very angry.
— Zhong Jinhua

But when Weibo—China’s version of Twitter—came along in 2009, Zhong Jinhua suddenly had a way to learn about rights abuses across the country and reach out to defenders of justice, at any time.

Zhong said that the ability to connect with the weiquan (rights defense) community was the “most important influence” in his eventually becoming a human rights lawyer. “They were all doing righteous things, so I decided to join them.”

“Social media had a significant effect on rights lawyers and their ability to connect with one another: All the most active lawyers knew one another and were connected on WeChat,” said Teng Biao, now a fellow human rights lawyer in exile, and a visiting fellow with the U.S.–Asia Law Institute at New York University (NYU).

Teng Biao, a Chinese human rights lawyer and co-founder of the Open Constitution Initiative,  speaks at a hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China entitled

Teng Biao, a Chinese human rights lawyer and co-founder of the Open Constitution Initiative, speaks at a hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18, 2015. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Speaking to Epoch Times over the telephone, Teng added: “Weibo, a bigger platform, was a way for other like-minded lawyers to know what we were doing and express support. It really allowed us to get an audience.”

According to an interview Teng gave with theNew York Review of Books in 2014, there were about 20 or 30 weiquan lawyers when the movement started in 2003. In 2014, there were 200 very active human rights lawyers, and 600 or 700 lawyers who would defend human rights cases.

The core concept of rights defense activism is to establish the rule of law in China. The Party is not bound to the Chinese constitution, and it frequently operates outside the law.

To force the Party to be accountable to its own laws, the rights defense lawyers and activists use the letter of the Chinese law to defend the rights of Chinese citizens. In a country ruled by law, this is the basis of all legal work. In China, however, an attempt to apply the law to areas that have been declared political—most prominently, those involving the human rights of citizens—is considered deeply subversive, because it undermines the regime’s monopoly on power.

Since the Sun Zhigang incident in 2003, weiquan attorneys have challenged the regime on multiple fronts. Among other issues, they have taken cases involving grassroots democracy activists, political persecution, religious persecution, the one-child policy, freedom of expression, forced evictions, food safety, policy brutality, the re-education through labor system, and wrongful convictions.

Getting Involved

At Ganus, his third law firm, Zhong finally had the opportunity to roll up his sleeves.

“When lawyers are arrested for no good reason, I get very angry,” he said. So when Zhang Keke was hauled out of a court while he was midway through his defense statement in December 2014, Zhong stirred into action. Zhong and Shandong lawyer Feng Yanqiang braved the heavy snow in the province of Jilin in northeastern China where the incident took place and filed legal complaints against Jilin’s public security bureau, the local court, and the lawyer’s association.

(R-L) Zhong Jinhua, a former judge and lawyer in China, with human rights lawyer Zhang Keke outside a detention facility in Liaoyuan City, Jilin Province, in December 2014. Zhang was earlier dragged out of a courtroom while defending a practitioner of Falun Gong who had been abused in that detention facility. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

(R-L) Zhong Jinhua, a former judge and lawyer in China, with human rights lawyer Zhang Keke outside a detention facility in Liaoyuan City, Jilin Province, in December 2014. Zhang was earlier dragged out of a courtroom while defending a practitioner of Falun Gong who had been abused in that detention facility. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

The case was highly sensitive in China because Zhang was defending Falun Gong practitioners. As Zhang was giving his defense in court, the judge gave the signal to members of the domestic security bureau to march down and drag the lawyer out of the courtroom.

The local prosecuting department accepted the complaint but threw it out on the basis that Zhong and Feng didn’t have enough evidence to sue. “They’re all one gang,” Zhong said.

It’s very bad for China’s reputation in the world, and it’s very bad for human rights lawyers in China and their clients.
— Jerome A. Cohen, director, U.S.–Asia Law Institute

From the snowy northeast, Zhong traveled to Shenzhen in subtropical Guangdong Province to help local rights lawyer Fan Biaowen. Fan had represented labor workers, Tiananmen Square activists, and persecuted Christians. Shenzhen authorities were pressuring Fan’s law firm to terminate his contract, and there seemed to be a conspiracy to ensure that he wouldn’t work in law in Shenzhen again.

Fan Biaowen (C, navy suit) holds up a banner that reads

Fan Biaowen (C, navy suit) holds up a banner that reads “I want a job” in Shenzhen City, China, in December 2014. Zhong Jinhua (6th R) and a dozen other lawyers had met up with Fan to show their support after local officials pressured his law firm to fire him. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

A week of interviewing made clear to Zhong that local Party authorities were behind it, using extralegal means to stop the lawyer from representing clients who had been designated, again through an extralegal process, politically sensitive.

Shanghai judicial authorities were furious that Zhong had gone back to “sensitive” cases. They warned him to “pay attention to the impact of your actions” or there would be “serious consequences.” The director and partners at Ganus were also harassed.

Crackdown and New Home

Zhong ignored the threats until the Chinese regime launched a massive crackdown on rights lawyers across the country in July 2015.

The rights defense lawyers are like the Tank Man with a law degree. They put themselves directly in the path of regime suppression, armed only with their courage and their principles.

Prominent rights attorneys like Li Heping, Teng Biao, Tang Jitian, and the blind, self-taught lawyer Chen Guangcheng stood up for those disenfranchised by the Party—and were mercilessly steamrolled by the Party’s security apparatus.

For defending Christians, Li Heping was black-bagged, stripped, beaten, and shocked with electric batons in a detention facility in 2007. In 2011, state security officers also hooded Teng Biao, beat him up, and made him wear handcuffs for 24 hours a day for 36 days during a 70-day detention.

Human rights lawyer Li Heping. (

Human rights lawyer Li Heping. (

Tang Jitian and three other lawyers were investigating an extralegal detention facilityused to hold and torture Falun Gong practitioners in the northeastern region of Jiansanjiang in 2014 when they were themselves arrested and subjected to near medieval torture. Police once tied Tang to an iron chair and hit him over the head with a plastic water bottle until he nearly lost consciousness; on another occasion, they hooded and handcuffed Tang’s arms behind his back, suspended him by his wrists, and pummeled him. 

Chinese human rights lawyer Tang Jitian in Beijing on April 29, 2010. (OLLI GEIBEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese human rights lawyer Tang Jitian in Beijing on April 29, 2010. (OLLI GEIBEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Not even the handicapped were safe—in 2011, about 80 men forced their way into the home of Chen Guangcheng, a defender of women’s rights and victims of the regime’s birth control campaign, to assault and torture the blind lawyer and his wife for over two hours.

(R-L) Zhong Jinhua, a former judge and lawyer in China, with blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng at a forum on China in Washington D.C. on Nov. 5, 2015. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

(R-L) Zhong Jinhua, a former judge and lawyer in China, with blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng at a forum on China in Washington D.C. on Nov. 5, 2015. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

Social media had a significant effect on rights lawyers and their ability to connect with one another.
— Teng Biao, human rights lawyer in exile

The July 2015 crackdown, however, was the most concerted action by the Party’s security forces to eliminate the growing constituency of rights defenders, and it included hundreds of coordinated arrests in the dead of night around the country. About 250 lawyers and rights activists were targeted to date, and 17 were formally arrested, according to Amnesty International.

Hong Kong activists  call for the release of lawyers jailed in mainland China, outside China's liaison office in Hong Kong on Oct. 9, 2015. (PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Hong Kong activists call for the release of lawyers jailed in mainland China, outside China’s liaison office in Hong Kong on Oct. 9, 2015. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

Fearing that he too would be bundled off, Zhong, desperate, announced on WeChat that he would respond with force to any attempts to break into his home. In the end, he was merely called in and told to keep quiet.

Fearing for his family—a wife and two young children—Zhong made plans to leave for the United States. At the airport in Shanghai as they were to leave for Dallas, he was held up by dozens of public security agents for nearly three hours and allowed to board the plane just as it was about to leave.

Zhong now lives in New Jersey with his wife, 9-year-old daughter, and 2-year-old son. He has been offered a year-long position as a visiting scholar at NYU facilitated by Jerome A. Cohen, the director of the U.S.–Asia Law Institute and law professor at NYU.

The Zhong family. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

The Zhong family. (Courtesy of Zhong Jinhua)

“We like to bring in a mix of people from different backgrounds,” said Cohen after a recent luncheon at NYU. “Zhong Jinhua is an intelligent lawyer.”

Presently, the weiquan movement in China is “hurt very badly” by the arrest or questioning of hundreds of rights lawyers, Cohen said.

Jerome A. Cohen, a professor at the New York University School of Law, attends a press conference in Taipei on June 24, 2013. (Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images)

Jerome A. Cohen, a professor at the New York University School of Law, attends a press conference in Taipei on June 24, 2013. (Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images)

“It’s very bad for China’s reputation in the world, and it’s very bad for human rights lawyers in China and their clients,” he added. “It’s not a happy time.”

Matthew Robertson contributed to this article. 


How China’s Cancer-Inducing Industrial Salt Ends Up on Dinner Tables

A Chinese farmer pours salt onto a heap at Lijiawa Village on March 31, 2006 in Zizhou County of Shaanxi Province, China. (China Photos/Getty Images)

China produces by far the most salt of any country on earth—about 90 million tons a year. Of this figure, 91 percent are non-edible industrial salts that contain heavy metals and other dangerous substances. But with regulations lax and for the sake of a quick buck, manufacturers nationwide are ignoring these details.

On April 26, it was reported by China National Radio that 35 tons of industrial salts had been packaged as edible salt and partially distributed to the market in Shijiazhuang, northern China, at the time discovery by police investigation.

The partial seizure is just the tip of a massive illicit industry operating on a national scale, from Beijing to the edges of China in far-flung provinces like Yunnan, Zhejiang, or the territory of Inner Mongolia.   

Industrial salts marked for human consumption may contain hazardous metals such as lead, arsenic, mercury, or nitrites. The gradual buildup of these substances in the body contributes to nerve damage and cancer.

The Shijiazhuang workshop raided by police was found to run a minimalist production process: after procuring the industrial salt, workers would shovel it into small plastic bags– to be sold on the local farmer’s’ market or local stores after being mixed with genuine table salt.

A machine used to produce packages of fake industrial salt found in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province on May 5, 2014 (Liu Yunfei/South China Rural Newspaper)

National Scale

Last July, a small workshop in Taizhou, Jiangsu Province, was caught selling 20,000 tons of industrial salt over a period of seven years to seven provinces and major cities, including Beijing and neighboring Tianjin.

According to Zhou L├╝gang, deputy head of salt administration in Taizhou, said that the case involved an unusually high figure. Twenty thousand tons of salt is enough to supply five million people—the population of Taizhou, incidentally—for a year.

Fake table salt is either used directly by unfortunate customers, or used to pickle vegetables in workshops, supermarkets, school cafeterias, and restaurants. The salt itself is very cheap to produce and can be priced lower than genuine table salt, making it an attractive choice for the unaware.

Lax Regulations

The illicit and profitable trade is aided by the fact that industrial salts can be purchased in bulk by anyone with commercial documentation from the chemical industry, including a wide range of associated firms.

Worse, Chinese legal bodies stipulate that only cases involving over 20 tons of fake salt will be prosecuted. Such finds are rare: according to a regulations worker in southern China speaking to local state media, workshops tend to produce small, fixed quantities and immediately sell their stock as it comes out.

Fake salt producers either use stable sales targets, or conceal their products in secret warehouses while awaiting demand. All this, the regulation worker told the South China Rural Newspaper, makes it difficult for police to nail culprits red-handed, and has “severely impacted the judiciary’s ability to impose punishment against the criminals.”

In 2012, of the 182 cases involving fake salt filed in Guangzhou, southern China, police could make arrests only in 21 cases and sentences were handed down for only 13. In 2013, only seven involved arrests and courts made just four sentences.

Penalties are light: less than two years’ jail time for a minor transgression, the regulation worker said, so many offenders return to the trade upon completing their sentences.

Interview: 'People Were Eaten by The Revolutionary Masses'

Radio Free Asia

As China approaches the 50th anniversary of Mao Zedong's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution this year, Chinese independenthistorian and former political prisoner Song Yongyi, now a university lecturer in California, has published an e-book based on officialrecords. His research describes an era of government-sponsored political violence and turmoil that engulfed the country from 1966-1976. Song, who had unprecedented access to secret government files in the southwestern region of Guangxi, spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service about his findings:

RFA: What did you find out from your research into the Cultural Revolution in Guangxi?

Song Yongyi: According to the secret government files from Guangxi, 150,000 people died from non-natural causes during that era. Of those, 30,000 had no identifiable identity, or even gender. Ninety-five percent of them were killed outright, or died as a result of torture or mistreatment. Less than five percent died as a result of armed conflict. Another 30,000 were listed as disappeared.

RFA: You mention cannibalism in your book.

Song Yongyi: Of those deaths from unnatural causes, a number of people were eaten by the revolutionary masses. Independent researchers in Guangxi counted a total of 421 people who were eaten in a single county. But there were reports of cannibalism across 27 counties in Guangxi; that's two-thirds of all the counties in Guangxi.

RFA: It's quite spine-chilling to think that this took place in the 1960s, in what we think of as the civilized 20th century.

Song Yongyi: There was one man who was said to be in the so-called fifth category, who was beaten to death where he stood. He had two kids, one of 11 and one of 14. The local officials and armed militia said that it was important to eradicate such people, and so they not only killed those two children: they ate them too. This took place in Pubei county, Guangxi, where 35 people were killed and eaten in total. Most of them were rich landowners and their families. There was onelandowner called Liu Zhengjian whose entire family was wiped out. He had a 17-year-old daughter, Liu Xiulan, who was gang-raped by nine
people who then ripped open her belly, and ate her liver and breasts. There were so many incidents like this.

RFA: Do you have other specific examples?

Song Yongyi: In mid-October 1968, a member of the armed militia at a commune in Shangsi county started killing people openly. Under his direction, local militia cut open the bellies of five people, ripped out their livers, cooked them and sat down together to eat them. Thenext day, they killed four more people and ripped out their livers, which they shared with the other people on the production brigade, who all got to taste a mouthful each, to symbolize the dictatorship of the proletariat.

RFA: So it was part of the political campaign against the landowners, and richer categories of people?

Song Yongyi: They also ate three urban youth [college and high-school students sent down to the countryside by Mao to learn about the lives of the peasants] in Guangxi, on Sept. 14, 1968. These three youngsters had been sent to a tea plantation in Xinzhou county, and one of the leaders had been acting disrespectfully towards a young woman in the group. He led the militia to kill and eat all three of them, cooking and eating their livers and drinking and making merry over it. After that, none of the other urban youth at that commune dared to speak a word about it. But they would kill them and eat them whenever they felt like it. There were around 100 urban youth at that commune, and they were treated like animals for slaughter.

RFA: Why do you think such things happened?

Song Yongyi: During the Cultural Revolution, this political movement, basically there was no law whatsoever, and the politicians wereinciting people to kill each other. The line between people and beasts became more and more blurred, and it became very easy to cross that line. It was normal to 'struggle' against landlords and kill people; it happened everywhere at that time, and the military, party cadres and militias were all part of the land reform mobs. This was going on all around the country, so I don't think that cannibalism was confined to Guangxi.

Reported by CK for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Chinese Police Hold 30 Ethnic Mongolian Herders After Land Grab Protest

Radio Free Asia

Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia have detained 30 people following protests by ethnic minority herders over the loss of their traditional grazing lands.

The detentions came after hundreds of residents of Manzutun village, in Ar-Horqin Right Front Banner (in Chinese, aluke'erqinqi), gathered on Thursday in protest at the signing over of their grazing lands to afarming company.

The banner (or county) government sent in riot police to disperse the protests, sources told RFA.

"Why did they sent riot police to detain our compatriots today?" a local resident said. "We didn't do anything to break the law, or tocontravene [ruling] Chinese Communist Party policy."

"We just called on the farm to give us back our land, our grasslands. Officials are supposed to take care of us."

An officer who answered the phone at the Manzutun village police station confirmed that some members of the local herding community had been detained.

"It was the [banner] police [who detained them]," the officer said, but declined to comment further.

Ongoing land grabs

Germany-based ethnic Mongolian activist Xi Haiming said the clashes were the latest in a string of similar incidents across the InnerMongolian region.

"There have been a lot of incidents like this because ethnic Mongolian herders' land is being snatched away from them, so they have no way of making a living," Xi said.

"It doesn't matter if you're a herder or a farmer; if you have no land, you have no livelihood."

Xi said much of the land appropriated by Chinese timber, mining or agricultural companies has been grazed by Mongolian herders for many generations.

"This land is the basis for our existence; it's our land," he said. "But now they are saying it belongs to the state: because they want touse it, it is being taken away from us."

"This will mean the end of ethnic Mongolians."

Xi said local herders are regarded instead as pools of potential labor by incoming investors in agricultural ventures in the region.

Unholy alliance

"There's a huge livestock farming facility at Zhaobenshan in Ar-Horqin, for example," he said. "These outsiders have both power andmoney, and all the backing of government behind them, and they use that money to buy off local officials."

"This creates an unholy alliance between government and business, and it's the ordinary people who lose out in the end."

Last May, herders living near the Hanshan Forestry Station in Ar Horqin hit out a state-run forestry station for using jeeps to drivethem away from local grazing lands.

Herders say their grazing lands have been gradually taken over by the forestry company since 2000, when the government designated more than 100 mu as a "National Protection Area" and banned any grazing on the land.

But local officials had also refused to pay compensation to the herders, they told RFA at the time.

Local herders also protested in August 2013, saying that waves of Chinese immigrants from Sichuan have recently flooded townships in Ar Horqin banner.

Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million, increasingly complain of widespreadenvironmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.

Clashes between Chinese state-backed mining or forestry companies and herding communities are common in the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Uyghur Villagers Forced by 'Contract' to Spy on Neighbors

Radio Free Asia

Villagers in a remote part of northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang region are being forced by local authorities to spy on their neighbors, watching constantly for behavior deemed “suspicious” or opposed to Beijing’s rule over the mostly Muslim Uyghur region, sources say.

In a policy put in place almost two years ago, residents of Kizilsu village in Peyziwat (in Chinese, Jiashi) county in the Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture must now sign a “Joint Responsibility Contract” that threatens collective punishment for villagers found not in compliance with 30 specific regulations, sources said.

The contract, issued by the village office of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and the village government, divides residents into specified groups responsible for watching for prohibited activities such as unusual travel to or from the area, the teaching or promotion of Islam, and the spread of politically sensitive information to outside contacts.

Residents must also report fellow villagers who sell land or make unusual purchases, refuse to watch or read official news media, or suddenly quit smoking or drinking alcohol, sources said.

The new policy of mutual surveillance—established in August 2014 and recently confirmed by RFA’s Uyghur Service—is being carried out “with great success,” a deputy party secretary for the village told RFA. 

“[Moreover], the few who have failed to uphold it have been punished according to the law,” the official said before hanging up the phone on learning that he was speaking to RFA.

'Well-maintained stability'

Efforts are frequently made by investigators at both the village and county level to ensure the policy is properly enforced, an employee at a local state-owned firm said, adding, “social stability is now being very well maintained in the village.”

“All residents know they must strictly observe these regulations,” another source said.

“No one is left in our village now who wears religious dress,” she added.

By forcing Uyghur villagers to spy on each other, policies of the kind in force in Kizilsu appear aimed at creating a class of “local traitors” who will turn others in to the police for the sake of promised government rewards, Hamut Gokturk—former general secretary of the Istanbul-based East Turkestan Foundation—said.

Similarly, giving up smoking and drinking, behaviors discouraged by Islamic tradition, “is welcomed all over the world,” he said.

“But the Chinese government now calls this a ‘suspicious act,’” he said.

Heavy-handed rule

Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.

China regularly vows to crack down on what it calls the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in Xinjiang.

But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur separatists, and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.

Reported and translated by Kurban Niyaz for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

US aircraft carrier denied entry to Hong Kong, American consulate official says

Refusal comes after US defence chief Ash Carter visited the USS Stennis in South China Sea


UPDATED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 1:18am

The USS John C. Stennis visits Busan in South Korea last month. Photo: EPA

Beijing denied a US aircraft carrier permission to make a port call in Hong Kong, a US consulate official says, a rejection that comes amid escalating tensions in the South China Sea.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry told the US on Thursday night the visit by the USS John C. Stennis would not be allowed, said the official, who requested anonymity.

US defence chief Ash Carter visited the Stennis earlier this month.

[The ministry] needs to approve every ship coming into Hong Kong


“[The ministry] needs to approve every ship coming into Hong Kong. [They] said ‘no’ to the carrier,” the official said, adding the reason for the denial was not clear.

In a written reply to the South China MorningPost’s inquiry, the ministry said on Friday night that port calls made by US warships and military aircraft were examined on a “case by case basis in accordance with sovereignty principles and specific circumstances”.

Carter flew to the nuclear-powered carrier for a two-hour visit on April 15, as it sailed about 100km west of the Philippine island of Luzon. Experts said the move likely irritated Beijing as Carter was accompanied by his Philippine counterpart, Voltaire Gazmin.

Last week, the US Pacific Command revealed they had sent six powerful A-10 Thunderbolt aircrafts near the Scarborough Shoal, which China occupies but Manila also claims.

The Chinese Defence Ministry had expressed concern over the flight.

It’s not the first time China has turned down port calls by US warships. During the Thanksgiving holidays in 2007, Beijing rejected the USS Kitty Hawk’s visit to Hong Kong after Washington announced an advanced missile deal with Taiwan and US President George W. Bush met the Dalai Lama.

However, the Kitty Hawk was allowed to dock in the city five month later in April 2008, as Sino-US military relations returned to normal.

The Stennis carrier strike group is currently operating in the South China Sea, where China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam and other Asian countries.

The consulate said it had originally arranged public tours aboard the Stennis for next Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Cancellation notices had been sent out to invitees, the consulate official said.