Spain's Supreme Court on Oct. 14 ordered imprisoned nine Catalan political leaders—with sentences ranging from nine to 13 years for the crimes of sedition and misuse of public funds—over their role in organizing the 2017 independence referendum. The sentences are each followed by equal periods of absolute ineligibility for public office. Oriol Junqueras—the former vice-president of Catalonia and the highest-ranking of the defendants—received the longest sentence. Three others were found guilty of disobedience and fined. The sentences have sparked protests in the region, with assembled crowds causing flights to be canceled at Barcelona's airport. Police used batons and rubber bullets to regain control of the facility. Demonstrators also gathered at Barcelona's Plaça San Jaume, the seat of the Catalan government, and erected barricades across roads and rail lines elsewhere in the city. Catalonia's feared anti-riot force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, has been mobilized to clear the streets. (BBC Newsround, Jurist, The Local, Spain; infoLibre, Spain)
Protesters are rejecting what they call Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's "fake concession," with the demonstrations now in their fourteenth straight week. Contrary to widespread media reports, Lam's supposed "withdrawal" of the extradition bill is actually only a promise to withdraw it when the Legislative Council reconvenes next month—with no date yet set. Lam refused the other four demands of the current unprecedented mass movement: repudatiation of the term "riots" for the protests (with "riot" charges carrying a 10-year prison term); an independent investigation into police brutality during the demonstrations; release of all detained protesters, and the dropping of all charges; and "universal suffrage" in elections of the chief executive and Legislative Council. (Nikkei Asian Review, The Villager)
Hong Kong protesters stormed and occupied the city's legislative chamber on July 1, which marked the 22nd anniversary of the handover from British to Chinese rule. The protesters, many wearing helmets, spray-painted the walls with slogans including "Oppose Chinese colonialism." But some, at least, betrayed a nostalgia for the earlier colonialism. Hong Kong Free Press writes: "A British colonial flag—often used in protesters—was also unfurled at the president's chair." And sure enough, the former colonial power has emerged as defender of the protest movement. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warns China of "serious consequences" over the Hong Kong repression, and will not rule out sanctions, BBC reports.
Recent headlines from Central America shed light on the migrant exodus from the isthmus that has now sparked a political crisis in the United States. The ongoing protests against neoliberal "reform" in Honduras saw a frightening escalation June 25 as military police opened fire on students demonstrators at the National Autonomous University in Tegucigalpa, injuring at least four. President Juan Orlando Hernández has deployed the army and military police across the country after clashes left three dead last week. (BBC News, La Prensa, June 25) In a hopeful sign a few days earlier, riot police stood down in Tegucigalpa, returning to their barracks and allowing protesters to block traffic and occupy main streets. Troops of the National Directorate of Special Forces said they will not carry out anti-riot operations if they do not receive better benefits. (Reuters, June 19)
Despite limited victories, leaders of the declaredly "leaderless" protest movement that has brought hundreds of thousands to the streets in Hong Kong over the past weeks pledge to keep up the pressure. The unpopular bill that sparked the protests and would have allowed extradition to mainland China has now been suspended. But six student unions issued a call to escalate protest actions if the government does not respond to their outstanding demands in the coming days. These include that the extradition bill be formally withdrawn, that all charges be dropped against arrested protesters, and investigations be opened into cases of police brutality. Protesters are also demanding that Chief Executive Carrie Lam step down.
In Episode 34 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg interviews Rose Tang, veteran journalist, activist, artist, musician, and survivor of the Tiananmen Square massacre. In an in-depth oral history, Tang recounts her experiences as a student leader in Beijing in the spring of 1989, her witness to the June 4 repression, and her work as a public voice for Tiananmen Square survivors. Books and works discussed include: Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang (Simon & Schuster 2009); The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited by Louisa Lim (Oxford 2014); "Tiananmen Massacre," Tang's contribution to The Princeton Reader: Contemporary Essays by Writers and Journalists at Princeton University (2010); and Jack London's "Credo." Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Turkish police detained at least 100 people who attempted to stage a May Day demonstration in Istanbul's iconic Taksim Square, where protests are traditionally banned. Several thousand more gathered in the city's Bakirkoy district, for a permitted march organized by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK). In the permitted march was a large Kurdish contingent, led by women wearing white scarves to demand the release of political prisoners. The women were mostly mothers and relatives of followers of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) and People's Democratic Congress (HDK) who have been imprisoned over the course of the current crackdown on political dissent in Turkey. (ANF, Turkish Minute)
Nine leading activists of Hong Kong's 2014 Umbrella Movement have been convicted under colonial-era "public nuisance" laws, concluding one of the city's most politically charged trials in years. The nine may face up to seven years in prison. They include the famous "Occupy Trio"—legal scholar Benny Tai, sociology professor Chan Kin-man and Rev. Chu Yiu-ming. The Umbrella Movement was the biggest pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong's history, during which thousands occupied Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay from September to December of 2014. (HKFP, BBC News) In a sentencing statement, Rev. Chu Yiu-ming said: "[M]y heart tells me that with this defendant's dock, I have found the most honorable pulpit of my ministerial career... We have no regrets... We do not give up " (HKFP)