China 2.0

The Brutal Tactics For Enforcing China's One-Child Policy

Setting limits on having children has meant an army of Chinese civil servants systematically employing kidnapping, torture, forced sterilization and abortions. And for what?

A 1986 poster promoting China’s One Child Policy
A 1986 poster promoting China’s One Child Policy
Bruce Pedroletti

BEIJING – Since it was first applied in 1979, China’s One Child Policy has led to 281 million abortions and 516 million operations to implant intrauterine devices to sterilize women, according to official data from the Chinese Ministry of Health.

For the Chinese government, the One Child Policy (OCP) was a constant excuse for the invasion of their citizens' civil rights, carried out by an army of civil servants and enforcers tasked with making sure the policy was applied. This army did all it could to expose the women hiding their illegal pregnancies.

Gao Liguo, from the small town of Pizhou in eastern China, knows all about this army. His wife, a controller at the local audit office in Jiangsu province, was turned in while she was on “holiday” to hide her pregnancy. The couple already had one child.

On Aug. 23 2010, around noon, more than 10 people arrived at Gao’s home. “They locked me in hotel. For three days, they prevented me from sleeping by leaving the lights and the TV on. They took turns to wake me up and lecture me. We were ready to quit our jobs and pay the fine, but they told me it was impossible; they were acting on orders from the Party Secretary,” recalls Gao.

Gao ended up revealing the location where his wife was hiding. It was her turn to be sequestrated for a day, and lectured. Finally, she was taken to the hospital where the doctor refused to take responsibility for her abortion, because she was in her 32nd week of pregnancy.

“I had to sign a liability waiver,” says Gao. His wife survived the operation and kept her job. The couple tried in vain to report what they had been through. “I tried to complain to the Family Planning commission, and the discipline commission, but no one cared. I talked to a lawyer, but he got cold feet. As if we had no rights, not even the right to survive,” says Gao bitterly.

The methods of the National Population and Family Planning Commission – which was abolished in March 2013 and merged with the Ministry of Health – were often illegal, something that shouldn’t exist in a country where there is rule of law, explains Yang Zhizhu, a professor of law at the China Youth University for Political Sciences in Beijing – a long-time activist for the right to have children. “There were all sorts of major crimes which were not prosecuted: abductions, torture, and some cases of homicides,” he says.

Huge ransoms or forced abortions

“The courts and the police wouldn’t do anything. They probably had instructions to let the policy enforcers do their jobs.” Depending on the time and the place, “you could be asked to pay a huge ransom, a fine or forced to have an abortion. Whatever they needed for their statistics or their finances – it wasn’t very clear,” says Yang.

In many poor rural administrations of the west and the center of the country, the money collected thanks to the OCP fines represents a hug part of the local budget. “In the rural areas, authorities try to get people to pay the fines even before the baby was born, because youths often work far from home, and leave after the birth, without paying the fines. Then when they come back to visit their families for Chinese New Year, the father would be kidnapped until he paid up,” says Yang.

In the cities however, the pressure is applied through the workplace – each administration has a person in charge of monitoring the employees. Yang himself lost his teaching job in 2010, after the birth of his second daughter.

Despite its 500,000-member strong army of OCP enforcers, the Family Planning Commission also employed two million additional enforcers. “Usually, the village authorities created a special group made of ordinary people, low-level village officials, whose sole goal was to enforce the policy – some of them did this for years,” explains Yang.

The very public case of Feng Jianmei last year, had huge consequences for the Family Planning Commission. Feng was forced to have an abortion when she was already seven months pregnant – creating uproar on China’s micro-blogging sites and forcing the Commission to issue a new rule banning abortions after six months of pregnancy. Finally, the Commission was abolished in March this year.

If the OCP netted such huge results, it is because it relied on systematic management of contraception: in rural regions, where a couple is allowed to have a second child when the first one is a girl, women are forced to be fitted with an intrauterine contraceptive device in between pregnancies. After the second pregnancy – or the first if the first child was a boy – women have to have their tubes tied, while men are encouraged to have a vasectomy. All these operations – except late-term abortions – are done in rural areas, at the local Family Planning centers, where only half of the medical personnel is certified, according to data from the Chinese Ministry of Health.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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