Posts Tagged ‘Israel grossman attorney’

After 25 Years Of Amnesia, Remembering A Forgotten Tiananmen

Uncategorized | Posted by Israel Grossman Attorney
Apr 15 2014

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hide captionThe world media captured the 1989 protests and crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. But across China, similar protests were taking place. Students in the southwest city of Chengdu began their own hunger strike in Tianfu Square several days after their Beijing counterparts. The photographer of this image — and several below — asked not to be identified because of current ties with China.


Courtesy of the owner via Louisa Lim

The world media captured the 1989 protests and crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. But across China, similar protests were taking place. Students in the southwest city of Chengdu began their own hunger strike in Tianfu Square several days after their Beijing counterparts. The photographer of this image  and several below  asked not to be identified because of current ties with China.

The world media captured the 1989 protests and crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. But across China, similar protests were taking place. Students in the southwest city of Chengdu began their own hunger strike in Tianfu Square several days after their Beijing counterparts. The photographer of this image — and several below — asked not to be identified because of current ties with China.

Courtesy of the owner via Louisa Lim

Twenty-five years ago, on April 15, 1989, Chinese students were mourning the death of a reformist leader. But what began as mourning evolved into mass protests demanding democracy. Demonstrators remained in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, day after day, until their protests were brutally suppressed by the Chinese army — on June 4. Hundreds died; to this day, no one knows how many.

The media captured some of the story of the massacre in Beijing. But Louisa Lim, NPR’s longtime China correspondent, says the country’s government has done all it can in the intervening 25 years to erase the memory of the uprising. Lim’s forthcoming book, The People’s Republic of Amnesia, relates how 1989 changed China and how China rewrote what happened in 1989 in its official version of events. Her story includes an investigation into a forgotten crackdown in the southwestern city of Chengdu — which, to this day, has never been reported.

It was in Chengdu, which is now a bustling mega-city with a population of 14 million, that Lim met Tang Deying.

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hide captionChengdu resident Tang Deying, who is now in her 70s, has spent the past 25 years seeking answers about her son’s disappearance. The 17-year-old was beaten to death in police custody in June 1989; police later gave her a photograph showing his battered corpse.


Louisa Lim/NPR

Chengdu resident Tang Deying, who is now in her 70s, has spent the past 25 years seeking answers about her son's disappearance. The 17-year-old was beaten to death in police custody in June 1989; police later gave her a photograph showing his battered corpse.

Chengdu resident Tang Deying, who is now in her 70s, has spent the past 25 years seeking answers about her son’s disappearance. The 17-year-old was beaten to death in police custody in June 1989; police later gave her a photograph showing his battered corpse.

Louisa Lim/NPR

Tang Deying holds her determination in the stubborn set of her jaw. This diminutive, disheveled, elderly woman shuffling into the room in her pink plastic flip-flops is one of the few living links to the crackdown in Chengdu during the summer of 1989.

When martial law troops opened fire on civilians in Beijing on June 4, 1989, the violence was beamed immediately into living rooms around the world. Yet it has taken a quarter-century for details to emerge of the deadly events in Chengdu that cost Tang’s 17-year-old son his life.

For 25 years, a single aim has driven Tang’s existence: seeking restitution and accountability for the death of her son, Zhou Guocong, who was fatally beaten in police custody after disappearing in the 1989 Chengdu crackdown.

“Right is right. Wrong is wrong,” she told me firmly.

That simple mantra became the starting point for me to pursue a trail of evidence sprawling over three continents, including eyewitness accounts, old photographs, hastily scribbled, anguished journal entries, U.S. diplomatic cables and the Chinese government records laying out the official version of events. These disparate threads entwine to illustrate Chengdu’s forgotten tragedy, which has been almost entirely wiped from the collective memory.

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hide captionPolice initially used tear gas and stun grenades against protesters to try to disperse the crowds thronging Chengdu’s main square on June 4.


Courtesy of Kim Nygaard

Police initially used tear gas and stun grenades against protesters to try to disperse the crowds thronging Chengdu's main square on June 4.

Police initially used tear gas and stun grenades against protesters to try to disperse the crowds thronging Chengdu’s main square on June 4.

Courtesy of Kim Nygaard

Protests in Chengdu mirrored those in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, with students mourning the sudden death from a heart attack of reformist party leader Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989. This soon morphed into mass protests, followed by a hunger strike beginning in mid-May.

Students occupied Chengdu’s Tianfu Square, camping at the base of its 100-foot-tall Chairman Mao statue and proudly proclaiming it to be a “Little Tiananmen.” The initial move by police to clear protesters from Tianfu Square on the morning of June 4 went ahead relatively peacefully.

But on hearing the news that troops had opened fire on unarmed civilians in Beijing, the citizens of Chengdu took to the streets once more. This time they knew the risk; they carried banners denouncing the “June 4th massacre” and mourning wreaths with the message: “We Are Not Afraid To Die.”

Soon the police moved in with tear gas. Pitched battles broke out in Tianfu Square. Protesters threw paving stones at the police; the police retaliated by beating protesters with batons.

At a nearby medical clinic, the bloodied victims of police brutality lay in rows on the floor. Kim Nygaard, an American resident of Chengdu, recalled that they begged her: “Tell the world! Tell the world!”

A row of patients sat on a bench, their cracked skulls swathed in bandages, their shirts stained scarlet near the collar, visceral evidence of the police strategy of targeting protesters’ heads.

But the violence went both ways: Dennis Rea, an American then teaching at a local university, watched, horrified, as the crowd viciously attacked a man they believed to be a policeman. The crowd pulled at his arms and legs, then dropped him on the ground and began stomping on his body and face, crushing it.

Eight people were killed that day, including two students, according to the local government’s official account. It said the fighting left 1,800 people injured — of them, it said, 1,100 were policemen — though it described most of the injuries as light.

But U.S. diplomats at the time told The New York Times they believed as many as 100 seriously wounded people had been carried from the square that day.

Protests continued into the next evening, and as June 5 turned into June 6, a crowd broke into one of the city’s smartest hotels, the Jinjiang. It was there, under the gaze of foreign guests, that one of the most brutal — and largely forgotten — episodes of the Chengdu crackdown played out after a crowd attacked the hotel.

More than a dozen Western guests initially took shelter in the quarters of the U.S. consul general. But in the early hours of the morning while returning to her room, Nygaard saw what looked like sandbags piled in the courtyard. As she wondered what they would be used for, she spotted a flicker of movement and realized with a chill of horror that the sandbags were actually people lying face-down on the ground, their hands secured behind their backs.

“I remember so well, because I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, they’re breaking their arms when they’re doing that,’ ” she told me.

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hide captionAfter People’s Armed Police were deployed to clear the square on June 4, pitched battles broke out between police and angry crowds throwing stones.


Courtesy photo

After People's Armed Police were deployed to clear the square on June 4, pitched battles broke out between police and angry crowds throwing stones.

After People’s Armed Police were deployed to clear the square on June 4, pitched battles broke out between police and angry crowds throwing stones.

Courtesy photo

Eventually, two trucks pulled up. Nygaard remembers that moment vividly: “They piled bodies into the truck, and we were, like, ‘There’s no way you could survive that.’ Certainly the people on the bottom would have suffocated. They picked them up like sandbags, and they threw them into the back of the truck. They threw them like garbage.”

Five separate witnesses described the same scene, which was also mentioned in a U.S. diplomatic cable. The witnesses estimated they had seen 30 to 100 bodies thrown into the trucks.

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hide captionThose injured in the clashes wait to receive treatment. The prevalence of head wounds is indicative of the police strategy of beating protesters around the head. The injured begged the Western photographer to “tell the world!”


Courtesy of Kim Nygaard

Those injured in the clashes wait to receive treatment. The prevalence of head wounds is indicative of the police strategy of beating protesters around the head. The injured begged the Western photographer to tell the world!

Those injured in the clashes wait to receive treatment. The prevalence of head wounds is indicative of the police strategy of beating protesters around the head. The injured begged the Western photographer to “tell the world!”

Courtesy of Kim Nygaard

The local government made no secret of the detentions. The Whole Story of the Chengdu Riots, a Chinese-language book recounting the official version of events, notes that “70 ruffians” had been caught at the Jinjiang hotel.

As to what happened to those detainees and how many — if any — of them died, it is impossible to know.

The Chengdu protests were immediately labeled “political turmoil” on a par with Beijing, with the protesters seen as “rioters,” stigmatizing all who took part. This instant rewriting of history was the first step toward lowering a blanket of state-sponsored amnesia over the events of 1989.

Why does it even matter 25 years later? It matters because of Tang Deying, who has been punished for her refusal to forget. Her son, who was detained riding his bike home on June 6, never emerged from police custody. She was told by another detainee that he’d been beaten to death. On her quest for an explanation of his death, she has visited Beijing five times to lodge official complaints. Each time she was intercepted and sent back. She has been detained by police, beaten, placed under surveillance and twice locked in an iron cage.

But her stubbornness paid out hard-won dividends. In 2000, she was presented with a photograph of her son’s corpse, which confirmed the painful knowledge of how he died. Blood was congealed around his nostrils and on one side of his mouth. There was a large bruise across his nose, and his face appeared swollen and uneven. One of his eyes was slightly open. On seeing it, she fainted. In death, her son was still watching her.

In 2006, she accepted a “hardship allowance” of almost $9,000, becoming the first and only person to be given a government payout in connection with a 1989 death. The authorities expected her to stop her activities — but she hasn’t. She says those responsible still need to admit their culpability.

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hide captionOn June 4, a badly injured man is carried into a Chengdu hospital. Witnesses described scenes of police brutality, where people were beaten unconscious simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Courtesy of Kim Nygaard

On June 4, a badly injured man is carried into a Chengdu hospital. Witnesses described scenes of police brutality, where people were beaten unconscious simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On June 4, a badly injured man is carried into a Chengdu hospital. Witnesses described scenes of police brutality, where people were beaten unconscious simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Courtesy of Kim Nygaard

What happened in Chengdu 25 years ago matters enough that the local government continues to devote financial and human resources to muzzling Tang. Her treatment shows how scared the Chinese authorities are of their own recent history.

A quarter-century ago, the government used guns and batons to suppress its own people. Now it is deploying more sophisticated tools of control — censorship of the media and the falsification of its own history — to build patriotism and create a national identity.

Though China’s citizens have become undeniably richer and freer in the post-Tiananmen era, Tang Deying’s experience shows the limits to that freedom. Simply by keeping alive a memory that others have suppressed or simply forgotten, Tang has become seen as a threat to social stability.

What happened in Chengdu matters because it shows the success of the Chinese government in not just controlling its people, but also in controlling their memories. In the China of today, that most personal space of all — memory — has become a political tool.

Read an excerpt of The People’s Republic of Amnesia

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/15/301433547/after-25-years-of-amnesia-remembering-a-forgotten-tiananmen?ft=1&f=1004

A Small Tablet Company Brings High-Tech Hopes To Haiti

Uncategorized | Posted by Israel Grossman Attorney
Apr 15 2014

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hide captionWorkers assemble Android-based tablets from imported components at the Surtab factory in the Sonapi Industrial Park of Port-au-Prince.


Marie Arago/Reuters /Landov

Workers assemble Android-based tablets from imported components at the Surtab factory in the Sonapi Industrial Park of Port-au-Prince.

Workers assemble Android-based tablets from imported components at the Surtab factory in the Sonapi Industrial Park of Port-au-Prince.

Marie Arago/Reuters /Landov

Haiti has struggled to rebuild since a devastating earthquake more than four years ago. Most of the population lives on less than $2 a day and there are few open jobs for the millions of unemployed.

But there’s a bright spot: The Western Hemisphere’s poorest country is getting into the high-tech race thanks to Surtab, a Port-au-Prince-based company that makes Android tablets.

“Last month we [produced] 2,500. This month, as soon as we get components, we’re now going to have a run rate of about 3,000-3,500,” says Maarten Boute, Surtab’s CEO. “So we’re gradually ramping up.”

Before the tablet business, the Belgian-born and Kenyan-raised Boute headed up Haiti’s largest mobile company, Digicel. He says the combination of a booming population and the country’s decent 3G network make Haiti a prime market.

“It wouldn’t make sense in the smaller Caribbean islands, where your local market is not that big and where your diaspora is not that big either. One of our key next growth factors is that we’ll start exporting from Haiti, fulfilled … directly in Haiti … to the diaspora,” Boute says. “A lot of demand has come from there because people want to show that ‘Hey, Haiti can do this.’ “

Boute says Surtab, founded last year, won’t make a dent in the global tablet industry. He’s honing in on the developing world. One of his first orders was for 600 tablets for a Kenyan law school. About 90 percent of Surtab’s sales have been in Haiti thus far.

Smartphones do exist in Haiti, but you’re much more likely to see a stripped down mobile unit on the street. Tablets exist here, too, though they’re prohibitively expensive.

Surtab offers three models: a low-level Wi-Fi version that retails for about $85. A step above is a 3G model that Boute likens to an iPad Mini in both look and function. It retails for about $150, and it’s been the best seller. At the top of the chain is a 3G model with an HD screen, which sells for about $285.

The initial investment in the company was bolstered by a $200,000 grant from the U.S. government. And the Haitian government gave the company a five-year reprieve from duty taxes.

Despite the sweeteners, Boute says operating in Haiti still has its setbacks. There are slowdowns at the port, for example, a problem because the company imports its components from Asia.

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hide captionHaitian artist Richard Josue uses a Surtab tablet.


Marie Arago/Reuters/Landov

Haitian artist Richard Josue uses a Surtab tablet.

Haitian artist Richard Josue uses a Surtab tablet.

Marie Arago/Reuters/Landov

“There can be times [things] get stuck for three or four days because a system goes down or a person isn’t there to sign a document,” Boute says.

Haiti once had a thriving assembly sector, says economist Kesner Pharel. In fact, Haitians sewed official MLB baseballs for Rawlings, but the company pulled out because of political instability. Pharel says Surtab won’t create a tech boom, but still, he’s excited about diversifying exports beyond garments.

Haiti’s annual exports total about $800 million, while imports top $3 billion, he says.

Pharel says Haiti needs more jobs like the ones at Surtab to grow a middle class. With weekly competitive bonuses, the company pays between $10 and $15 a day, two to three times the minimum wage.

At Surtab’s assembly facility at a warehouse near the Port-au-Prince airport, there are no assembly lines; each person is responsible for the assembly from start to finish. Workers wear white nylon jumpsuits over their clothes to prevent dust from getting into the air.

Senecharles Mardy is using what looks like a Dremel tool to heat and remove a cracked screen. She hadn’t even heard of tablets before she heard about the company. Now she owns one of the devices, purchased with an employee discount. In a way, she’s become an ad hoc sales associate, answering all the questions of curious friends.

“They ask me about the tablet — what it is and where I got it. I tell them where I’m working, and they say they’d like to have one, too,” Mardy says.

Online orders are now being fulfilled in Haiti. Boute says his long-term goal is a 50/50 split between exports and local sales.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/04/15/302983746/a-small-tablet-company-brings-high-tech-hopes-to-haiti?ft=1&f=1004

Ukraine Military Begins To Move Against Pro-Russian Separatists

Uncategorized | Posted by Israel Grossman Attorney
Apr 15 2014

Pro-Moscow militants have taken over more government buildings in eastern Ukraine, ignoring a government deadline for them to lay down their weapons.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/15/303172291/ukraine-military-begins-to-move-against-pro-russian-separatists?ft=1&f=1004

Official Says Sub Will Be Used In Search For Jet

Uncategorized | Posted by Israel Grossman Attorney
Apr 14 2014

Search crews will for the first time send a robotic submarine deep into the Indian Ocean on Monday to try to determine whether underwater signals detected by sound-locating equipment are from the missing Malaysian jet’s black boxes, the leader of the search effort said.

The crew on board the Australian navy’s Ocean Shield will launch the unmanned underwater vehicle Monday evening, said Angus Houston, the head of a joint agency coordinating the search off Australia’s west coast. The Bluefin 21 autonomous sub can create a three-dimensional sonar map of the area to chart any debris on the seafloor.

The move comes after crews picked up a series of underwater sounds over the past two weeks that were consistent with an aircraft’s black boxes, which contain flight data and cockpit voice recordings. The devices have beacons that emit “pings” so they can be more easily found, but the beacons’ batteries last only about a month, and it has been more than a month since the plane vanished.

“We haven’t had a single detection in six days, so I guess it’s time to go under water,” Houston said.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised hopes last week when he said authorities were “very confident” the four underwater signals that have been detected are coming from the black boxes on Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing.

But Houston warned that while the signals are a promising lead, the public needs to be realistic about the challenges facing search crews, who are contending with an extremely remote, deep patch of ocean — an area he dubbed “new to man.”

“I would caution you against raising hopes that the deployment of the autonomous underwater vehicle will result in the detection of the aircraft wreckage. It may not,” Houston said. “However, this is the best lead we have, and it must be pursued vigorously. Again, I emphasize that this will be a slow and painstaking process.”

The Ocean Shield has been dragging a U.S. Navy device called a towed pinger locator through the water to listen for any sounds from the black boxes’ beacons. Over the past 10 days, the equipment has picked up four separate signals.

The Bluefin sub takes six times longer to cover the same area as the ping locator, and the two devices can’t be used at the same time. Crews were hoping to detect additional signals before sending down the sub, so they could triangulate the source and zero in on where exactly the black boxes may be.

But it has been 38 days since the plane disappeared, and search crews haven’t picked up any new sounds since Tuesday, suggesting that the devices’ batteries may now be dead. That is why officials will now begin using the Bluefin, Houston said.

The submarine will take 24 hours to complete each mission: two hours to dive to the bottom, 16 hours to search the seafloor, two hours to return to the surface, and four hours to download the data, Houston said. In its first deployment, it will search a 15-square-mile section of seafloor.

The black boxes could contain the key to unraveling the mystery of what happened to Flight 370 after it disappeared with 239 people on board. Investigators believe the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean based on a flight path calculated from its contacts with a satellite and analysis of its speed and fuel capacity. But they still don’t know why.

Meanwhile, officials were investigating an oil slick not far from the area where the underwater sounds were detected, Houston said. Crews have collected a sample of the oil and are sending it back to Australia for analysis, a process that will take several days.

The oil does not appear to be from any of the ships in the area, but Houston cautioned against jumping to conclusions about its source.

A visual search for debris on the ocean surface was continuing on Monday over 18,400 square miles of water about 1,400 miles northwest of the west coast city of Perth. A total of 12 planes and 15 ships would join the two searches.

But Houston said that the visual search operation would be ending in the next two to three days. Officials haven’t found a single piece of debris linked to the plane, and Houston said the chances that any would be have “greatly diminished.”

“We’ve got no visual objects,” he said. “The only thing we have left at this stage is the four transmissions and an oil slick in the same vicinity, so we will investigate those to their conclusion.”

Complicating matters further is the depth of the ocean in the search area. The seafloor is about 15,000 feet below the surface, which is the deepest the Bluefin can dive. Officials are looking for other vehicles that could help to retrieve any wreckage, should the Bluefin find any.

Searchers are also contending with a thick layer of silt on the bottom that is tens of meters deep in places, which could hide debris that has sunk.

U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Matthews said the silt may not have hidden everything, however.

“Our experience shows that there will be some debris on top of the silt and you should be able to see indications of a debris field,” Matthews said. “But every search is different.”

A British vessel, the HMS Echo, has equipment on board that can help to map the seafloor, which is more flat than mountainous, Houston said.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/14/302854239/official-says-sub-will-be-used-in-search-for-jet?ft=1&f=1004

Kiev Deadline For Disarming In East Ukraine Passes

Uncategorized | Posted by Israel Grossman Attorney
Apr 14 2014

A deadline set by the Ukrainian government for pro-Russian gunmen to leave government buildings in eastern Ukraine and surrender weapons passed early Monday, with no immediate sign of any action to force the insurgents out.

Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov issued a decree Sunday that those protesters who disarm and vacate government offices in several cities in the Russian-leaning east of the country by 0600 GMT Monday will not be prosecuted. Turchynov vowed that a “large-scale anti-terrorist operation” would take place to re-establish control over those areas and that the fate of the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Russia last month, will not be repeated.

There was no immediate comment from the government on the deadline passing.

But Serhiy Taruta, governor of the Donetsk region, where government buildings in several cities, including the regional capital Donetsk, have been seized by pro-Russian gunmen, said an anti-terrorist operation was underway in the region, according to the Interfax news agency.

Taruta did not give any details of what the anti-terrorist operation would entail. The governor usually does not have authority to launch anti-terrorist measures on his own and he was likely acting on the orders of top security officials in Kiev.

Taruta said the anti-terrorism measures were aimed at “protecting the peace and order on our land, which today is being taken away from us by armed, aggressive fanatics cynically and cold-bloodedly,” he was quoted as saying. “They are terrorists and we will not let them rule on our land.” He did not provide any details of the operation.

The West has accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest. Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, claimed that the Kiev government was coordinating its actions with the CIA.

Russia has warned the Kiev government against using force against the protesters in the east and has threatened to cancel in international diplomatic conference on the Ukrainian conflict scheduled for later this week.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/14/302857262/kiev-deadline-for-disarming-in-east-ukraine-passes?ft=1&f=1004

Gatekeeper To Saudi King Abdullah Takes To Twitter

Uncategorized | Posted by Israel Grossman Attorney
Apr 14 2014

Saudi Arabia’s chief of the royal court has tweeted for the first time since activating his account in 2012. Kelly McEvers talks to Ahmed Al Omran, who covers Saudi Arabia for The Wall Street Journal.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/14/302858828/gatekeeper-to-saudi-king-abdullah-takes-to-twitter?ft=1&f=1004

With Crimean Borders In Dispute, Google Maps Has It Both Ways

Uncategorized | Posted by Israel Grossman Attorney
Apr 13 2014

In most of the world, the region is included in Russia with a dotted line. Viewed in Russia, the line is solid. Guest host Tess Vigeland speaks with John Gravois about the issues with mapping borders.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/12/301795703/with-crimean-borders-in-dispute-google-maps-has-it-both-ways?ft=1&f=1004

Pray Or Prey? Cameroon’s Pentecostal Churches Face Crackdown

Uncategorized | Posted by Israel Grossman Attorney
Apr 13 2014

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hide captionThe Rev. Warah Solomon prays over a man at the Ramah Christian Center in Bamenda, northwest Cameroon. The country’s has more than 500 Pentecostal churches like this one, which hosted nearly 5,000 worshipers on a recent Sunday.


Andres Caballero/NPR

The Rev. Warah Solomon prays over a man at the Ramah Christian Center in Bamenda, northwest Cameroon. The country's has more than 500 Pentecostal churches like this one, which hosted nearly 5,000 worshipers on a recent Sunday.

The Rev. Warah Solomon prays over a man at the Ramah Christian Center in Bamenda, northwest Cameroon. The country’s has more than 500 Pentecostal churches like this one, which hosted nearly 5,000 worshipers on a recent Sunday.

Andres Caballero/NPR

There’s a saying in Cameroon that you can’t drive for more than 100 yards without coming across a “revival church” or “new church” — terms used to refer to Pentecostal churches.

And even when you can’t see them, you can probably hear them.

That’s the case on a recent Sunday morning in Douala, the country’s largest city, where the sound from the loudspeakers at Faith Ministry Banner church clashes with that of passing moto-taxis.

Dozens of worshipers stand under a blue overflow tent that extends from the church all the way to the sidewalk.

Inside the main room, a blind pastor, the Rev. George Nfor Asongyu, wipes the sweat from his forehead with a white towel and delivers the message to his congregation. A group of children naps near the fans.

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hide captionPastor George Nfor Asongyu delivers a sermon during a Sunday service at Ministry Faith Banner in Douala, Cameroon’s largest city. The church is one of nearly 100 across the country being targeted by the government for closure.


Andres Caballero/NPR

Pastor George Nfor Asongyu delivers a sermon during a Sunday service at Ministry Faith Banner in Douala, Cameroon's largest city. The church is one of nearly 100 across the country being targeted by the government for closure.

Pastor George Nfor Asongyu delivers a sermon during a Sunday service at Ministry Faith Banner in Douala, Cameroon’s largest city. The church is one of nearly 100 across the country being targeted by the government for closure.

Andres Caballero/NPR

But after 10 years, this could be the last Sunday service at the church.

“In a week’s time from today, the government will close me down,” Asongyu says.

“They say we pray too much, we disturb, we are breaking down marriages, we’re destroying homes, we’re exploiting people, which is not true,” Asongyu says. “Even if there are churches that do that, it is not me. I know what call God has given me for this nation.”

A Growing Pentecostal Church

Pentecostalism is now the fastest-growing Christian denomination in the world — and nowhere is it growing faster than in sub-Saharan Africa, home to nearly 45 percent of all Pentecostals.

In predominantly Christian Cameroon, there are more than 500 revival churches. Their rapid growth, as well as what the government views as questionable practices, has drawn attention. Last year, officials ordered the closure of nearly 100 churches that it claimed were criminal enterprises taking advantage of poor, desperate people.

“Cameroonians are faced with economic crisis, HIV/AIDS which cannot be cured, terminal illnesses,” says Robert Akoko, who teaches sociology and anthropology at the University of Buea in southwest Cameroon. “And once they find themselves in such state, they see Pentecostal churches — spiritual healing, people being healed of HIV/AIDS.”

It’s not just faith healing that’s drawing followers, says Akoko, who has studied Pentecostalism’s growth in the country. The church also claims to offer protection from evil spirits.

That’s what led Mary Sabi to join a Pentecostal church after more than a decade as a Catholic. She says she was being tormented by what she called a “spiritual husband.”

“I couldn’t sleep in the night, they always come and sex with me in the night, every night in dreams,” Sabi recalls. “So it was so tormenting. I didn’t know what to do.”

One of her friends told her about Kings Deliverance Ministries, a Pentecostal church in Bamenda, in northwest Cameroon.

hide captionPentecostal worshipers sit at Ministry Faith Banner’s overflow section on a street corner in Douala.


Andres Caballero/NPR

“So when I rushed there, that is how I got my deliverance,” Sabi says.

The University of Buea’s Akoko says that though Pentecostalism originated in America, it’s been what he describes as “Africanized.”

“It addresses problems faced by Africans. It addresses the beliefs of Africans as far as supernatural forces may be concerned,” he says.

But it’s the Pentecostal gospel of prosperity, Akoko says, that is the main draw for Cameroonians, many of whom live in poverty.

On a recent Sunday service at a Cameroonian branch of a Nigerian mega-church known as Winners’ Chapel, hundreds of people listen to members testify about how God has blessed them with material riches and job promotions. One woman says she wondered why her car was more rundown than everyone else’s. She says that after much prayer, God blessed her with a new car.

Are Churches Harmful?

Cameroon’s minister of communication, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, says these revival churches not only disturb neighbors with loud services, they rip off vulnerable people. Some pastors, he says, engage in criminal practices such as extortion. The government decided to close them, he says, wherever their presence becomes harmful to society.

The only person who can approve a church in Cameroon is the president, Paul Biya. No church has been officially recognized since 2009, and the government began its crackdown last year.

Despite this, churches keep sprouting up.

So the government set up a commission to review the Pentecostal churches and identify ones to close. The head of the commission, the Rev. Ludovic Paulin Fotso, is a Pentecostal himself.

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hide captionPeople flood the stage for physical and spiritual healing at Ramah Christian Center, one of the fastest-growing Pentecostal churches in Bamenda.


Andres Caballero/NPR

People flood the stage for physical and spiritual healing at Ramah Christian Center, one of the fastest-growing Pentecostal churches in Bamenda.

People flood the stage for physical and spiritual healing at Ramah Christian Center, one of the fastest-growing Pentecostal churches in Bamenda.

Andres Caballero/NPR

But many view the commission as the government’s way of dividing the church. Fotso says that being between the state and the targeted churches is a sensitive task. Some fellow pastors look at him as if he were the police coming after them, but what he’s actually trying to do, he says, is clean up and re-establish the church’s leadership.

Meanwhile, the fate of churches like Asongyu’s Ministry Faith Banner in Douala hangs in the balance. Like most Pentecostal churches in Cameroon, it is operating without legal permission under the government’s lax regulations. (Fewer than 50 such churches are legally registered.)

In the end, police officers did visit Asongyu’s church, but they seemed interested mostly in shaking him down. One of them asked the pastor for 100,000 Central African Francs — about $200 — which he didn’t have. He says he managed to give them something as a token of appreciation, but it apparently wasn’t enough.

“He was not pleased with the amount I gave him,” Asongyu recalls. “I was trying to avoid involving myself in bribery and corruption.”

The police took the money and said they were going to close the church anyway, citing Asongyu’s blindness as the reason.

But more than a week later, the blind pastor is there, playing bass with the band during a rollicking service that feels more like a gospel dance party than a church.

Instead of closing the church, the government asked Asaongyu for more documents. The registration process is known to take decades. And even though his church is still open today, its future is uncertain.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/13/300975474/pray-or-prey-cameroons-pentecostal-churches-face-crackdown?ft=1&f=1004

Ukraine: Special Forces Sent To Eastern City

Uncategorized | Posted by Israel Grossman Attorney
Apr 13 2014

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian special forces have been sent to an eastern city where armed pro-Russia men seized a police headquarters and the Security Service office a day earlier, the interior minister said Sunday.

The unrest in Slovyansk and the nearby major industrial city Donetsk were the latest shows of spiraling anger in eastern Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population and was also the support base for Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president ousted in February following months of protests in Kiev, the capital. Ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s east widely fear that the new pro-Western Ukrainian government will suppress them.

Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page that the men who seized the buildings in Slovyansk had opened fire on the approaching troops and described the unrest as “Russian aggression.” Avakov called on local residents to remain calm and stay at home.

An Associated Press reporter saw no signs of any shots fired at the police station which was surrounded by a reinforced line of barricades. Unlike on Saturday, the men patrolling the barricades were largely unarmed. One of the guards who asked not to be identified denied reports of fighting at the police station.

Armed camouflaged men were guarding a checkpoint at the main entrance into the city, not allowing anyone to enter. The claims of gunfire inside Slovyansk couldn’t be immediately verified, and.

In a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “expressed strong concern” that the attacks “were orchestrated and synchronized, similar to previous attacks in eastern Ukraine and Crimea,” according the State Department. Kerry “made clear that if Russia didn’t take steps to de-escalate in eastern Ukraine and move its troops back from Ukraine’s border, there would be additional consequences,” the department said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry debunked Kerry’s claims while Lavrov blamed the crisis in Ukraine on the failure of the Ukrainian government “to take into account the legitimate needs and interests of the Russian and Russian-speaking population,” the ministry said. Lavrov also warned that Russia may pull out of next week’s Ukraine summit if Kiev uses force against “residents of the southeast who were driven to despair.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who is in Ukraine this weekend, condemned the unrest in a Twitter post as “a coordinated armed action to seize control over key parts of Eastern Ukraine” which “would not have happened without Russia.”

In Slovyansk, the mayor said Saturday the men who seized the police station were demanding a referendum on autonomy and possible annexation by Russia. Protesters in other eastern cities have made similar demands after a referendum in Crimea last month in which voters opted to split off from Ukraine, leading to annexation by Russia.

The interior minister overnight reported an attack on a police in the nearby city of Kramatorsk. A video from local news web-site Kramatorsk.info showed a group of camouflaged men armed with automatic weapons storming the building. The news web-site also reported that supporters of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic have occupied the administration building, built a barricade with tires around it and put a Russian flag nearby.

Regional news website OstroV said three key administrative buildings have been seized in another city in the area, Enakiyeve.

In the regional capital Donetsk on Saturday, witnesses said the men who entered the police building were wearing the uniforms of the Berkut, the feared riot police squad that was disbanded in February after Yanukovych’s ouster. Berkut officers’ violent dispersal of a demonstration in Kiev in November set off the mass protests that culminated in bloodshed in February when more than 100 people died in sniper fire. The acting government says the snipers were police.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the men who occupied the Donetsk police building had made any demands, but the Donetsk police chief said on national television that he was forced to offer his resignation.

____

Nataliya Vasilyeva in Kiev and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=302508098&ft=1&f=1004

When Is Bottled Air Worth $860? When It’s A Work Of Art — And Protest

Uncategorized | Posted by Israel Grossman Attorney
Apr 12 2014

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I’m Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I’m Melissa Block.

In Beijing, last month, a piece of art sold at auction for $860. That doesn’t sound like a lot until you hear this piece of art is a jar filled with air – ostensibly clean air captured in Provence in France. It’s one of the latest examples of artistic protests against China’s horrible air pollution. Reporter Didi Tang has been writing about this for the Associated Press, and she joins me now from Beijing. And, Didi, talk just a bit more about this pollution protest art and the artist behind it.

DIDI TANG: So the artist who created it and his name is Liang Kegang and he is artist in Beijing. And he told me that, when I was in Provence, I was just amazed at how clean the air is. And that’s actually what resonates with most people living in Beijing. Even for me, I have been living here for two years but last year, when I went back to the States, when I saw the clean air and when I saw the blue sky, I was just amazed.

So he decide – he said, you know, that kind of idea came to him. He was going to capture a jar of air and brought to Beijing as a conceptual art, as a way to tell people, look, the air here is really, really bad and as his way to protest the dirty air in Beijing.

BLOCK: And that’s all it is? It’s just a jar with air inside it and some labels on it saying where it’s theoretically from?

TANG: Yes. Yes. Actually, I did ask him to show me how did he create that art. And he told me that he went to this little town and he opened up the jar and then let it, you know, stay open for a few seconds and closed it. And that was it. That was the whole production of this piece of art.

BLOCK: And he managed to find a buyer.

TANG: Yes. Yes. And he was kind of curious. He was thinking, hey, how much would this jar of, you know, air will go for? So he did not really put it up for public auction, but he actually list it in a very small circle of artists and collectors throughout China. And he told me that he has – he had no expectations as far as the price would go. And then finally, someone from Chengdu, another city in southwest China which also has – had pretty bad air throughout, you know, the last year, and some artists and collector over there in Chengdu, and he bought it.

BLOCK: You know, it sounds like this is part of a wave of various kinds of artistic protest against air pollution and environmental problems in general in China.

TANG: Yes, yes. The most common ways we saw – we have seen oftentimes is related to death. You know, we had this case in February when probably a dozen artists in Beijing, they played dead in a Beijing park as their way to protest the smog. And then another case was a funeral, you know, kind of funeral burying people dying of smog in the city of Changsha, and that’s in southern China.

BLOCK: A mock funeral?

TANG: Yeah, a mock funeral. So I was talking to Liang Kegang and he did tell me, he said, you know, artists, you know, they have those social responsibilities. They wanted to say something about it but that he has found, you know, the expressions to be a little bit on the dark side. And he told me that he was thinking about a lighter way to protest. And that idea of selling, you know, having a jar of clean air, that came to him when he was Provence last month.

BLOCK: You know, we’re talking about some fairly lighthearted treatments of what is a really serious, deadly issue there in China. At its worst point in Beijing, how bad has the air been?

TANG: On days when the air was really bad, you could smell it. It was kind of like you were in a smoking room probably with hundreds of smokers. Probably, I’m exaggerating a little bit there but, you know, the visibility was cut down to probably 10 meters or about 10 yards also. You cannot see the buildings outside your own windows.

BLOCK: Didi Tang, thanks so much for joining us.

TANG: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: That’s AP correspondent Didi Tang in Beijing. We were talking about artists protesting China’s bad air pollution. The latest example, a jar that was labeled as containing clean French air that sold for $860.

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Article source: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/11/301882556/when-is-bottled-air-worth-860-when-its-a-work-of-art-and-protest?ft=1&f=1004