Tuesday, July 09, 2013

When thugs go unpunished

Carl Mather, a visual artist and one of the best English teachers I have ever known, is now out prison. For six months, he was incarcerated in a Nanjing prison, after defending his mother-in-law and child in a home invasion. He injured an intruder’s hand in the process and was charged with assault.  The toughs who broke into his home went unpunished. Carl was kept under abysmal conditions in a crowded cell. Wanting to spread awareness of the Chinese legal system, Carl gave an interview to Australian Public Radio upon his release. It was a brave thing to do, especially after what he has been through. Here is a link to the article and news report.

Carl plans to move with his family to his native Australia or else New Zealand; he and his wife are selling off property in preparation. Their problems continue. Carl’s wife Jenny, a Chinese national, owns a small business where she exports candy and toys. This makes her visible in the Nanjing community. Following Carl’s release, local police interrogated Jenny suggesting that she had been bribing officials, though fortunately she was not arrested. Later, she was cornered by gang members and roughed up when she refused to sell off her holdings at much reduced cost.   The thugs are cozy with local authorities and are functioning with impunity.   

Above: “Reeducation” in a Chinese prison.
Below: Carl’s joyous reunion with his wife and daughter.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Solely a Chinese problem?

Visitors to China take censorship and other abridgments of freedom for granted.  Many websites are blocked, including maps, Facebook, blogs, foreign news sites, and many scholarly resources. Gangs may be cozy with local government, and can thwart the rule of law, as my friend Carl discovered. In China, “information control” is an industry, and email routinely monitored in the name of national security.
To what extent is the US becoming like China? The email surveillance initiated here out of a putative need for homeland security, runs counter to constitutionally protected privacy rights.  While we do not torture prisoners within our borders we practice “extreme rendition” and detain prisoners without trial at Guantanamo.

I actually think the Obama administration acts as it does out of concern for public protection.  Much of the surveillance here occurs in response to what countries such as China are doing, but I know it is difficult not to react in this way. Ours is a global society, and we must take account of the dangers posed by our rivals and enemies.

But copying the practices of totalitarian nations is extremely dangerous.  The American Constitution and our Bill of Rights must be respected. Electorates make bad choices when they are fearful, and governments go bad when they have too much power. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The right of self-defense

In the US, controversies concerning gun control focus on the right of legitimate self-defense.  While many question the wisdom of “Stand your ground” laws, which remove the requirement to retreat from public altercation, protection of our homes is undisputed.

This is not true in all societies, as Carl Mather, an Australian friend learned.  Civilians may not possess firearms in China.  In the case of a home invasion, a person may shout, but the use of a weapon is not permitted.

Carl is a long-time resident of Nanjing.  He and his wife have substantial business holdings. One of the local gangs wanted their business assets and sent several thugs to invade the Mathers’ apartment.  Wielding baseball bats, these men forced open the door of the Mather’s apartment, and demanded that Carl sign over his property.  Carl’s ageing mother-in-law and five year old daughter were home at the time.        

 Carl picked up a knife and slashed the hand of an intruder.  For this, he was sentenced to a year in prison, while the gangsters went unpunished. They had not dealt the first blow and had better political connections.
The court found that while the home invaders were wrong to force open a door, Carl’s use of a knife was not appropriate.  By this time, Carl had served nearly six months in prison.  The court agreed to shorten the sentence to six months, and Carl is now home. No charges were filed against the gangsters.

We acknowledge cultural differences regarding interpersonal relations.  But protection of family is a human instinct. One would hope that in a global society, human beings could agree on common definitions of right and wrong.  

Above: Carl in shackles.

What does tomorrow mean? It is 5:30 pm here, but at home it’s 5:00 in the morning. I leave Weihai tomorrow and make a stop in Beijing. ...