This House would offer amnesty to bloggers currently prosecuted by their native states

Repressive governments, here defined as governments that are anti-democratic, that do not afford general civil rights to their citizens, and that do not have a robust respect for the rule of law, have sought to quell dissent and the voices of reform by many means. Through a sophisticated security apparatus, states have succeeded in making most forms of physical protest extremely difficult. Demonstrations and clandestine organization are suppressed with the same vigour and effectiveness. Countries like China, North Korea, Cuba, and Iran have all developed these strategies with precision.

One of the only avenues people in these countries feel capable of turning to is in the blogosphere. Bloggers are at the forefront of the battle for political rights in China and Cuba. But their zeal often leads them to fall foul of the government, and many end up harassed by state agents, or even in prison. In Vietnam bloggers have been reporting on crackdowns on house churches and other human rights abuses. The response is surveillance and ‘working sessions’ with police interrogators.[1] Bloggers such as Nguyen Van Hai, Ta Phong Tan, and Phanh Thanh Hai were jailed for ‘anti-state propaganda’ and Nguyen Hoang Vi beaten and stripped by police officers. In all such cases no matter what country the government seeks to undermine the writers by accusing them of wicked plots, treason, and manipulation by outside power.[2]

The appropriate response to all this that This House, defined broadly as democratic states and narrowly as the Western liberal democracies, should adopt in response to all this is contentious. This debate focuses on the decision to offer amnesty to those facing prosecution in their native countries. This policy has been implemented to various degrees already in some countries, with the United States, for example, housing dissidents from China, Cuba, and elsewhere. But whether this is good policy, whether it should be expanded or ended, remains to be seen.

[1] Brown, David, “Vietnam’s Not-So-Rare Protests”, Asia Sentinel, 30 July 2012, http://www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4720&Itemid=213

[2] Hunt, Luke, “Vietnam Jails More Bloggers”, The Diplomat ASEAN Beat, 11 January 2013, http://thediplomat.com/asean-beat/2013/01/11/vietnam-jails-more-bloggers/

 

Title 
These people are under serious threat for their pursuit of justice
Point 

The internet has become the paramount means of voicing dissent within repressive regimes. As the technology regimes have to keep control of their people increases, with access to high-tech surveillance technology adding to their already formidable arsenals of physical oppression, the internet has become the only platform to express meaningful dissent. The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, for example, wherein people mobilized to overthrow their dictator has even been dubbed the Twitter Revolution.[1] Bloggers have become a major voice of dissent in other repressive regimes, including Cuba and China. Yet the blog platform is far from safe. Governments have sought to crack down on bloggers’ ability to dissent, using draconian methods like imprisonment to cow them into silence. In China the arrests of bloggers like Zhai Xiaobing, who was arrested and detained for simply posting a joke about Communist Party, have served to frighten many into silence.[2] So long as information is denied to the public, governments are able to maintain their repression. Only external help from democratic, or at least more liberal, states can provide the safe haven for people who have rubbed their governments the wrong way in their pursuit of reform and justice.

[1] Zuckerman, E. “The First Twitter Revolution?”. Foreign Policy. 14 January 2011. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/01/14/the_first_twitter_revolution

[2] Wong, G. “Zhai Xiaobing, Chinese Blogger, Arrested for Twitter Joke About China’s Government”. Huffington Post. 21 November 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/21/zhai-xiaobing-arrested-china-twitter-joke_n_2170462.html

Counterpoint 

Offering amnesty will not serve the cause of justice, it is responding to the symptom not the cause. It is unfortunate that individual bloggers suffer at the hands of governments, but seeking to give them amnesty will only serve to anger the regimes, leading to even further oppression and stifling of dissent. This unfortunately means that an individual is saved even as their actions may result in further reductions in the liberties of those who remain. As seen in China, the process of reform is slow and gradual. Upsetting that process could well increase the repression Western peoples feel to be so reprehensible.

Title 
Democracies have an obligation to shield these people and to encourage further dissent
Point 

The universality of human rights, of the freedom of speech and of due process is all touted as crucial by the world’s democracies. Democratic countries are frequently vocal on the subject of liberty, on the superiority of their system of government that provides for the best protection of human dignity. By offering amnesty to bloggers, the people standing at the forefront of the democratic cause in oppressive regimes, Western countries take a largely low-cost action that provides for the security and safety of some the bravest people in the public arena. The West must stop kowtowing to oppression and make a stand to offer an umbrella of protection to those who need it. That protection is absolutely crucial to the development of more dissent in the blogosphere and on the ground. Only by nurturing dissent can it ever take root and overcome the vast powers of authoritarian government. The promise of protection is hugely powerful because it gives bloggers a safety net to fall back on. Those already active will feel more empowered to speak out against their oppressors, and some currently cowed by fear will have the courage to speak up. The guarantee of amnesty also removes the perceived randomness of such offerings that currently occur, as in the recent case of Cuba in which two bloggers of similar pedigree asked for asylum in the US, but only one received it.[1] Such inconsistency has bred fear in the minds of dissidents. This policy would correct for it and help bolster the cause of justice on all fronts. It is through offering amnesty that democracies can provide the catalyst for the change they avow to be the paramount aim of human civilization.

[1] Fox News Latino. “Cuba: Prominent Blogger-Dissidents Receive Contradictory Results on Visa Petitions”. 31 January 2013. http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2013/01/31/cuban-blogger-yoani-sanchez-granted-passport-while-dissident-moya-denied/

Counterpoint 

A democracy’s first duty must always be to the citizens that elect it, not to foreign dissidents. Their duty therefore is to be engaging with these regimes to the benefit of their own citizens; through encouraging trade relations for example. Offering amnesty to individuals oppressive regimes consider to be criminals will serve only to alienate those regimes from the process of negotiation so actually runs counter to the interests of the electorate. Such alienation would result in even more repression, and a greater unwillingness to adopt reforms. If democracies want to promote their mode of government abroad they would be best advised not to pick fights with those they wish to influence.

Title 
This offer of amnesty serves as a powerful public statement in favour of free speech and rule of law
Point 

In offering amnesty Western governments make an exceptionally powerful public statement in the international arena, an area in which they already hold great sway as norm-setters. It is a statement that shows that they will not simply ignore the abuses of power used by repressive regimes to stifle dissent and the voices of reform.[1] Ultimately, the power of oppressors to act with impunity is the product of democracies’ unwillingness to challenge them. Authoritarian regimes often claim to value freedom of the press, for example article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China guarantees it,[2] and this policy challenges them to make their practice more like what they preach. A policy of amnesty for those threatened with the lash of tyranny serves to actively protect those people while at the same time upholding the avowed principles of justice and fairness the West proclaims. This will show that the West does not play favourites or turn a blind eye to these repressions, but is an active player, willing to step in to shield those who share its dreams of a freer world. The international ridicule these policies can generate will serve to shame regimes into relaxing their policies and to embrace at least a road to reform. Nor should it be assumed that this rhetoric will have no real consequences, many authoritarian regimes encourage investment by companies from democratic countries, such investment is less likely when that company’s home state is publically condemning that state by granting amnesties to dissident bloggers.

[1] Clinton, H. “Conference on Internet Freedom”. U.S. Department of State, 8 December 2011. http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/12/178511.htm    

[2] Fifth National People’s Congress, “Constitution of the People’s Republic of China”, 4 December 1982, http://www.hkhrm.org.hk/english/law/const03.html

Counterpoint 

This policy will not be a public statement of anything other than Western attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of others. It is also a powerfully hypocritical message; many democracies have libel laws that prevent libel and misrepresentation and authoritarian states should be allowed to have the same laws which will sometimes impact on bloggers.[1]

[1] Li, Eric X, “The Life of the Party”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2013, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/138476/eric-x-li/the-life-of-the-party?page=6

Title 
An amnesty policy will serve only to alienate regimes, shutting down the possibility of discourse or reform
Point 

It is a natural conclusion that a repressive regime, which operates largely by force and the control of its population, will react rather negatively to an action by the West that appears to be a calculated, public, and on-going subversion of their power in favour of criminal dissidents. The result of such action by Western democracies will not be any positive discourse between the targeted regime and the West, but will rather cause a breakdown in communication. They will be reticent to engage for the very reason that the states seeking to influence them are clearly not interested in dealing on an equal footing, but rather wish to undermine their way of life in favour of asserting their own superiority. The best way to actually get talks about reform started, and to empower those who wish for more democracy and press freedom, is to patiently engage with these regimes, to coax them peaceably toward reform without threatening their core aims.[1] Aggression toward them will generate aggression in return as is shown again and again by North Korea and the responses to its actions by the United States. While incremental change may feel glacial, the long game is the only way to get changes without letting blood flow through the streets. The only possible outcome of this policy would be a harsher crackdown on bloggers by these governments.

[1] Larison, D. “Engagement is Not Appeasement”. The American Conservative. 17 December 2012. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/engagement-is-not-appeasement/

Counterpoint 

All countries, even authoritarian ones, desire to be considered legitimate and valued in the international community. The weight of condemnation that a policy of amnesty creates is one that bears down heavily on repressive regimes and can galvanize them to reform. Furthermore, it is essential that Western governments nurture dissidents and give them shelter so they can continue their mission to attain justice rather than be thrown into jail.

Title 
The liberal democratic paradigm is not the only legitimate model of government, a fact that democracies should accept and embrace
Point 

Ultimately, states’ laws have to be respected. Liberal democracy has not proven to be the end of history as Fukuyama suggested, but is rather one robust system of government among many. China has become the example of a state-led capitalist model that relies on a covenant with the people fundamentally different from that between democratic governments and their citizens.[1] Chinas ruling communist party has legitimacy as a result of its performance and its role in modernising the country.[2] China’s people have accepted a trade-off; economic growth and prosperity in exchange for their liberties. When dissidents challenge this paradigm, the government becomes aggrieved and seeks to re-establish its power and authority. If the dissidents are breaking that country’s laws then the state has every right to punish them. Singapore similarly has an authoritarian version of democracy that delivers an efficient, peaceful state at the expense of constraints on the ability to criticise the government.[3] This collective model of rights has no inherent value that is lesser to that of the civil liberties-centric model of liberal democracy. In the end, as the geopolitical map becomes complicated with different versions of governance, states must learn to live with one another. The problem of offering amnesty to bloggers is that democracies and the West seek to enforce their paradigm onto that of states that differ. This will engender resentment and conflict. The world economy and social system relies on cooperation, trade, and peace. The difference between systems and cultures should be celebrated rather than simply assuming that there is only one true model and all others are somehow inferior.

[1] Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J. “Is State Capitalism Winning?”. Project Syndicate. 31 December 2012. http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/why-china-s-growth-model-will-fail-by-daron-acemoglu-and-james-a--robinson

[2] Li, Eric X, “The Life of the Party”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2013, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/138476/eric-x-li/the-life-of-the-party?page=4

[3] Henderson, Drew, “Singapore suppresses dissident” Yale Daily News, 5 November 2010, http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2010/11/05/singapore-suppresses-dissident/

Counterpoint 

Liberal democracy is in a clash of ideologies with other competing systems, they promote their own systems through other means such as aid to regimes that are considered to be backsliding by liberal democracies with no strings attached. It is critical that the democratic paradigm not submit to the demands of other systems that would undermine the rights and values that democracy has come to view as universal. While liberal democracy may not be the only legitimate form of governance there are universal right, such as freedom of expression, which must be accepted by all states and should be protected both at home and abroad. China’s vibrant dissident community is example enough that the alternative rights framework that the Communist Party offers is deficient. Rather than let those fresh shoots of democratic advocacy be smothered, the West should nurture them, and give them protection when they face vicious threats from cruel regimes.

Title 
The offer of amnesty allows home governments to discredit bloggers and paint them as foreign agents of disruption
Point 

When Western states and democracies offer amnesty to bloggers under threat from their home governments, the blogger’s views and comments immediately become coloured in the eyes of the public. The government is able to point to the Western powers offering this amnesty and can easily claim that their offers are the result of collusion between bloggers and their foreign patrons to spread propaganda, so the blogger is therefore guilty of treason. As unfortunate as it may be in individual cases, the result is that offering amnesty will only weaken the cause of democracy. Being sent to prison for their beliefs will do far more to serve their cause than seeking succour in the arms of another state, one that has demonstrated antagonism toward their homeland. The ability for governments to stoke nationalist fires has been thoroughly demonstrated in recent months by China’s reaction toward territorial disputes with Japan.[1] It is very easy to rile the public against a perceived external aggressor, especially given that these states often control much of the mainstream media outlets, and those who offer amnesty give themselves up on a platter as an adversary to be exploited in the public consciousness. The better plan for democracies in pursuit of their goals is to condemn acts of oppression and to seek diplomatic redress, but direct interference in the course of states’ justice will doing nothing but harm relations with regimes and turn the people against the proponents of reform.

[1] The Economist. “Barren Rocks, Barren Nationalism”. 25 August 2012. http://www.economist.com/node/21560882

Counterpoint 

People in oppressive regimes are smart enough to know when they are being duped. They will listen if the bloggers have a good point and are being unjustifiably persecuted. In the case of the Japan-China territorial dispute, there is the tangible fact that the islands are being fought over for nationalists to attach to irrespective of ideology. Offering amnesty is simply an offer to rescue people facing imminent unjust punishment. While governments will no doubt seek to paint them as foreign agents, their ideas will be able to continue to battle in the public sphere, rather than be shut off forever with the closing of a prison-cell door.

Title 
Democracies should be wary of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries
Point 

Authoritarian countries tend to guard their sovereignty jealously and will not take kindly to what they would consider to be interference in their internal affairs. In many cases this is exactly what the government offering an amnesty would be doing. Should foreign countries really be deciding that the justice system of a country was wrong in this or that case so amnesty should be provided? Where there are legal proceedings against a blogger that end up with the blogger being sent to jail those outside the country may think the sentences unjust but as countries that publically support the rule of law they should accept the result. It may well be the case that sometimes the judicial system has been used to persecute a blogger but it is difficult to see why an outside power with little interest in the case should believe they have the right to provide an alternative verdict through an amnesty. Where a country disapproves of the treatment of an individual this should be done by negotiating with the government in question and providing any alternative evidence they have. Cuba for example has released dissidents before as a result of negotiations with outside actors; the release 80 dissidents for the visit by Pope John Paul II in 1998 being merely the most successful example.[1]

[1] Human Rights Watch, “Cuba: Release of Dissidents Still Leaves Scores in Prison”, 8 July 2012, http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/07/08/cuba-release-dissidents-still-leaves-scores-prison

Counterpoint 

An amnesty would clearly only be offered under certain circumstances. In cases where there are judicial proceedings then the offer of an amnesty could only take effect when the individual being offered it is released and able to take advantage of the offer. It is also wrong to consider that an offer of an amnesty is unwarranted interference in internal affairs; the country in question clearly objects to what the blogger is doing so this is opening an avenue where both the state and blogger get what they want.

Bibliography 

Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J. “Is State Capitalism Winning?”. Project Syndicate. 31 December 2012. http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/why-china-s-growth-model-will-fail-by-daron-acemoglu-and-james-a--robinson

Brown, David, “Vietnam’s Not-So-Rare Protests”, Asia Sentinel, 30 July 2012, http://www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4720&Itemid=213

Clinton, H. “Conference on Internet Freedom”. U.S. Department of State, 8 December 2011. http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/12/178511.htm

Fifth National People’s Congress, “Constitution of the People’s Republic of China”, 4 December 1982, http://www.hkhrm.org.hk/english/law/const03.html

Fox News Latino. “Cuba: Prominent Blogger-Dissidents Receive Contradictory Results on Visa Petitions”. 31 January 2013. http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2013/01/31/cuban-blogger-yoani-sanchez-granted-passport-while-dissident-moya-denied/

Henderson, Drew, “Singapore suppresses dissident” Yale Daily News, 5 November 2010, http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2010/11/05/singapore-suppresses-dissident/

Hunt, Luke, “Vietnam Jails More Bloggers”, The Diplomat ASEAN Beat, 11 January 2013, http://thediplomat.com/asean-beat/2013/01/11/vietnam-jails-more-bloggers/

Larison, D. “Engagement is Not Appeasement”. The American Conservative. 17 December 2012. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/engagement-is-not-appeasement/

Li, Eric X, “The Life of the Party”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2013, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/138476/eric-x-li/the-life-of-the-party?page=4

The Economist. “Barren Rocks, Barren Nationalism”. 25 August 2012. http://www.economist.com/node/21560882

Wong, G. “Zhai Xiaobing, Chinese Blogger, Arrested for Twitter Joke About China’s Government”. Huffington Post. 21 November 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/21/zhai-xiaobing-arrested-china-twitter-joke_n_2170462.html

Zuckerman, E. “The First Twitter Revolution?”. Foreign Policy. 14 January 2011. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/01/14/the_first_twitter_revolution

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