RFA in the News (February 2016)



Feb. 26 “Parliament urges enquiry into last-minute rush for lucrative deals

Daw Khin San Hlaing, National League for Democracy Pyithu Hluttaw MP for Pale township, put forward an urgent proposal advising the current government to scrutinise an apparent fire-sale of assets, including land and projects by ministries and state-owned enterprises, in the period between the election and the handover of power. … “[The urgent proposal] came to parliament while we are trying to cooperate with each other to ensure a smooth transition. It raises questions for us that it has come up during this critical period,” U Soe Htay, deputy director general of the President’s office, told Radio Free Asia yesterday. “If they want to know, they can ask the related departments. If asked, the ministry can reply by letter or can come to parliament to offer an explanation.”


Feb. 25 “RFA: N. Korea Categorized as Humanitarian Crisis Country

Radio Free Asia (RFA) has reported that North Korea was categorized as a country enduring a severe humanitarian crisis with seven percent of its population relying on food aid from the outside. The U.S. government-funded international broadcaster delivered the report, quoting a Belgian human rights group.


Feb. 24 “Religious festivals marred by intense scrutiny inside Tibet

The Buddhist festival ‘Chotrul Monlam’ observed during the first 15 days of the Tibetan Lunar calendar was marred by Chinese authorities in Tibetan areas of Sichuan and Qinghai, deploying security personnel within monasteries and amidst devotees during the proceedings. According to Radio Free Asia News Service, Chinese authorities deployed many armed personnel and conducted drills to intimidate the worshippers and people at Kumbum Monastery in Tsoshar Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province.


Feb. 22 “How the U.S. Fights Encryption—and Also Helps Develop It

Researchers in London last year discovered an online jihadi handbook with instructions on sending encrypted instant messages that would be indecipherable to law enforcement. … The process received a boost from Libby Liu, president of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia. … “We want people to be able to talk freely and share ideas that authoritarian governments won’t tolerate,” Ms. Liu said in an interview. Congress came to her rescue. Radio Free Asia, founded in 1996, is funded by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a little-known federal agency that supports international broadcasting with a pro-democracy mission. In 2011, Congress directed $10 million to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which advanced $7 million to Radio Free Asia and Ms. Liu.


Feb. 23 “N. Korea Eases Qualifications for Overseas Laborers

Radio Free Asia said Wednesday that North Korea has made it easier for its people to work abroad in order to increase the sources of cash funneled into the regime. A source in South Pyeongan Province said Wednesday that the number of North Koreans seeking government permission to become laborers overseas has increased since North Korean authorities eased required qualifications.


Feb. 23 “At hotspot for Chinese tourists, dark tales of N.Korean defection

Amid the constant bustle of tour groups, there is no mistaking this scenic mountain’s status as a major tourist draw. … If not necessarily the incident in question, a similar-sounding roundup was reported by Radio Free Asia in August.


Feb. 22 “Subgraph OS Wants to Make Using a Secure Operating System Less of a Headache

While tools for message encryption have become easier to use in recent years, one gaping hole remains in many people's infosec: the security of the device they use (their “end-point”). A new secure operating system called Subgraph OS aims to make resisting hacking attacks easier, even on fairly low-powered laptops. … Subgraph’s four-man team recently received funding from the Open Technology Fund (OTF) to work on the operating system; the OTF is ultimately fundedby grants from Congress.


Feb. 20 “A well known Tibetan writer has been sentenced to three years in jail

It remains very risky at this time for Tibetans to express views which are critical of the Chinese government as recently was seen with the arrest of an activist Tibetan writer. Radio Free Asia reported that a well known prominent Tibetan writer was sentenced to three years in prison for writing material which the Chinese government said could incite discord among various nationalities. It was also alleged by the Chinese authorities that Shokjang maintained a secret contact with so called splitists who want to separate Tibet from China therefore leading to instability in the community.


Feb. 19 “Opinions: An astrophysicist banished from China for his democratic ideas

Dan Southerland, a former Beijing bureau chief for The Washington Post, is the executive editor of congressionally funded Radio Free Asia. … Fang Lizhi, the astrophysicist who inspired Chinese pro-democracy student protesters in the late 1980s, gives a fascinating and insightful account of his life in a memoir now published nearly four years after his death in exile.


Feb. 19 “Officials deny Dalai prayer claim

An official in Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, said Thursday authorities have no knowledge that local Tibetans have been conducting private prayers for the health of the Dalai Lama. Ethnic Tibetans in Aba county of Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan and in Guinan county of Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Northwest China's Qinghai Province have been praying in secret for the speedy physical recovery of the Dalai Lama, Radio Free Asia (RFA) quoted Tibetan sources as saying on Wednesday.


Feb. 17 “'Ricochet', the Messenger That Beats Metadata, Passes Security Audit

Although users are now saturated with options on mobile and desktop for encrypted messaging, very few of the tools available deal with the core problem of metadata. Even if the content of your messages is kept from prying eyes, it may still be possible for a resourceful attacker to see who you are, and who you're talking to. … “The Open Tech Fund supports technologies designed to protect human rights defenders, journalists, and political dissidents, among others, who are living in some of the world's most oppressive places,” a spokesperson for Radio Free Asia, of which the Open Tech Fund is a part, told Motherboard in an email. “We support audits of Internet freedom projects in order to improve their security and reliability by finding and addressing vulnerabilities.”


Feb. 16 “Why Did China Kidnap Its Provocateurs

Last October 17th, Gui Minhai, the publisher of Mighty Current Media, in Hong Kong, returned from grocery shopping to his seaside condominium in Thailand and found a young man waiting for him at the front gate. … Li Xin, the journalist who disappeared in Northern Thailand, apparently was not connected to the others who vanished. He worked as an editor for the Web site of Southern Metropolis Daily, which is based in Guangzhou and is part of China’s feistiest media group. Li had angered Chinese authorities by exposing the inner workings of the censorship system. According to Radio Free Asia, he had been threatened with espionage charges unless he informed on fellow dissidents. Early last year, Li fled to Thailand, seeking political asylum.


Feb. 15 “Ted Cruz’s call for ‘Liu Xiaobo Plaza’ draws China backlash

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has called for the renaming of a plaza outside the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., after a Chinese Nobel peace laureate. But Beijing’s state media condemned the proposal, calling it an insult. “The apparently provocative move intends to outrage and unsettle China,” China’s populist tabloid Global Times stated in an editorial Sunday, Radio Free Asia reported.


Feb. 15 “N.Korea 'Built Mock-Up of Seoul for Military Training'

North Korea may have built a mock-up of parts of Seoul near the Yongbyon nuclear facility for military training purposes, Radio Free Asia reported last Wednesday. The claim comes from Curtis Melvin of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, who analyzed Google Earth satellite imagery of the site in North Pyongan Province.


Feb. 13 “Two monks were detained in Drango for praying for the Dalai Lama's health

The crackdown by the Chinese authorities in dealing with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Tibet is continuing. … Radio Free Asia reports two senior Tibetan monks have been detained by the Chinese authorities in western China’s Sichuan province on suspicion of holding prayers for the good health of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.


April 12 “On World Radio Day, Remembering Radio Journalists on the Ground

On World Radio Day this Saturday, the Committee to Protect Journalists is paying tribute to the vital role radio journalists play in bringing their communities news and commentary, sometimes at great personal cost.  … At least 14 radio journalists are imprisoned, most on anti-state or no charges, according to CPJ's 2015 prison census. Ekberjan Jamal, imprisoned in China since February 28, 2008, has spent the longest time in prison among radio journalists listed on the 2015 census. The freelance journalist was sentenced to 10 years in prison for separatism and revealing state secrets after he sent recordings and a description of riots to Radio Free Asia and Phoenix News in Hong Kong. CPJ has not had any new information about Ekberjan's case since April 2009.


Feb. 10 “Media restrictions remain in place in Magwe

Journalists in Magwe blocked from parliament for the past five years have had their hopes of entering the chamber dashed. The previous hluttaw, dominated by Union Solidarity and Development Party representatives, refused to grant them access. But at the opening of the Magwe Region Hluttaw on February 8, most journalists found access still closed off. Only state-owned media and three broadcast outlets – Radio Free Asia, Democratic Voice of Burma and Sky Net – were allowed into the hluttaw by the parliament office.


Feb. 10 “U.S. agency behind pro-democracy propaganda to launch Internet Freedom Office

The United States government agency that oversees pro-American radio and television channels in foreign countries plans to expand its work promoting a free and open Internet. The Broadcasting Board of Governors describes in its Fiscal Year 2017 budget request plans to launch an Internet Freedom Office, a special office for open-Internet activities, moving those programs out of its general technology and innovation office. … Along with the State Department, the BBG has been at the forefront of U.S. government efforts to combat Internet censorship by repressive regimes like Iran,China, and Syria. Its Radio Free Asia operation, which runs the agency's Open Technology Fund, spent more than $10 million on encryption, anonymous communication, and cloud services, including the Edward Snowden-recommended secure-messaging app Signal.


Feb. 8 “Can Aung San Suu Kyi persuade Myanmar's military to let her become president?

Speculation over a possible deal between Myanmar's powerful military and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which could see her become head of state, reached fever pitch on Monday after the country's Parliament delayed its vote for president until March 17. … There is a 1948 precedent that might be used in the event of a power-sharing deal, Radio Free Asia reports.


Feb. 6 “Chinese defector 'leaked state secrets to US'

Mr Ling Wancheng, the younger brother of China's disgraced former presidential aide Ling Jihua, has reportedly divulged state secrets to the United States, including how China's nuclear weapons launch system works and the personal security details of its top leaders, after fleeing to the US in late 2014. … Some overseas Chinese-language media said the WFB report is perplexing as the younger Ling would only endanger the life of his brother Jihua, who is facing many criminal charges, including having received a large amount of bribes and violating political discipline, if he had indeed surrendered state secrets to the US. "How could he bargain for a reduced punishment for Ling Jihua if all the secrets were already leaked to the US?" Radio Free Asia, which is affiliated to the US government, asked.


Feb. 5 “U.N. panel to recommend fresh sanctions against North Korea

A U.N. panel of experts is expected to recommend fresh sanctions against North Korea to a Security Council committee next week, sources said Thursday. … The Radio Free Asia has reported the panel of experts plans to recommend sanctions against two main agencies responsible for the North's nuclear and missile programs -- the Munitions Industry Department of the North's ruling Workers' Party and the State Space Development Bureau.


Feb. 5 “New pleasure craft in North Korea’s Nampho port

Satellite imagery of North Korea’s Nampho port reveals what appears to be a new 50-meter pleasure craft, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). The boat which was first spotted by Curtis Melvin at the U.S.-Korea Institute in Washington D.C., and can be seen docked at the naval headquarters of North Korea’s West Sea fleet.


Feb. 4 “Dalai Lama photos confiscated by authorities in China's Sichuan province

Shopkeepers in China's Luhuo county were ordered to handover photographs of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. The government in the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which is situated in western Sichuan province, had ordered all vendors to surrender images of the spiritual leader by 2 February at the Draggo County Office of Culture and Discipline. The order was issued on 31 January. "If any shop or store possessed photos of the Dalai Lama and displayed these before the date of this notice, these should be voluntarily surrendered to the Draggo County Office of Culture and Discipline by Feb. 2," the order read, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA) Tibetan Service.


Feb. 4 “Missing Chinese journalist under investigation in China - wife

A Chinese journalist and rights activist who disappeared in Thailand last month is in police custody in China and is under investigation, his wife said on Thursday. Li Xin, a former writer for the Southern Metropolis Daily, a respected semi-independent newspaper, arrived in Thailand from India on Jan. 1 and boarded a train to the northeastern border town of Nong Khai where he tried to enter Laos, his wife, Shi Sanmei, said last month. Li had fled to India after state security authorities in China tried to recruit him to spy on activists, Radio Free Asia reported.


Feb. 3 “Is Laos Moving Away From China With Its Leadership Transition?

Laos’ Communist Party elected Vice President Bounnhang Vorachit to be its next leader last week, after a vote by the newly formed 10th Party Central Committee. … The 427 km railway would connect the Lao capital to the Chinese border and is expected to cost  $6.04 billion. A Radio Free Asia (RFA) report from January 4 mentions some government officials as criticizing Somsavat for having accepted a deal unfavorable to Laos, noting that it was not the first “high-cost investment where he gave too much away as collateral for project loans with little or no payoffs for ordinary Lao citizens.


Feb. 3 “Sichuan seizes Dalai Lama portraits in crackdown on illegal publications

The local government of a Tibetan-populated prefecture in Sichuan Province confirmed with the Global Times on Tuesday that they had ordered shopkeepers to turn in photos of Dalai Lama as part of the government's regular work to manage the cultural market. … The US-backed Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Monday that an order was issued by the Luhuo county government in Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on January 4 to urge shopkeepers to turn in all the inventory of the Dalai Lama's portraits by Tuesday. The order reportedly prohibited shops and stores from selling or displaying the photos.


Feb. 2 “Journalists Arrested in Gansu After Critical Reports

At Radio Free Asia, Qiao Long reports on the recent detentions of investigative journalists Zhang Yongsheng, Luo Huansu, and Zhang Zhenguo. The three reporters were stationed in Wuwei, Gansu, and known for filing reports critical of the city that had strained relations with municipal propaganda officials and police.