A counter terrorism law about to be passed by Parliament in Australia, has run into unexpected trouble.
Buried within its popular measures to give the authorities clearer and stronger powers to detain or investigate suspected terrorists were new definitions of the crime of "sedition".
Most Australians don't even know what the word means, according to public opinion surveys. With the recent arrest and charging of dozens of persons alleged to have been planning terrorist attacks on a nuclear reactor in Sydney, and unspecified targets in Melbourne, it took time for the "fine print" concerning sedition in the federal legislation to come into notice.
The new laws define sedition as urging disaffection with the sovereign, the constitution, the parliament, the government, or other heads of state or governments in a manner that incites violence between sections of society, among other things.
According to lawyers the provisions are so vague they could mean up to seven years jail for any Australian suggesting that Prime Minister John Howard, or any other world figure, deserved to be thrown out of office or given a kick up the behind.
And while the government vehemently denies this could happen, it is refusing to modify the "sedition" provisions of the bill to clarify its application and guarantee freedom to criticize or even satirize political figures.
Sydney lawyer, Ian Barker, said these offences "can be committed by recklessness."
"We are soon going to have a lot of laws telling us how to behave towards our government, our constitution and our country," he said.
"Urging disaffection against the government seems to be what many ordinary people often do, born of sheer frustration. The problem is the crime [of sedition] is all about words and the construction of words," he said.
"It is becoming increasingly dangerous to be honest and direct in the use of words," he continued.
In fact, ordinary Australians supporting the establishment of a republic in place of a constitutional monarchy in which the Queen of England is the head of state are technically committing sedition, as are those who often describe the heir to her throne, Prince Charles, in terms implying he is unstable, eccentric or unsuited to public office.
In briefings to the media, government members have insisted that the target of the sedition clauses is extremist groups promoting jihad or a range of specific or more general violent acts against society.
Yet the vagueness of the provisions has caused alarm even among government members, many of whom are calling for changes, while the leader of the Labor opposition party, Kim Beazley, said "I'm for jailing terrorists, not cartoonists and talk back radio hosts making hostile political points."
Others argue the laws could be used to counter agitation against involvement in Iraq.
In 1950 the conservative Menzies government failed in a prosecution of an anti-American activist whose sedition was to utter the words "Not a man, not a ship, not a plane and not a gun for the aggressive imperialised war in Korea."
It is sentiment often echoed in today's protests against the Iraq conflict.
Another constitutional law authority, Laurence Maher, said sedition prosecutions had always degenerated into high farce because in the course of accurate court reports all of the dangerous seditious words had been published repeatedly and usually on page one of the country's newspapers in full and sometimes for days on end.
Farce dogged the Federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, when he announced that "the measures deal with those who seek to urge the naive and impressionable to carry out violence against their fellow citizens."
"People will still be able to participate in vigorous public debate no matter how scathing of the government or its policies," he said.
Yet as he spoke, an artist, Michael Agzarian, was being queried by the Federal Arts Department as to whether satirical digitally manipulated portraits he had created of Howard and Ruddock with their lips sewn shut had been funded by any public grant.
The artist was told the prime minister's office had asked the department to investigate after receiving complaints that the portraits were "treasonous."
Agzarian said the department's reaction made him concerned for freedom of expression in Australia.
"I don't want to blow things out of proportion but there's a sort of deterioration of things we take for granted here," Agzarian said.
The leader of the Greens, Bob Brown, went further.
"This is all part of an insane fundamentalist conservative agenda by a government with total control of both houses of parliament," Brown said. "They are obliterating worker's rights, carving up the national parks, allowing intelligent design to be taught as the equal of science in schools, and setting up government critics to be targeted under the smokescreen of vague laws about sedition."
While the Greens and Labor are powerless to derail the government's legislative programme, it is less able to control dissent in its own ranks.
Two government backbenchers, conservative republican and one of the richest individuals in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, and social progressive Petro Georgiou, have both called for "serious review" of the sedition provisions to guarantee free speech.
Attempts to muzzle them by the coalition government have so far failed and they are gathering around them other party members who are keen to counter balance the ultra conservatives that dominate the federal cabinet.
Canberra watchers are starting to ask if they constitute the early signs of a schism in the ranks of a government that may face its biggest threat from internal divisions rather than from the Labor party.
French firm DCI-DESCO in April won a bid to upgrade Taiwan’s Lafayette frigates, which has strained ties between China and France. In 1991, France sold Taiwan six Lafayette frigates and in 1992 sold it 60 Mirage 2000 fighter jets. To prevent arms sales between the nations, China negotiated an agreement with France and in 1994 in a joint statement, France promised that there would be no future arms sales to Taiwan. From China’s point of view, the DCI-DESCO deal constitutes a breach of the agreement, but the French stance is that it is not selling Taiwan new weapons, but instead providing a
Chung Yuan ChristiaN University is clearly in bed with the People’s Republic of China. This can be the only explanation why the school’s authorities have done their utmost to shield a student, who lodged a complaint against an associate professor, and then used thuggish tactics to compel the teacher to issue two separate apologies to China. The original complaint, filed by an unnamed Chinese student, was for remarks by associate professor Chao Ming-wei (招名威) during a class on the origin of COVID-19. A second complaint was filed by the same student after Chao, during an apology, stated that he was a
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in her inaugural address on May 20 firmly said: “We will not accept the Beijing authorities’ use of ‘one country, two systems’ to downgrade Taiwan and undermine the cross-strait status quo.” The Chinese government was not too happy, and later that day, an opinion piece on the Web site of China’s state broadcaster China Central Television said: “While Tsai’s first inaugural address four years ago was read by Beijing as an ‘unfinished answer sheet,’ the one she presented this time was even more below-par.” Speaking to the China Review News Agency, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies vice president
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc worldwide. Despite countries being under pressure economically and from the novel coronavirus, China’s National People’s Congress last month passed national security legislation for Hong Kong, a decision that has shocked the world. Let there be no doubt: This move is the beginning of the end of China’s plans for “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Proposed amendments to extradition laws last year ignited massive protests in Hong Kong, with millions of participants, shocking the world and making confrontation between government forces and those who opposed the change a permanent part of Hong