Beijing cracks down on migrants

The Chinese government has instituted a new anti-crime measure dubbed "sealed management." In less euphemistic terms, it's a handy new policy of effectively putting migrants on nighttime lockdown in their already decrepit villages. Though the targets of the policy are themselves Chinese, it's enforcement is reminiscent of some of the world's harshest immigration laws.

How has it worked in practice? Beijing officials have installed gates around migrant communities and forcibly locked the residents in from 11pm to 6am, all with the goal of reducing the city's hike in crime rates -- which the officials conveniently attribute to low-income civilians. Lest the padlocks and security cameras provide insufficient protection from the artificial enemy, the government has taken an additional cue from Jan Brewer: police patrol the gated neighborhoods at all hours to check the migrants' identification papers. Now there's xenophobia at its finest.

Only sixteen neighborhoods have been enclosed and locked down so far, but local officials are campaigning ardently to expand the system throughout the city. The ruling Communist Party has disseminated propaganda to portray the neighborhood compounds as a mutually beneficial social program (rather than, say, a thinly veiled quarantine of the poor):

"Closing up the village benefits everyone," read one banner which was put up when the first, permanent gated village was introduced in April.


"Eighty percent of the permanent residents applauded the practice," said Guo Ruifeng, deputy director of Laosanyu's village committee. He didn't say how many migrants approved, though they outnumber the locals by 7,000 to 700.

"Anyway, they should understand that it is all for their safety," he said. Guards only check papers if they see anything suspicious, he said.

"If they see anything suspicious?" But the assumption underlying the creation of the gated communities is that the migrants themselves are inherently suspicious -- and the police aren't likely to deviate from that deeply flawed rationale when choosing who to hassle. We've watched the descent down this slippery slope before, and it isn't pretty.



The strange case of Rodrigo Rosenberg

The too strange for words scandal surrounding the death of Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg -- who apparently arranged his own assassination and blamed it on the Guatemalan government -- seemed to come to a close today with the sentencing of the eight hit-men who carried out the deed: 

Four of the accused men were sentenced to between 38 years and 48 years on homicide and other charges, and four other co-consipirators received eight-years sentences for "illegal association."

But sentences for two of the men were reduced to two years and to 12 years in return for the suspects' cooperation with prosecutors. Another suspect was released after turning state's evidence.

The eight were members or collaborators of a gang of hit men that planned and carried out the killing, allegedly for a payment that originated with Rosenberg himself.

Rosenberg's death erupted into street protests and a major political scandal after a YouTube video was circulated showing the antigovernment laweyer, "If you are watching this message, it is because I was assassinated by President Alvaro Colom."

Rosenberg reportedly believed that Colom's government was behind the murder of one of his clients and arranged to be fatally shot while riding his bicycle. The plan backfired when a subsequent U.N. investigation exonerated Colom. 

It's tempting to try to draw some larger lesson from this case about the unreliability of social media or commentators jumping to conclusions at the smallest sign of unrest, but it's probably too unusual for that.