Counterspin: Apasiev Spins that There Are No Dissidents in Russia and China

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The leader of the “Levica” (Left) party and MP, Dimitar Apasiev, on his Twitter account, referring to the dissident activity, expressed views representing a classic spin:

Spin: Astonishingly, the greatest DISSENTS of our time (Assange, Snowden and Manning) do not come from Russia or China, but the United States. This is the end of human rights stories in the West, the end of the era of liberalism.

[Source: Twitter – Date: 11 December 2021]

Counterspin: Apasiev’s statement that the greatest dissidents of our time do not come from Russia or China, but from the United States, insinuating that the United States is a regime disrespecting human rights is a debating tactic called whataboutism.

This tactic stems from the Cold war and was used by the then communist Soviet representatives during their talks with their Western counterparts. It includes disregarding the other sides’ arguments altogether, but finding seemingly look-a-like counterarguments and using them to counter-attack, despite the fact that the counter-arguments might be false, relying on disinformation, illogical, outdated, lacking proportionality, etc. A well-known example would be Western parties accusing the then Soviet Union of imprisoning millions of its’ citizens in Siberia’s gulags, without respecting their basic human rights, just to receive a “counter-argument” asking “but what about…” (this is where the name of this debating tactic comes from), and then the Soviet representatives would mention some trial in a US southern state where a white judge would unjustly sentence a black man to a lengthy sentence, completely disregarding the proportionality of both events, the fact that in the US there was actually a trial, and especially the fact that putting millions of people in Gulags was a state-sanctioned policy, while the other event was one court case having nothing to do with the US official policies.

First and foremost, one could just consult the list of journalists in Russia murdered before and during the reign of President Vladimir Putin to clearly and speedily find out and understand how ridiculous this claim from Mr Apasiev’s tweet is. Dozens upon dozens of journalists murdered, many of them for criticizing the existing Russian regime and some while covering the wars in Chechen conflicts show that the number of dissidents in Russia only among the journalists is vast and cannot be compared with their US counterparts in numbers.

Mr. Apasiev has apparently forgotten, or is uninformed, about one of the best-known dissidents of our time coming from Russia, Alexei Navalny, currently serving a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for violating a suspended sentence from 2014. His arrest has sparked tensions in relations with the West which is seeking his release.

Apasiev may have forgotten how Navalny was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in 2020, before being arrested, as confirmed by the German government, citing the results of the investigation. Navalny suddenly fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow on 20 August this year. He was initially hospitalized in the Russian city of Omsk and was later transferred to Berlin.

In July 2021, Russian media regulator “Roskomnadzor” blocked 49 websites linked to this Kremlin critic.

For the past decade, the public has remembered the murdering of journalists, vocal critics of governments in the former Soviet states of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist was murdered in his apartment in Kiev, most likely because of his work. Russian MP Denis Voronenko. Russian journalist Alexander Shchetinin was also murdered in Kiev in his apartment.

In February 2015, four bullets in the back killed the Russian opposition leader and Vladimir Putin’s biggest critic, Boris Nemtsov. The 55-year-old leader was shot dead as he returned from dinner with famous Ukrainian model Anna Durytska and crossed the bridge leading to the Kremlin and Red Square. Nemtsov was the founder of the opposition movement Solidarity, a member of parliament and deputy prime minister during Yeltsin’s rule. He has sharply criticized Putin for his direct involvement in the Ukraine war and accused him of spending billions of dollars from the country’s budget on luxuries. He claimed that Putin spent $ 2 billion a year on the maintenance of yachts and planes alone.

There are dissidents in China as well. In 2011, a court in southwest China reached a scandalous verdict sentencing dissident Chen Wei to nine years in prison for publishing pro-democracy essays online. Zheng Jianwei, Chen’s lawyer, said a court in Suning had convicted the dissident and human rights activist of “inciting the overthrow of state power”. Although the essays were published outside of China, the court found that they had a major malignant impact in China, even though the majority of Chinese could not even read them, said Chen Wei’s wife, Wang Xiaoyan.

In December 2009 in China, one of the most notorious dissidents, Liu Xiaobo, 54, was sentenced to 11 years in prison, for calling for political reform in China, including freedom of association and expression.

He won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his long and non-violent struggle for basic human rights in China. Xiaobo died in July 2017 in a hospital in China while serving an 11-year prison sentence for “subversion”.

Ai Weiwei is also a well-known Chinese artist and dissident. He lives and works in Berlin. The project that made him famous was the installation of 100 million handmade porcelain sunflower seeds – a pictorial, an interactive and attractive metaphor for world capitalism (2010). The following year, he was detained by police for 81 days, allegedly on suspicion of tax evasion. It is much more likely that his projects, which were often openly critical of the Chinese government and its policies, made him a target for threats from the authorities.

Ai Weiwei was arrested in April 2011 at Beijing Capital Airport. He wanted to fly to Taiwan via Hong Kong, where he worked on an exhibition. His studio in Beijing was searched and several of his associates questioned. The reason for the arrest and search was completely unknown. One of Wayway’s close friends said the artist had had a conflict with authorities before. However, this time it seems that it is a serious action against him said his close friend.

In June 2019, Ai Wavey visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a prison hospital and said his condition had “deteriorated”, urging Britain and other European countries to stop his extradition to the United States.

These are only some of the Russian and Chinese dissidents, quite well known to the public, but many others are not so well known. However, this does not mean they do not exist, as Apasiev suggests. It is obvious that the leader of the “Levica” party is created this spin in favor of Russia and China, presenting them much more favorably, as opposed to the United States where, as Apasiev claims, human rights have not been respected. He even disregards the fact that Julian Assange is not even a US citizen, but an Australian one. In any case, the whole argument is far removed from the facts and represents a spin and manipulation.


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