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Citing rights failings, firm divests Cisco holdings

China defends rights record after scathing HRW report
Beijing (AFP) Jan 13, 2011 - China on Thursday defended its human rights record after a US-based watchdog issued a scathing report accusing Beijing of continuing to trample basic freedoms despite its pledges of progress. "China attaches great importance to human rights. China's remarkable achievements in the area of human rights are recognised by all," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said when asked about the Human Rights Watch study. HRW said Tuesday that Beijing had failed to live up to a 2009 "national human rights action plan" which promised to protect a range of political and civil freedoms, as well as the rights of ethnic minorities.

Instead, "the government has systematically continued to violate many of the most basic rights the document addresses," the New York-based group said. China has "sentenced high-profile dissidents to lengthy prison terms on spurious state secrets or 'subversion' charges, expanded restrictions on media and Internet freedom and tightened controls on lawyers, human rights defenders, and nongovernmental organisations," it said. It also "broadened controls on Uighurs and Tibetans, and engaged in increasing numbers of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, including in secret, unlawful detention facilities known as 'black jails'."

The report also noted that an angry China responded to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed democracy writer Liu Xiaobo with "a wave of repression against perceived dissent." When asked Thursday about the whereabouts of missing human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who disappeared in April 2010, the foreign ministry spokesman said: "I do not have any information about his situation." Gao -- who defended some of China's most vulnerable people including Christians and coal miners -- vanished in February 2009, sparking global concern. He reappeared only in March last year when he was apparently released by police, speaking with a few friends and colleagues, many of whom reported that he continued to be tailed by authorities and was in ill-health. A month later, Gao disappeared again and has not been heard from since.
by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) Jan 12, 2011
A US investment management firm has divested of its holdings in Cisco, accusing the networking giant of failing to respond to human rights concerns, particularly in China, and lacking transparency.

Boston Common Asset Management cited Cisco's marketing of equipment to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security among the reasons for its decision to sell its stock in the San Jose, California-based company.

"Boston Common's decision to divest comes after years of campaigning Cisco for greater transparency and accountability on key human rights and business development concerns," Boston Common's Dawn Wolfe said in a statement.

"Politically and socially repressive policies related to speech and privacy has a chilling effect on users and violates universally recognized human rights," she said. "When pressed for details on how Cisco addresses these risks, they come up short."

Founded eight years ago, Boston Common pursues an investment strategy for its clients involving "rigorous analysis of financial, environmental, social, and governance factors."

Following last year's Gulf oil spill, Boston Common, which currently has $1.4 billion under management, divested of its holdings in BP.

As of September 30, Boston Common held some 167,000 shares of Cisco stock worth $3.6 million.

Boston Common also accused Cisco of "deceptive vote tallying" on a proxy item submitted at the company's 2010 annual shareholders meeting in November.

Boston Common's proposal said that Cisco, in 1998, "was selected as a key supplier for building China's nationwide IP backbone, which has been called 'the Great Firewall of China.'"

It said that a 2002 Cisco document publicly leaked in 2008 "made clear that Cisco engineers were aware of the Chinese government's repressive censorship and surveillance agenda and may have regarded this as a business opportunity."

Boston Common sought shareholder approval for a motion calling on Cisco to publish a report listing "concrete steps the company could reasonably take to reduce the likelihood that its business practices might enable or encourage the violation of human rights."

Cisco recommended shareholders reject the proposal and said its "business practices are designed to and strive to promote, among other things, freedom of expression, privacy and other fundamental personal freedoms.

"With respect to Internet freedom, we have clearly stated our policies: Cisco does not customize, or develop specialized or unique filtering capabilities, in order to enable different regimes to block access to information; Cisco sells the same equipment worldwide," it said.

Cisco denied the charge it manipulated the proxy vote.

"Boston Common is inaccurate in its assessment regarding the vote tally of the shareholder sponsored proposals," a Cisco spokeswoman told AFP.

"Cisco disclosed the voting results for all proposals during the annual meeting using a consistent methodology based on the percentage of shares voted," she said

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Chinese artist says Shanghai studio demolished
Shanghai (AFP) Jan 12, 2011
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said Wednesday authorities had swiftly demolished his newly built Shanghai studio without warning, in a move he said was linked to his political activism. The 53-year-old Ai, one of China's most famous and controversial artists, said the demolition began before dawn on Tuesday, without any prior notification. "I didn't expect it to happen so quickly, although I k ... read more

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