Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Human Rights Crackdown in China

Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans frontières

13 August 2008

Crackdown continues for Chinese human rights
activists, with no Olympic truce during games

The start of the Olympic Games has done nothing
to help Chinese human rights activists, who
continue to be arrested, watched or threatened.
At the same time, incidents involving foreign
journalists, including an attack today on a
British TV reporter working for ITN, shows that
the security services are still preventing the
foreign press from working freely.

To illustrate this, Reporters Without Borders
today offers the comments of a foreign reporter
about surveillance and harassment by the Chinese

"In view of the many incidents, we call on the
International Olympic Committee to intercede on
behalf of the Chinese citizens who are in danger
because of the position they have taken during
the Olympic Games," Reporters Without Borders

"It is the duty of the Olympic movement in its
entirety to ensure respect for the spirit of the
Olympic truce," the organisation added. "Since
the origins of the Olympics, tradition has
required that peace should prevail during the

The IOC website has this to say about the Olympic
truce in ancient Greece: "During the truce
period, the athletes, artists and their families,
as well as ordinary pilgrims, could travel in
total safety to participate in or attend the
Olympic Games and return afterwards to their
respective countries. (...) The International
Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to revive the
ancient concept of the Olympic Truce with the
view (...) to encourage searching for peaceful
and diplomatic solutions to the conflicts around
the world."

John Ray of the British television news service
ITN was today covering a protest by several
foreign activists who unfurled a pro-Tibet banner
near Beijing's main Olympic zone, when he was
arrested by police, dragged along the ground and
forcibly restrained for about 20 minutes although
he identified himself as a journalist. "This was
an assault in my mind, I am incredibly angry
about this," Ray told Agence France Presse.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC)
says there have been five incidents since 7
August. In one of these incidents, police
arrested two Associated Press reporters in the
northwestern province of Xinjiang and erased the
photos they had taken. One of them was arrested
while watching the opening ceremony on TV. Two
Scandinavian journalists were prevented from
interviewing peasants in Hebei province about the
impact of the games on their activities.

A European journalist who has been working in
Beijing for several years has given Reporters
Without Borders a gripping description of what it
is like for her and her colleagues in Beijing,
and the risks run by Chinese who dare to speak to
the foreign press.

"They don't stop following me, filming me and
photographing me," she said. "I think twice
before interviewing Chinese about sensitive
issues for fear that they could be arrested (...)
Last week several Chinese were arrested after
giving me interviews. Firstly, people living in
the Qianmen district that is in the process of
being renovated. They included a woman in charge
of an association of evicted residents who sued
the government for not paying them enough
compensation. The trial began in July but was
postponed because of the Olympics. I interviewed
her, as other journalists did. Since then she has
been detained.

"The same thing happened with the pastor of an
unrecognised church. Finally, a British woman of
Tibetan origin was arrested and expelled after
giving me an interview. Under these
circumstances, we are all forced to censor
ourselves and to refuse to interview certain
Chinese for fear of their being immediately
arrested. We are all in this situation of
intimidation, which makes it very hard for us to
work in China, despite the overall improvements.

"What's more, the official media have not stopped
attacking us since last March's events in Tibet.
In addition to the death threats received by
dozens of foreign journalists, the Chinese media
try to undermine our credibility. And all of this
gained pace in the run-up to the games."

She is right about Chinese being arrested for
talking to the foreign media. Zhang Wei, a former
resident of the Beijing district of Qianmen, was
arrested on 9 August after filing a request for
permission to protest about her family's eviction
two years ago to make way for Olympic
construction. The Associated Press quotes her son
as saying she is to be held for a month for
"disrupting the social order." The Public
Security Bureau said it was looking at her case
and had no other comment to make.

Other Chinese are being hounded by the
authorities, who fear they could protest during
the games. There has been no news since 7 August
of Zeng Jinyan, the wife of imprisoned activist
Hu Jia, and their seven-month-old daughter. Her
mother in law said to several Chinese-language
news outlets say she may has been forced her to
leave the capital. She had been under permanent
police surveillance for several years in the
"Freedom" residential area where she lives.

Some Beijing intellectuals such as Liu Xiaobo and
Yu Jie have not been detained, but are under
police surveillance. Wan Yanhai, the head of an
NGO that cares for AIDS sufferers, chose to leave
Beijing during the games to avoid being harassed
by the police.

Hua Huiqi, the head of an unrecognised protestant
church, was arrested in Beijing on 9 August while
on his way to a church service that was attended
by US President George W. Bush. His brother -
arrested at the same time but freed a few hours
later - says he has had no news of Hua since
then. The police deny ever arresting Hua and
claim they had no role in his disappearance.
Human Rights in China meanwhile says it got a
short letter in which Hua apparently recounts his
arrest and subsequent escape.

Ji Sizun, a human rights activist form Fujian
province, was arrested on 11 August for filing a
request several days earlier for permission to
demonstrate in one for the areas designated by
the Beijing authorities for protests. Human
Rights Watch says Ji wanted to organise a rally
to protest against corruption and to call for
more citizen participation in government

According to HRW, several other Chinese have been
arrested or threatened for filing demonstration
requests. They include relatives of children
killed in the collapse of "tofu" (shoddily-built)
schools in the May earthquake in Sichuan. The
Washington Post reports that families were
prevent from boarding flights in the Sichuan
capital of Chengdu.

Several members of the outlawed China Democracy
Party were arrested in the days preceding the
games opening ceremony. According to Chinese
Human Rights Defenders, Xie Changfa of Hunan
province was arrested on 2 August, while Wang
Rongqing, 65, of Zhejiang province was arrested
on 31 July. They have been charged with inciting
subversion of state authority.

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