Tue, Apr 24, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Once-acclaimed activist jailed by Chinese authorities

AGENCIES , BEIJING AND SHANGHAI

Chinese police have detained an environmental activist who was once praised for his efforts to save the country's third-largest freshwater lake, his wife said yesterday, in the latest government crackdown on dissent.

Wu Lihong was detained on April 13 by police in Yixing, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, accused of extortion and blackmail, Xu Jiehua said.

Wu, 39, a salesman-turned-activist, had reported worsening pollution at the Tai Lake from chemical factories to local environmental departments and the media.

His efforts upset local authorities who benefited from the high profits and taxes paid by the offending factories, Xu said.

"He has been accused of blackmail," Xu said. "More than 10 plainclothes police officers broke through our door at night and took him away. This is the 10th day he remains in police custody."

"Not until one the next morning did these people tell me that they were police and told me that my husband had been detained," she said. "The accusations are totally groundless. All my husband did was try to save the environment and make more people aware of the situation at the lake."

Tai Lake, with an area of 2,420km2 and a coastline of 400km, straddles the border of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and is home to more than 60 kinds of fish and other aquatic life.

In 2005, Wu was a candidate in a national campaign to name 10 people who "moved China" in their services to society.

Local police were not immediately available for comment.

Detention and harassment of activists is not uncommon in China.

Last year, a court in Zhejiang sentenced an environmental activist to a year and a half in prison for "illegally obtaining state secrets."

Gao Yaojie (高耀潔), a 79-year-old AIDS activist, accused the local government in Henan Province yesterday of putting her under secret surveillance after she returned from the US where she received a human rights award.

"I would rather die so I can save the government the money they are spending on spying on me," Gao said.

Confirmation or comment from the local government was not immediately available.

Gao received the Vital Voices Global Women's Leadership Award for Human Rights in March for helping bring to light official complicity in the spread of AIDS in Henan where thousands of poor farmers were infected in blood-selling schemes in the 1990s.

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