Mon, Feb 21, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Arrests made in China amid online protest calls

BLOCKING UNREST:Several prominent human rights lawyers have been detained, while references to the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ on the Internet have been blocked

AFP and AP, BEIJING

A man arrested by police gestures in front of the Peace Cinema in Shanghai yesterday, where Internet social networks were calling to join a “Jasmine Revolution” protest.

Photo: Reuters

Several top Chinese rights activists have disappeared into police custody as a Web campaign urged angry citizens to mark the Middle East’s “Jasmine Revolution” with protests, campaigners said yesterday.

More than 100 activists in cities across China were taken away by police, confined to their homes or were missing, the Hong Kong-based group Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.

“We welcome ... laid off workers and victims of forced evictions to participate in demonstrations, shout slogans and seek freedom, democracy and political reform to end ‘one-party rule,’” one Internet posting said.

The source of the call was not known and many activists seemed not to know what to make of it, even as they spread the word. They said they were unaware of any known group being involved in the request for citizens to gather in 13 cities and shout: “We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness and long live democracy.”

The postings, many of which appeared to have originated on overseas Web sites run by exiled Chinese political activists, called for protests in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and 10 other major cities.

As the word spread on the demonstrations, numerous political dissidents and rights lawyers were placed in police custody, activists said.

“Many rights defenders have disappeared [into police custody] in recent days, others are under house arrest and their mobile phones are blocked,” rights attorney Ni Yulan (倪玉蘭) said.

“The police detachment outside my door has increased. They follow us if we go out,” Ni said of the surveillance on her and her husband.

Telephone calls to prominent rights lawyers including Teng Biao (滕彪), Xu Zhiyong (許志永) and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) went unanswered yesterday. Friends and other activists said they had been detained by police.

Police pulled Jiang into a car and drove away, his wife said, telling reporters by telephone on Saturday night that she was still waiting for more information.

Chinese authorities have sought to restrict media reports on the recent political turmoil that began in Tunisia as the “Jasmine Revolution” and spread to Egypt and across the Middle East.

Yesterday, searches for “jasmine” were blocked on China’s largest Twitter-like microblog Weibo, and status updates with the word on popular Chinese social networking site Renren.com were met with an error message and a warning to refrain from postings with “political, sensitive ... or other inappropriate content.” Messages on the popular Baidu search engine said that because of laws and regulations, such results were unavailable. Some Chinese Internet search pages listed “jasmine” postings, but links to them were blocked.

Mass text messaging service was unavailable in Beijing due to “technical issues,” according to a customer service operator for leading provider China Mobile.

On Beijing’s busy Wangfujing pedestrian mall, where protesters were told to rally in front of a McDonald’s restaurant, there was a heavier-than-normal police presence amid the crowds of shoppers.

Along with uniformed police and “public security volunteers” wearing red armbands, plainclothes officers monitored the crowd with video and still cameras. A police surveillance van was parked across the street from the restaurant.

At least two people were seen being taken away by police, one for cursing at the authorities and another person who was shouting: “I want food to eat.”

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