Sat, Dec 25, 2004 - Page 5 News List

China detains activist for reporting on farmers' riot

AFP , BEIJING

China has detained a farmers' rights advocate who investigated an ethnic clash in central China and reported his findings to foreign media, a rights group said yesterday.

Li Guozhu, 48, was taken away in early November after his clandestine trip to Zhongmou county, Henan Province, where the unrest occurred, international rights group Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

According to the Chinese government, seven people were killed and 42 injured in clashes in late October which local residents said erupted following a traffic dispute between Hui Muslim minorities and Han Chinese.

Armed police imposed martial law in the rural area and prevented journalists from entering. A media blackout also was enforced.

Li, a former prison officer in northeastern Heilongjiang Province, managed to enter villages where the violence occurred and sent copies of his interviews with residents and photographs of damage from the riots to foreign journalists.

Li reported a much higher death toll of 28, more in line with farmers' claims that as many as 20 people lost their lives.

On Nov. 12, after Li returned to Beijing, eight police officers went to the office of a grass-roots farmers' rights group where he worked as a volunteer and questioned him. He was then detained.

On Dec. 2 Li's wife, who had not been able to obtain information about her husband's status and whereabouts, traveled to Beijing from their home in Heilongjiang to seek information, but was detained and then sent home.

Niether Li nor his wife could be reached yesterday.

Beijing police refused to comment.

Li's detention is the latest in a series of recent cases here in which journalists and rights activists have been arrested, detained for questioning or warned against voicing liberal, critical views.

Human Rights Watch said Li's detention appeared to be part of a widening crackdown on both intellectuals and rights advocates in China.

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