Wed, Aug 31, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Police raid office of human rights group

SURVEILLANCE In advance of a visit to Beijing by the UN high commissioner for human rights, the Chinese police are carefully scrutinizing their own rights activists

AP , BEIJING

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour adjusts her headset prior to speaking yesterday in Beijing. Arbour spoke at the opening of the 13th Annual Workshop of the Framework on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia Pacific.

PHOTO: AFP

Police raided the office of a Chinese human rights group before a visit to Beijing by the UN high commissioner for human rights, the group's director said yesterday.

Police on Monday looked at computers and files at the Empowerment and Rights Institute, which helps farmers and others with complaints against the government, said its founder, Hou Wenzhuo (侯文卓).

Hou said police were watching her home yesterday and she worried that she might be detained in order to prevent her from trying to meet with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour. Hou said she tried to arrange a meeting but hadn't confirmed that it would happen.

"I might be confined and I'm so carefully watched, I don't think I could meet her even if I tried," Hou said by phone.

Arbour spoke yesterday at the opening of a UN human rights conference and met in private with a senior Chinese official, State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan (唐家璇), for about 45 minutes. She declined to comment on the meeting.

Arbour was expected to press for legal reforms meant to clear the way to ratifying a key UN treaty on legal rights.

China routinely detains human rights, religious and other activists in advance of major political events in order to prevent protests or attempts to meet with foreign officials.

Human rights groups criticize China for suppressing religious groups, harassing labor and political activists and enforcing a birth-control policy that limits most urban couples to one child.

Speaking at the UN conference with Arbour, Tang repeated China's insistence that the country's economic growth has improved the basic human rights of its people.

"Every country should choose its own way to promote and protect human rights to meet the fundamental interests of [its] people," said Tang. "There is no uniform standard with regard to national human rights action plans."

Tang said Beijing has "worked hard to promote regional and international human rights cooperation."

Hou's 18-month-old group gives legal information to Chinese farmers and others about such problems as illegal land seizures -- a volatile issue that has prompted widespread protests.

Hou said about a dozen police surrounded her apartment building on Monday but didn't detain her, while others went to her office.

Hou started the group after studying human rights and refugee law at Harvard University Law School and Oxford University. It is supported by the US-based National Endowment for Democracy.

The group has published a manual advising farmers and others of their legal rights and how to deal with Chinese courts, Hou said.

"We're trying to engage farmers and let them know more about their rights," she said.

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