Sat, Feb 25, 2006 - Page 5 News List

PRC rounds up hunger strikers

DETENTIONS Activists say that police are cracking down on hunger strikers across the country who have been protesting about violence perpetrated on dissenting voices

AP , BEIJING

Chinese police have launched a nationwide roundup of activists who are on a hunger strike to protest official violence against dissidents, their relatives and other activists said yesterday.

Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), an activist Beijing lawyer who launched the hunger strike this month, said dozens of people in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities have taken part, fasting for 24 to 48 hours at a time.

Over the past two weeks, at least a dozen have been detained and two have not been heard from in more than a week, Gao said. He said some were released with a warning not to be involved with the protest or with him.

Those reportedly detained include some of China's most prominent remaining pro-democracy and AIDS activists.

Their success in organizing such a nationwide protest is highly unusual at a time when nearly all of China's leading dissidents have been jailed or driven into exile by the communist government.

According to Gao, one detainee was Yu Zhijian (余志堅), who spent 11 years in prison for throwing paint on Mao Zedong's (毛澤東) portrait overlooking Beijing's Tiananmen Square during pro-democracy protests in 1989.

Gao has defended dissidents and members of the banned Falun Gong movement in court and also is known for sending open letters to Chinese leaders criticizing the government.

Gao said he began the hunger strike after activist Guo Feixiong (郭飛雄) was beaten Feb. 3 outside a police station in the southern province of Guangdong.

Guo, who is also known as Yang Maodong, helped residents of the Guangdong village of Taishi in a campaign to unseat officials accused of corruption. Gao said a lawyer who was a friend of Guo, Tang Jingling (唐荊陵), was beaten on Feb. 1.

Gao also cited an attack on Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), a blind activist in the eastern province of Shandong, who helps to defend people who have been forced to undergo abortions or sterilizations under China's strict birth-control policies.

Gao says the attacks were carried out by plainclothes police or men hired by the government.

Yu Zhijian was arrested Feb. 18 in the southern city of Changsha, said Qin Zhao, who joined Yu in the hunger strike. The Paris-based free press group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement yesterday that the former school teacher had been charged with subversion.

A woman who answered the telephone at the police headquarters in Changsha said that she had no information about the arrest of anyone named Yu Zhijian. She would only give her surname, Li.

Hu Jia (胡佳), a 31-year-old AIDS activist, has not been heard from since Feb. 16 and possibly has been detained, according to Gao.

Hu's wife, who asked that her name not be printed, said Hu staged a 24-hour hunger strike on Feb. 6 and was placed under house arrest on Feb. 11, with police guarding their apartment around the clock.

Hu's wife said that she last saw him when she left for work on the morning of Feb. 16. She said she has filed a missing persons report with police but has had no news.

Song Jie, a spokeswoman for the Liulitun police station in Hu's eastern Beijing neighborhood where his wife said the report was filed, said she didn't know of any such case.

Wan Yanhai (萬延海), an AIDS activist, said Hu came to a meeting of an AIDS group on Feb. 15 accompanied by plainclothes police. Wan said the police let Hu collect some paperwork but then made him leave.

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