Wed, Sep 05, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Activist arrested for protest letter about Beijing Olympics

AFP , BEIJING

China has arrested an activist who gathered 10,000 signatures for an open letter spurning the Beijing Olympics and demanding human rights, a rights group and a dissident said yesterday.

Yang Chunlin (楊春林) was arrested in Heilongjiang Province on July 6 and charged on Monday with trying to subvert state power, a statement by a loose coalition of activists known as the China Human Rights Defenders said.

Veteran dissident Hu Jia (胡佳) said the arrest was part of a government crackdown to "clear up" politically sensitive cases ahead of next year's Beijing Games.

"Right now I'm helping Yang Chunlin to hire a lawyer," Hu said by phone from the Beijing home where he lives under tight police control.

"The authorities have threatened Yang's family and relatives Yang's wife dares not speak to anyone because of the threats," Hu said.

China Human Rights Defenders said Yang's arrest was linked to an open letter entitled "We Want Human Rights, Not The Olympics," which was signed by more than 10,000 people.

Yang had been helping the farmers seek legal redress over the loss of their farmland due to land expropriation, it said.

Land confiscation has become a hot social issue in China, with citizens routinely accusing local officials of colluding with land developers in lucrative real estate deals that begin with government-backed land acquisitions.

Rights activists say large numbers of Beijing residents have been forced from their homes by Olympics-related construction projects.

The rights group said that Yang's arrest was "alarming" and expressed shock at the willingness of the government to make opposition to the Olympics "a political crime."

"The China Human Rights Defenders condemn the arrest of Yang Chunlin on suspicion of subversion because he dissented from the official line on the Olympics," the group's statement said.

"The direct involvement of the Ministry of Public Security in ordering Yang's arrest, and the subversion charge against him, point to the nervousness and political sensitivity with which the government views efforts to link the Olympics and human rights," it said.

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