Mon, Jan 28, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Activists' fate shows how Beijing handles dissent


Human rights activists Hu Jia (胡佳) and his wife Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕) recently offered tea to guests with whom they discussed their hopes that the Beijing Olympics would help democratize China.

Now access is barred to their apartment in Bobo Freedom City on the eastern fringes of Beijing and Hu is in jail while Zeng is under house arrest.

On a visit this week, two journalists were questioned and turned away by half a dozen plain clothes officers while security personnel frantically erected crime scene tape to block access to the gate of the compound.

"There has been a security incident and we can't let you pass," said one plain clothes officer. "It is still under investigation so we can't give any details about the incident."

The fate of Hu and Zeng illustrates a widening crackdown on dissent ahead of the summer Olympics, violating promises Beijing made in its winning bid to host the Games, activists say.

Hu, named by Time magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential people, stands accused of incitement to subvert state power, a charge that carries a possible life prison term. He has been denied access to lawyers and refused bail despite health concerns.

"Police said the case concerned state secrets which means they can deny access to a lawyer," Hu's counsel Li Jingsong said on Friday.

"They also said he was a danger to society so he could not be released on bail," Li said.

The arrest of Hu, taken from his home on Dec. 27, has triggered protests from the EU and the US as well as anger from activists inside and outside China.

Beijing lawyer and prominent rights defender Xu Zhiyong (許志永), who lost both legs under the track of a tank during the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, sent an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) criticizing the arrest.

"His voice represents thousands of citizens facing injustice in the country," Hu wrote, according to Reporters Without Borders, the press freedom advocate.

Other activists urged the world to bring pressure to bear on China to respect commitments it made to improve human rights prior to the Olympics.

"We call on free countries, international human rights organizations, and world public opinion to ... press China's government to reinstate respect for human rights, scrupulously abide by the law and fulfil the promises it made," said a petition signed by 57 activists.

China's response has been to deflect criticism from outside the country and tighten the screw at home.

Many intellectuals and activists have been placed under house arrest or had other restrictions imposed in recent weeks, the China Human Rights Defenders said in a report this month.

The group, a network of domestic and foreign activists, said the crackdown was expected to intensify as the Games approached.

Hu Jia, who along with his wife won international recognition for work with AIDS victims, predicted in an interview prior to his detention that there would be a wave of arrests before the Olympics.

In an open letter written with human rights lawyer Teng Biao (滕彪) months before his arrest, Hu said that foreigners would see new skyscrapers, broad streets, welcoming citizens and fabulous stadiums when they visit for the Olympics.

"But that will not be the whole story," he wrote.

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