Thu, Feb 24, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Group renews call for rallies in China

CHINESE JASMINE?An appeal for ‘strolling’ protests every Sunday appears to set the stage for a protracted bid for change, although police have outnumbered protesters

AFP, BEIJING

An online campaign has urged people in 13 Chinese cities to rally every Sunday to press for government transparency and free expression, following a call last week for Middle East-style protests.

The new call, posted this week on the overseas-based Web site Boxun.com, appeared to be from the same group behind a mysterious Web campaign for protests last Sunday echoing those rocking the Arab world.

That earlier call to action sparked a heavy police turnout at designated protest sites in Beijing and other cities. They appeared lightly attended, however, and free of major incident.

“What we need to do now is to put pressure on the Chinese ruling party,” the renewed appeal said. “If the party does not conscientiously fight corruption and accept the supervision of the people, then will it please exit the stage of history.”

Apparently attempting to make a statement without falling foul of China’s security forces, participants were urged not to take any overt action, but encouraged to merely show up for the 2pm “strolling” protests.

“We invite every participant to stroll, watch, or even just pretend to pass by. As long as you are present, the authoritarian government will be shaking with fear,” it said.

China’s government has indicated growing unease over the wave of Middle East unrest, heavily censoring or blocking media reports and online discussion of the upheaval, which has toppled presidents in Tunisia and Egypt.

The call for weekly “Jasmine rallies” — a reference to Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” — was labeled as an “open letter” to China’s rubber-stamp parliament.

The National People’s Congress is scheduled to open its annual session on March 5.

The online appeal appeared to set the stage for a protracted, but low-pressure bid to push the Chinese Communist Party for change, using the heavily policed Internet and word-of-mouth to get the message out.

The letter echoed a number of the Arab grievances, including anger over government corruption, a lack of transparency and official accountability, and the stifling of freedom of expression.

“If the government is not sincere about solving the problems, but only wants to censor the Internet and block information to suppress the protests, the protests will only get stronger,” it said.

Police turned out in force at the gathering site in central Beijing on Sunday, but there were no overt demonstrations.

At least two people were seen being taken away by police, one for cursing at authorities and another who shouted: “I want food to eat!”

No mention of the new protest call could immediately be seen circulating on China-based Web sites or blogs.

Other cities covered under the new call range from Harbin in the far northeast to Guangzhou in the south.

Chinese authorities have so far detained two people for spreading the earlier protest appeal on the Internet, while another was in custody after making public statements at a demonstration site in Harbin, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.

Human rights campaigners say police have taken away at least 100 activists or rights lawyers amid official unease after the Middle East problems and as authorities tighten security for the parliament session.

US-based Human Rights Watch on Tuesday criticized the crackdown and in particular the disappearance of three noted Beijing-based human rights lawyers — Teng Biao (滕彪), Tang Jitian (唐吉田) and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇).

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