Fri, Nov 10, 2017 - Page 5 News List

House arrest for dissenters while Trump is in Beijing

The Guardian, BEIJING

Li Wenzu protests in front of the Chinese Supreme People’s Procuratorate in Beijing on July 7.

Photo: Reuters

On day one of US President Donald Trump’s “state visit-plus” to China he was treated to a tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing, a night at the opera and an intimate dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).

“Beyond terrific,” he boasted.

Li Wenzu (李文足) got a loud knock at the door from a man claiming to represent the domestic security agency tasked with suppressing political dissent.

“The US president is in town,” the 32-year-old mother-of-one said she was informed by the agent. “Do not go anywhere … you must cooperate with our work.”

Li is the wife of Wang Quanzhang, (王全璋) a crusading human rights lawyer whom she has not seen since the summer of 2015, when he was spirited into secret detention during a roundup of attorneys and activists known as Xi’s “war on law.”

With China’s leader out to impress his US guest, Li and dissidents like her said they have been placed under house arrest or heavy surveillance in a bid to stop them from spoiling the show.

“[The authorities] are afraid of us meeting with foreign leaders, of our stories being heard by people all over the world and of the truth being uncovered,” she said by telephone yesterday morning as Xi rolled out the red carpet for Trump in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

After the knock on her door at about 7am on Wednesday, Li said about a dozen plainclothes agents had camped outside her apartment in west Beijing.

When she tried to go out with her young son, she said one group member “pushed me with his body and prevented us from going.”

“Shame on him!” Li said. “Just think about it, I don’t have the right to go anywhere in the country. It is ridiculous. I felt so powerless.”

Beijing-based activist He Depu (何德普) told Radio Free Asia, a US-backed broadcaster, that other activists were also feeling the pinch because of Trump’s arrival.

“All political dissidents are under surveillance right now,” he said.

Peter Dahlin, a Swedish human rights campaigner who was expelled from China last year after 23 days in secret detention, said that authorities saw Li — who has campaigned relentlessly on behalf of her imprisoned husband — as a “constant thorn in their side.”

He called her treatment “unusual even for China” and symptomatic of a wider breakdown in the rule of law under Xi.

Dahlin, a friend of Li’s husband, said that Wang had spent so long in secret detention that “at one point people were seriously wondering if he was even alive any more.”

Wang is now thought to be behind bars in Tianjin.

Trump has enraged human rights activists by courting China’s authoritarian leader despite what they call the government’s worst crackdown in decades.

Trump has called Xi a friend and recently praised his “extraordinary elevation” and “great political victory” after he was anointed China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong (毛澤東).

On Wednesday, US Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, rejected that description.

“President Xi’s further consolidation of power, in a one-party communist state, was not a political victory. It was a tragedy for human rights advocates, reformers and thousands of political prisoners,” he tweeted.

“I hope [Trump] can show concern for human rights issues in China… He should think carefully about dealing with a country that does not care about human rights and violates the law,” Li said.

“It’s just like when we are making friends, we must first look at the character of the person [we are befriending],” she said.

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