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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Shao Jiang: China remains a land of torture and repression

May 2, 2008
Thursday, 1 May 2008

As the Olympic torch heads up Everest on the next phase of its troubled
journey next week, it is almost certain to attract more protests as it
gets closer to Tibet.

But peaceful demonstrations must go ahead: what's becoming clear is that
the real opportunity to protest against the Chinese government's
treatment of its people will be from outside the country. The
authorities are gradually strangling dissent within China to ensure that
the Games in August go off without any embarrassing protests.

The crackdown on human rights activists in China has intensified in the
last nine months. It has never been easy for people to speak out about
issues like political freedom, the death penalty, HIV/AIDS, land grabs,
or the environment – I know this from personal experience – but if
anything, things are getting worse.

Back in 1989 in Beijing I helped organise the pro-democracy protests in
Tiananmen Square. We held public discussions around sensitive political
issues. After the Tiananmen massacre, I was arrested and held in prison
for 18 months, followed by repeated harassment and detention. But I was
still one of the lucky ones.

Many of the participants were killed – their relatives built the network
called the "Tiananmen Mothers". Many are still in prison, among whom is
Hu Shigen, a lecturer at Beijing Language Institute, who was sentenced
to 20 years in prison in 1992 for commemoration of 4 June victims. I
escaped in 1997 and now live in the UK, where I'm free to protest at
China's human rights record; a right I exercised, peacefully, when the
Olympic torch came to London.

But the situation for those I left behind is quite different. An Amnesty
report earlier this month spelled it out: "Much of the current wave of
repression is occurring not in spite of the Olympics, but actually
because of the Olympics". Dissenters are targeted and silenced. Anyone
making direct connections between human rights abuses and China's
hosting of the Olympics is treated particularly harshly.

Ye Guozhu is serving a four-year sentence after he applied for
permission to hold a demonstration about forced evictions in Beijing. He
has reportedly been tortured with electro-shock batons in prison. Wang
Ling, his associate, had also campaigned publicly after she lost her
property as a result of Olympic construction. She was recently thrown
into a "Re-education through Labour" camp for 15 months, where
conditions are notoriously harsh. We got a clear hint as to what
conditions will be like during the Games when the Ministry of Public
Security held a press conference in November 2007 to lay down the law
about public protests. Anyone wishing to hold assemblies, parades and
demonstrations during the Olympics, they announced, would have to comply
with the law – including an obligation to apply for permission in
advance. As Ye Guozhu's case shows, such permission is almost never
granted. And the consequences for those who try to protest peacefully
can be dire.

In March this year, Yang Chunlin was sentenced to five years in prison
for "inciting subversion" following his "We don't want the Olympics; we
want human rights" campaign, which was meant to defend peasant rights
from land seizures by developers and officials. It's reported that he
was tortured in police detention: for seven days in August and September
2007, his arms and legs were stretched and chained to the four corners
of an iron bed so that he couldn't move. He was forced to eat, drink and
defecate in that position. On 3 April, human rights activist Hu Jia was
sentenced to three and a half years in prison for "inciting subversion
of state power" when he spoke up for imprisoned civil rights lawyers.
Earlier this year more activists were detained or put under surveillance
and there were broad police sweeps of petitioners, vagrants, beggars and
other "undesirables" in Beijing, ahead of the National People's
Congress. The Party likes its big events to go smoothly; no one is going
to be allowed to get in the way. And there is no bigger event than the
Beijing Olympics.

Recent events in Tibet highlighted the situation yet more clearly. The
crackdown on the peaceful protests of 10 March and what followed –
violence from the police and the army, mass arrests, "wanted lists" of
protesters posted online – showed that the authorities' attitude to
peaceful demonstrators hasn't moved on much in 19 years. But they have
learned to keep the media away.

Amnesty releases the first of four online animated films today,
highlighting the crackdown on peaceful protests in China and asking
people here to join its "Human Rights For China" campaign. Campaigning
techniques have moved on considerably from our 1989 protest camp. Sadly
the attitude of the Chinese authorities to peaceful protest has barely
moved an inch.
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