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China Rounds up Dissidents as President Obama Touches Down in Beijing

November 18, 2009

by Jane Macartney in Beijing
The Times Online (UK)
November 16, 2009

Chinese officials have rounded up dozens of
Beijings's tiny coterie of activists and
petitioners in case any dissident tries to
approach President Obama, who arrived in the city today.

The arrests continued to gather momentum even as
Mr Obama told an unprecedented
question-and-answer session with Shanghai
students that freedom of information and
expression were vital for a stronger, more creative society.

Among those detained was Qi Zhiyong, a dissident
who lost a leg during the crackdown on the
student-led protests in Tiananamen Square in
1989. He said that he had been held for trying to
organise a human rights seminar on November 9 in
a Beijing park. He and fellow organisers had
planned for the seminar to last until the end of President Obama's visit.

He had applied to police to stage a protest
during Mr Obama's visit "to press him to pay
attention to human rights in China, people's
livelihoods and the relatives of jailed people,
as he comes only to talk about climate change".

Mr Qi said he was being held in the Beijing
suburbs and had been charged with unlawful
assembly and disturbing the social order.

Mr Obama set foot on Beijing soil several hours
ago after Air Force One touched down in the city.
White House officials have said that the issue of
human rights will be on the table when he sits
down with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, in
Beijing's Great Hall of the People tomorrow.

Faced with such pressing priorities as climate
change, the value of China's currency, trade
disagreements and how to deal with nuclear-armed
North Korea, however, the fate of dissidents such
as the detained writer and democracy proponent
Liu Xiaobo is likely to be left on the backburner.

Also detained was the activist Zhao Lianhai, who
attracted the attention of the authorities last
year when he organised an online support group
for parents of the thousands of children who fell
sick after being fed tainted milk powder last year.

The activist group Human Rights in China said
that Mr Zhao was handcuffed and taken from his
home late on Friday night by police officers who
searched his house and took away computers, a
video recorder, a camera and an address book.
When he refused to go with them, because the
summons did not state a cause, the police filled
in a summons for "provoking an incident".

Chen Jianfang, a petitioner from Shanghai who
travelled to Beijing with 200 others, said that
the group wanted to welcome Mr Obama and to draw
his attention to human rights violations in
China. She said that several dozen of her
companions were rounded up by Beijing police when
they arrived at the government's petition office today.

She said: "They are detaining people everywhere,
even if they are only petitioning normally at the
state petition office and are not holding any banners or shouting any slogans."

China's traditionally paranoid security
authorities have a long history of detaining
dissidents to prevent any encounters with visiting US leaders.

In February 1989 police stopped China's then most
prominent dissident, the astrophysicist Fang
Lizhi, as he and his wife were on theri way to a
Texas-style barbecue dinner as guests of visiting
President George Bush. They were stopped several
blocks from the banquet and told that they were not on the guest list.
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