Crackdown on China's activists escalates ahead of 60th anniversary
Chinese authorities have increased surveillance, harassment and imprisonment of activists ahead of the country’s 60th anniversary on Thursday, Amnesty International has said. The organization estimates that several hundred activists and dissidents are under various kinds of surveillance or house arrest and thousands of petitioners are being swept out of Beijing. "The Chinese government wants to celebrate the country's success while ensuring that no dissenting view or complaint is heard," said Roseann Rife, director of Amnesty International's Asia Pacific programme. "As a result, what the Chinese government is highlighting is its own fear of giving the Chinese people a real voice to talk about the reality of their lives, good and bad." Petitioners seek justice directly by presenting their cases to central authorities in Beijing after failing to redress their grievances locally. The crackdown is to prevent activists from raising human rights concerns that challenge the authorities' image of social harmony, Amnesty International said. The organization has continued to receive reports that many are being kept in “black jails” and other informal detention facilities outside Beijing. In the past few weeks, the authorities have also increased their surveillance of petitioners, human rights activists, religious practitioners and ethnic minorities. This is being done to ensure that they do not raise human rights issues and complaints in any forums during the National Day celebrations. Chinese media reported on 25 September that local authorities were told by the central government departments that manage petitioners - the State Bureau for Letters and Visits and the Public Security Bureau - that they should review their records and keep anyone who has filed a petition under local surveillance during this time period. Beijing authorities regularly forcibly return petitioners to their hometowns before major events or celebrations as they believe petitioners would reflect badly on the country's international public image. “We call on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally lift all restrictions on human rights activists and release all prisoners of conscience across the country,” said Roseann Rife. Amnesty International recently recorded the following incidents: Zeng Jinyan, wife of imprisoned human rights activists Hu Jia, was asked by authorities to leave Beijing on 25 September and not to return until after 10 October. Zeng Jinyan has been under tight surveillance since her husband was imprisoned in April 2008, effectively halting much of the couple’s human rights work. On 23 September, police informed the lawyer of detained human rights activist Liu Xiaobo that his client had to remain in detention for further investigation of suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power". Liu Xiaobo was seized from his home in Beijing by the police on 8 December 2008, two days before he was due to launch Charter 08, a blueprint for legal and political reform in China. In mid September, several Beijing activists were forced to leave the city. Those included former political prisoner and China Democratic Party member Gao Hongming, housing rights activist Wang Ling, who was sent to Re-education Through Labour during the 2008 Olympics, and pro-democracy activist Qi Zhiyong who was left disabled from a gunshot injury during the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. Since 22 September, Tian Qizhuang, a director of the Open Constitution Initiative (OCI), has not been seen by his family. On 24 September, he called his son explaining he is under police surveillance and asking him to prepare some clothes for him. OCI Founder Xu Zhiyong remains under surveillance and the organization’s finance secretary Zhuang Lu has had only limited contact with her immediate family since her release on 23 August.