Chinese activists fear Olympic ‘holidays’
Li Fangping, a defense lawyer for two of China’s well-known human rights cases, expects to be under 24-hour police surveillance during next month’s Olympic Games.
“I will definitely have my freedom restricted,” Li says. “But I could also be placed under illegal house arrest, or taken outside of the city to a remote holiday resort and completely deprived of my rights.”
Another lawyer, Zhang Xingshui, says that could happen to him, too. During President Bush’s visit to China in 2005, Zhang says, he “was kidnapped by the police for seven days” and held in a Beijing hotel without access to a telephone.
“I hope the government will not take me away again during the Olympics, but it might happen,” says Zhang, who hopes to catch the China-USA basketball matchup for a medal.
Lawyers and human rights activists are concerned China will silence outspoken citizens to project Beijing’s Olympic theme of “harmony” when the world tunes in to watch Aug. 8-24.
International PEN, a human rights group, issued a report this week saying, “The climate for freedom of expression in China has measurably deteriorated over the past year.” PEN is following the cases of 44 writers and journalists imprisoned in China for speaking out.
Two cases that have received much publicity involve Chen Guangcheng, a blind legal adviser serving more than four years in prison for his role in exposing forced abortions in Shandong province, and Hu Jia, a rights activist sentenced last year after months of house arrest to 31/2 years for “inciting subversion of state power.”
“Police surveillance also extends to their families, as their wives are very tightly monitored to stop them from similar activism,” Amnesty International’s Mark Allison says.
Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, says forced “holidays” are becoming increasingly common.
He estimates “three to four dozen” activists in Beijing will face the tightest supervision.
“The objective is preventing embarrassing news or information from reaching the outside,” he says. “Silencing and intimidating critical voices is a clear violation of China’s promises at the time of the Olympic bid.”
Beijing Olympic spokesman Sun Weide declined to comment on whether police plan to target certain Beijingers.
“The preparations for the Olympic Games have promoted social and economic development in Beijing, including the human rights situation,” he said. “They have created millions of jobs and transformed the Chinese capital. Air quality has been improving for nine consecutive years, and our bus and subway fares are among the lowest in the world. The Olympics have made a great difference.”
AIDS activist Wan Yanhai has already left town.
“In August, Beijing will become a kind of army camp, so I don’t want to stay,” says Wan, who lobbies for the rights of China’s HIV patients.
Wan says police in Beijing and in Henan province “have been investigating me for months to see if I am involved in any Olympic protests.”
Fellow activist Lu Jun is undecided. Lu campaigns for millions of Chinese with Hepatitis B who often face discrimination at work or at school. Lu says he was detained in recent days, and his organization’s website was shut down in May. “I want to be in Beijing. I want to call for our website to be reopened during the Olympics. But on the other hand, I am afraid I will be arrested if I stay. Many of my friends have previously been taken to resorts in the suburbs,” he says.
Li, the defense lawyer, says the Olympics “is a test for the rule of law and human rights in China.” He was among a group of Chinese human rights lawyers who were detained to prevent them from attending a dinner June 29 hosted by two U.S. congressmen in Beijing — Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Frank Wolf, R-Va.
Zhang, the other lawyer, says he supports the government and hosting the Olympics, but “because I have defended religious cases, and the government consider religion and freedom of speech to be so sensitive, they worry about negative impact if I meet foreign politicians or other people.”