China arrests leading rights activist
Chinese state security forces have arrested one of the country’s most prominent civil rights activists in an apparent crackdown on dissent ahead of the Olympics.
Hu Jia—who used blogs, webcasts and video to expose human rights abuses—is expected to face charges of inciting subversion of state power, his lawyers said on Saturday.
His formal arrest comes after he was seized by police from an apartment in east Beijing on December 27. In the month since, his wife, Zeng Jinyan, and their two-month-old daughter have been prevented from leaving their home or contacting outsiders.
The case looks certain to cast a cloud over Beijing’s Olympic preparations. The European Union and the United States government have protested against Hu’s detention, and human rights groups have vowed to make him a symbol of China’s abuses.
Because the case has been classified as a “state secret”, the authorities can deny Hu’s right to consult a lawyer, and his trial—which could be up to seven months away—is likely to be held behind closed doors.
Human rights organisations say the authorities are trying to silence critics before the arrival of an expected 30 000 foreign journalists in August.
“The action taken against Hu Jia cannot escape being connected to the Olympics,” the San Francisco-based Duihua Foundation said in a statement.
“From the perspective of the authorities, the opportunity to take this high-profile rights activist out of action in the final months before the Olympics may have been too good to pass up.”
Hu’s lawyer, Li Jinsong, said he believed the case was connected to the Games, but he could not confirm this until he had been allowed to see the charge documents. He had not given up hope of seeing the suspect before the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts next week.
Since starting out as an environmental campaigner and Aids activist, Hu has become one of the most outspoken critics of China’s human rights violations.
Last year, he and his then pregnant wife were under house arrest for 214 days in their residential complex. He then used the internet to raise the cases of petitioners, peasants who lost their land, arrested dissidents and other victims of injustice.
Hu kept a daily blog, joined a human rights debate in the European Parliament via a webcast, went on hunger strike and made a video of his life in detention, named Prisoner in Freedom City, a title based on the name of his apartment complex.
Supporters have launched an online campaign for his release. Bloggers have marked his home on Google Earth, appealing for those in the area to try to provide baby milk and provisions to his wife and child.
Many fellow dissidents have been locked up in the pre-Olympic crackdown. Last year, a leading petitioner, Liu Jie, was sent to re-education through labour camp after complaining about demolitions aimed at clearing up the city ahead of the Games. Yang Chunlin, who campaigned against land seizures, was imprisoned after launching a “We want human rights, not the Olympics” campaign.
Also under house arrest is Yuan Weijing, who stayed with Hu for a month last year while she was trying to publicise the case of her imprisoned husband, the blind civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng. Reached by phone, she condemned the actions of the state security officials.
“I believe what they did to Hu Jia is illegal,” said Yuan. “He was only sending out information about what happened in China by phone or internet. That was not illegal because all he revealed was the facts. I think this arrest is related to the Beijing Olympics. If they did not detain him, he might reveal more scandals.”
The Foreign Ministry has rebutted overseas criticism of Hu’s detention. “No country is spotless when it comes to human rights. No one country has the qualification to make unwarranted remarks about the human rights situation in another,” ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said earlier this month. “Chinese people know best about China’s human rights situation.”
Hu met his father earlier this week. He was described as being in good health and spirits.
When this journalist met him late last year, Hu was hopeful that the Olympics would help the human rights situation in China.—guardian.co.uk Â