China accused of Olympic crackdown

A leading United States congressman said on Tuesday that China was carrying out a tragic crackdown to smother dissent during the Olympics, triggering a warning by Beijing to butt out or risk harming Sino-US ties.

“Tragically, the Olympics has triggered a massive crackdown designed to silence and put beyond reach all those whose views differ from the official ‘harmonious’ government line,” US Representative Christopher Smith told journalists.

“On Sunday night, three human rights lawyers with whom we had scheduled to have dinner were threatened, then taken away or placed under house arrest by the police. Our meeting never occurred.”

The detained rights lawyers, veteran activists Teng Biao, Li Heping and Li Baiguang, had not violated any law, he said.

The two Lis, believed to be unrelated, were given awards by the US National Endowment for Democracy last week, when they also met US President George Bush in the White House.

Smith, who is travelling with fellow Republican Congressmen Frank Wolf, is his party’s ranking legislator on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Both have criticised China’s human rights record for years.

During their visit the two congressmen handed over to the Chinese government a list of 734 “political prisoners” and urged their release.

“The two congressmen have come to China as the guest of the US Embassy in China.
Their purpose is to make internal consultations with the US officials,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao told journalists.

“During their stay in China they should not engage in activities inconsistent with their purpose ... we hope they don’t do anything to interfere in China’s internal affairs or sabotage Sino-US relations.”

Liu insisted the police had handled the detained activists “in accordance with the law”, but refused to say which law or regulation prevented ordinary Chinese from meeting foreign dignitaries.

Smith said China had failed to deliver on its promise to improve its human rights record when it was awarded the right to host the Olympics.

“Just the opposite is happening,” he said.

“At the time, the argument certainly appeared plausible, if not compelling, but in the years, now months, running up to the Olympics, the reality has been numbingly disappointing,” Smith said.

Rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders has said numerous other high-profile activists have been warned or detained in recent weeks as Beijing prepares for the Olympic Games, which open on August 8.

These include rights lawyers Li Heping, Li Fanping, Zhang Xingshui and writer and social critic Liu Xiaobo, the group said on Tuesday.

The deepening crackdown came as lawyers for prominent activist Ni Yulan filed a legal complaint accusing police of beating her in custody.

The 48-year-old Ni was detained in April, but her lawyers were only allowed to see her in mid-June.

“She was in a very bad condition when I saw her, she could hardly walk, she was very, very weak and deathly pale,” lawyer Hu Xiao said.

“She said she had been beaten during the interrogation.”

Ni was arrested in 2002 and served a year in prison for organising people evicted from their homes to make way for Beijing’s frenetic development and for petitioning the government, her husband Dong Jiqin said.

Her arrest came as rights campaigner Hu Jia (34) was sentenced in April to three-and-a-half years in prison for inciting subversion, while cyber-dissident Lu Gengsong (51) got four years for the same crime in February.

Other prominent dissidents to disappear into custody in recent months include Gao Zhisheng, Huang Qi, Hou Wenzhuo, Xu Zhenqing and Cui Fufang, rights groups said.

Over the weekend, China ordered local governments to take measures to prevent regional grievances escalating into protests that could tarnish the Olympics.—AFP

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