HONG KONG—As Beijing gears up to host the 2008 Olympics, authorities there have detained a key civil rights activist on charges of “incitement to subvert state power” and demolished the last of a shantytown housing people lodging complaints against the government.
Chinese rights activist Hu Jia, best known for his advocacy work on behalf of those living with HIV/AIDS, has been detained by national security police in Beijing on charges of “incitement to subvert state power,” a fellow activist said.
Hu was detained days after he told RFA’s Mandarin service that the government had intensified its crackdown on rights activists, dissidents, and petitioners during 2007.
Around the time of the Olympics, a lot of foreigners will come to Beijing, and the petitioner village will spoil the look of the city. That’s why the authorities have demolished it.
Petitioner Zhao Shuling
“The worst period of China’s human rights violations in the past five years was when the Chinese Communist Party held its 17th Congress,” Hu told reporter Shen Hua.
“People involved in the Congress security arrangements totaled almost 1 million,” Hu said. “This was out of fear that unmanageable protests might erupt while the meeting was in session.”
Meanwhile, Hu said police had warned dissidents and rights activists nationwide against traveling or publishing any articles, detaining some of them just to be on the safe side.
As he was taken from his home, bulldozers were clearing away the last shacks in Beijing’s “Petitioner village” near the southern railway station in the capital, a shantytown that gave scant shelter to the thousands of people in the capital lodging complaints against official wrongdoing.
Beijing-based petitioner Zhao Shuling said: “It’s because of the Olympic Games. The area around the southern railway station will become an international railway terminus, which will be huge, with three levels underground.”
“Around the time of the Olympics, a lot of foreigners will come to Beijing, and the petitioner village will spoil the look of the city. That’s why the authorities have demolished it.”
The government is behaving like the Mafia.
Resident of Baima village, Guangdong
Asked where the petitioners were going to live, Zhao replied, “Of course there’s nowhere for them to go.”
“I hope you will be able to tell people, because I am a petitioner too, and I really understand what these people are going through. Only great hardship, grief, and injustice could prompt them to leave their homes and villages to suffer hunger and cold here in Beijing.”
China has promised a spirit of greater openness around the Games, relaxing controls on foreign journalists, at least on paper.
But some journalists think the message hasn’t filtered through to the country’s security forces.
“The problem is that there are too many departments, and they don’t coordinate with each other,” Bao Yaoming, sports reporter at the World Daily News, told RFA’s Mandarin service.
“For example, the Olympics Committee is saying that things are opening up, but that hasn’t filtered through to the police, who proceed in their usual fashion,” he told Mandarin service reporter Yang Jiadai.
Online activist Huang Qi agreed: “Several decades of history have shown that the Chinese government doesn’t relax its hold around this sort of event.”
But he said Hu Jia’s detention was unlikely to be linked to the Olympics.
“Large numbers of dissidents have been the targets of oppression from the Chinese government, long before the Olympics came along,” Huang said.
In the southern city of Shenzhen, which neighbours Hong Kong, where Olympic equestrian events will be held, hundreds of police used water cannon and tear gas to move residents of “nail houses,” or hold-outs, who refused to leave their homes to make way for a local subway line.
Elsewhere in Guangdong province, three reporters whose video equipment carried China Central Television logo were reported missing after they interviewed villagers in Heping county about how thousands of hectares of farmland came to be expropriated for commercial use.
After the three wrapped up their interviews Dec. 26, officials from the local county government took them away, saying they were being treated to a meal.
Local public security told the villagers that the three were “fake reporters.”
Local villagers told Mandarin service reporter Yan Xiu they saw the CCTV logo on the reporters’ equipment. One journalist was identified as Xu Jinfeng, a CCTV editor. But a CCTV spokeperson said no such person worked at the state-run station.
Also in Guangdong, tensions continued to simmer in Baima village near the southern industrial city of Dongguan, where plainclothes police had been sent to watch residents following clashes involving hundreds of villagers and police over a land dispute.
“The government is behaving like the Mafia,” a Baima resident surnamed Li told RFA’s Cantonese service.
“The villagers show no signs of agitation, and yet they sent riot police here…to beat people up. The government could have used peaceful means to settle this. There was no need to use violence,” Li said.