(New York) - With just six months to go before the Olympics open in Beijing on August 8, a systematic crackdown on dissent has significantly worsened respect for fundamental rights in China, Human Rights Watch said today.
“Beijing has given virtually no signs that it intends to keep the promises made to the international community in exchange for hosting the Games,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “On the contrary, we have witnessed a systematic effort to silence, suppress and repress Chinese citizens who are trying to push the government into greater respect for fundamental rights.”
Human Rights Watch pointed to a growing pattern of using loosely defined subversion charges to suppress dissidents and activists ahead of the Games. On February 4, the writer Lü Gengsong was sentenced to four years in prison for “inciting subversion against state power,” becoming the sixth high profile dissident in less than a year to be arrested or sentenced under these charges.
The other cases include:
- Hu Jia, a leading human rights activist, was formally arrested on January 30. Hu, who had become a principal source of information about the situation of human rights defenders inside and outside China, was taken away by the police from his home on December 27, 2007, shortly after he gave testimony via webcam to the European Parliament in which he expressed his desire for 2008 to be “the year of human rights in China.” Hu Jia, who has so far been denied contact with his lawyers on the grounds that his case involves “state secrets,” faces up to five years of imprisonment.
- Chen Shuqing, a dissident writer and member of the banned Chinese Democratic Party, was sentenced to four years of imprisonment in August 2007.
- Yang Chunlin, an activist from Heilongjiang province, was arrested in July 2007 for his involvement in a petition, “We Want Human Rights, not the Olympics,” which was signed by farmers protesting land seizures. He is currently awaiting trial.
- Yan Zhengxue, a writer from Zhejiang province, was sentenced to three years in jail in April 2007 for having “used the internet, discussion forums and speeches to publish distorted facts, attack and vilify the state power, and incite subversion of state power and overthrow of the socialist system.”
- Zhang Jianhong, a poet and political essayist, was sentenced to six years of imprisonment in March 2007 for publishing more than 100 “articles defaming the Chinese government and calling for agitation to overthrow the government.”
Human Rights Watch said that the increasing use of subversion charges, a state security offense, to silence dissent is consistent with official statistics from the Ministry of Justice, which reflect an almost 20 percent increase between 2006 and 2007 in state security convictions.
“Charging people with ‘inciting subversion’ has become the weapon of choice to silence dissent ahead of the Games,” said Richardson. “Hu Jia’s only ‘crime’ was to speak honestly about the tightening chokehold on dissent ahead of the Games, and his arrest sends a stark message to other Chinese activists: lie low ahead of the Olympics or face the consequences.”
In another disturbing development, Human Rights Watch said that the repression of dissidents and human rights activists has broadened in recent months to include systematic intimidation, surveillance, and confinement of dissidents’ close relatives. Such tactics keep the dissidents’ cases out of sight and prevent relatives from mounting legal challenges.
Since the arrest of Hu Jia on December 27, the police have confined Hu’s wife, fellow activist Zeng Jinyan, and their 2-month-old daughter to the couple’s home and cut their telephone and internet connections. Yuan Weijing, the wife of jailed blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, is under permanent surveillance and has been prevented from traveling; Ye Guozhu, the brother of activist Ye Guoqiang who is currently serving a four-year prison sentence for organizing protests against Olympics-related forced evictions, is also under police surveillance, and was detained at least one time under subversion charges.
In addition to the sharp deterioration of the situation of human rights defenders and dissidents, Human Rights Watch also noted a host of serious and uncorrected problems linked to the preparation of the Games, including forced evictions, land seizures, suppression of petitioners, closure of migrant children schools, heightened internet censorship, and the use of “hard-strike” anti-crime campaigns to prepare the eviction from Beijing of undocumented rural migrant workers, beggars, vagrants, and sex workers.
“Repression will only increase through the opening of the Games unless foreign governments, the International Olympic Committee, and national Olympic committees make it clear to China that such abuses are a threat to the success of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing,” Richardson said. “International silence in the face of these Olympics-related human rights violations is tantamount to giving the Chinese government a green light to intensify its pre-Olympic crackdown.”