Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan (R) and China's Premier Wen Jiabao arrive at the 13th ASEAN Plus Three Summit in Hanoi on October 29, 2010.

© 2010 Reuters

(Tokyo) - Prime Minister Naoto Kan of Japan should call on China to release the large number of peaceful critics it has rounded up in recent months during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Japan, Human Rights Watch said today. Wen will visit Japan from May 21-22 to attend the fourth China-Japan-ROK (Republic of Korea) Leaders Meeting.

"The repression of critical voices in China is accelerating quickly," said Kanae Doi, Japan Director at Human Rights Watch. "Japan often says it prefers quiet diplomacy, but remaining silent would send the wrong message to both the Chinese leadership and victims of China's recent crackdown."

Human Rights Watch said that since mid-February the Chinese government has launched the largest crackdown on critics and activists in over a decade. More than 200 people have been subjected to enforced disappearance, arrest, house arrest, police surveillance, police questioning, or threats. At least 39 lawyers, civil society activists, and bloggers have been detained on criminal charges by state authorities. Seven have been formally arrested on state security charges. Eighteen others have been the victims of enforced disappearance.

The prominent artist and outspoken critic Ai Weiwei, whom the government says is being investigated for "economic crimes," has been detained since April 3 without access to a lawyer or any formal notification of his arrest as required under Chinese law.

Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11-year imprisonment in December 2009 for "inciting subversion" in a trial that did not meet minimum international standards of fairness, while his wife Liu Xia has been under house arrest since Liu became a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in October 2010. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for their release.

"Prime Minister Kan should call for the release of Ai Weiwei, Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, his wife Liu Xia, and others," said Doi. "Governments the world over have raised concerns about the crackdown in China, but Japan's voice has yet to be heard."