Slamming the Door on Dissent

Wang Dan’s Trial and the New “State Security” Era

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With its decision to bring Chinese dissident Wang Dan to trial on October 30 on the charge of “conspiracy to subvert the government,” the most serious charge in the Chinese criminal code, the Chinese government has signaled its determination to deny freedom of speech and association to any citizen daring publicly to raise fundamental criticisms of government policy. The charge sends a message to China’s dissidents that the courts will no longer draw a distinction between political speech or writing on the one hand and concrete action on the other: both levels of dissent are henceforth to be indiscriminately treated as “endangering state security.” It casts serious doubt on the commitment of top Chinese officials to the vaunted reform of the country’s legal system. And it shows conclusively that Western mantras about economic growth producing political liberalization notwithstanding, Chinese leaders are growing increasingly intolerant of dissent. In addition, by holding Wang Dan’s trial just weeks before the visit to Beijing of U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and just weeks after visits of German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, Beijing has chosen to disregard international expressions of concern over its human rights record.

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