Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dissident Hu Jia is arrested in crackdown on criticism

|Los Angeles Times
BEIJING - In what human rights activists are calling a pre-Olympics crackdown on criticism, a leading dissident has been arrested here on charges of "subverting state authority."

The 34-year-old activist, Hu Jia, is among the best-known in a new generation of Chinese online dissidents, blogging about issues ranging from the treatment of AIDS patients to the Tibetan antelope. His relentless activism has landed him in jail many times before, but this latest arrest probably will provoke a greater outcry because of the spotlight aimed at Beijing in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Hu and his wife, 24-year-old fellow blogger Zhen Zinyan, were under house arrest when police barged into their Beijing home Thursday afternoon. Activists say the police disconnected the couple's telephones and Internet connections and seized a computer, memory sticks and documents. Zhen, who gave birth six weeks ago to a daughter, was not taken into custody.

Hu joins a number of other activists, many of them similarly plying their criticism over the Internet, who have been arrested in recent months.

In a statement released late Friday, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called Hu "one of the foremost representatives of the peaceful struggle for free expression in China." The advocacy group, which earlier this month had given Hu and his wife an award for their activism, urged the international community "to rally to Hu's defense so that he does not become another victim of China's pre-Olympics repression."

Despite being under house arrest since May, Hu and his wife remained as active as ever, using the Internet to compensate for their lack of mobility. Hu testified by Web camera at a European parliamentary hearing Nov. 26 in Brussels, Belgium, at one point calling the Olympics a "human rights disaster."

Beijing has made clear it will not allow domestic critics to spoil what is being touted as the ultimate "coming out party," celebrating China's emergence as an economic power.

"We are against anyone politicizing the Olympic movement and the Olympic Games," said Jiang Xiaowu, executive vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, during a talk Friday with journalists. "If anyone is to try to violate the Olympic spirit, they will not succeed."

The Chinese government made no statement over the weekend about Hu's arrest, which was first reported by fellow activists.

From Beijing to Athens, where the Olympic torch is to be lit in March, protests are being organized to publicize grievances against China on dozens of issues, such as its policies in Darfur and the treatment of North Korean refugees.

Trying to forestall the inevitable protests, China began rounding up suspected troublemakers in the days and weeks before another important event, the 17th Communist Party Congress, in October. Lawyer Gao Zhisheng was arrested in late September after writing an open letter to the U.S. Congress referring to the games as the "handcuff Olympics."

Online commentator Wang Dejia was arrested in the southern Chinese city of Guilin earlier this month after complaining that excess spending for the Olympics would force ordinary people to "live like pigs and dogs."
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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