Saturday, February 16, 2008
China mounts dissident assault before Games
China mounts dissident assault before Games
By David Eimer in Beijing
Last Updated: 11:59pm GMT 16/02/2008
Telegraph.uk: China has been accused of committing new human rights abuses ahead of this August's Beijing Olympics, while spending vast amounts on hi-tech surveillance and security systems.
Hu Jia, a human rights campaigner with his wife Zeng Jinyan
Arrested: Campaigner Hu Jian with his wife Zeng Jinyan. Their baby is also under house arrest
The crackdown is making a mockery of China's promise to the International Olympic Committee in 2001 that it would improve its dismal human rights record and allow greater media freedom if it were allowed to host the Games.
"The human rights situation in China has worsened over the past six months," said Sharon Hom, the executive director of the US-based organisation Human Rights in China. "We're seeing increased restrictions on freedom of expression and the detention and harassment of human rights activists."
Despite the shiny new stadiums that now dot Beijing's smoggy skyline, the most lasting legacy of this year's Olympics may well be the state-of the-art surveillance systems the authorities have installed, supposedly to counter any terrorist threat. Many, though, believe the monitoring equipment will be used to track people suspected of opposing the Communist regime.
Criticism of China's failure to act on its promise to cease human rights abuses was stepped up this week, following the decision of Steven Spielberg, the Hollywood film director, to resign from his role as an artistic adviser for the Games' opening and closing ceremonies. Mr Spielberg pulled out accusing the Chinese of doing too little to stop the slaughter of civilians in the Darfur region of Sudan, where Beijing enjoys diplomatic influence thanks to its trade ties. Other celebrities, such as the musician Quincy Jones, are now said to be re-considering their involvement in the Games.
Bizarrely, among the activists now under house arrest is a two-month-old baby girl, who is believed to be China's youngest political prisoner.
Her father, Hu Jia, a campaigner for the rights of Aids patients, and a blogger on land and environmental abuses, was charged at the end of January with "inciting subversion of state power", a catch-all charge frequently used against dissidents. His wife Zeng Jinyan, together with her mother and daughter, are all under house arrest in Beijing.
Mr Hu was a high-profile supporter of Yang Chunlin, a factory worker arrested last July after circulating an online petition calling for "human rights, not the Olympics".
Mr Hu also helped publicise the cases of Chen Guangcheng, a blind civil rights activist who has been under house arrest in eastern Shandong Province for the past four months for exposing a policy of forced abortions for people who break China's rigid one-child policy, and fellow blogger Lu Gengsong, who is currently on trial, also for "inciting subversion of state power".
The round-up of activists and tighter censorship of the domestic press and the internet, especially video-sharing websites, are part of a huge campaign by the authorities to ensure protesters do not disrupt the Olympics. With banned groups such as the Falun Gong, a spiritual organisation regarded as a cult by the Chinese leadership, and Free Tibet campaigners expected to mount protests both in the run-up to and during the Games, the authorities are also planning to flood Beijing with police in an effort to quell dissent.
Scores of plain clothes police officers already mingle with tourists in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. But the authorities now see sophisticated surveillance systems as the most effective way of combating public protests. With 265,000 cameras across the city, Beijing is already the CCTV capital of China. Now, thousands more are being installed, with the city spending a reported 300 million yuan (£21.2?million) on boosting its security technology ahead of the Games.
"After the Olympic Games, there's going to be a massively improved infrastructure of surveillance and security systems," Miss Hom told The Sunday Telegraph.
"All the subways, roads and airports are being equipped with cameras. The ability of the authorities to control and crack down on dissident action and large crowds will be vastly enhanced."
In a sign of how seriously Beijing is taking the threat to the Olympics from protesters, it was announced last week that Xi Jinping, the rising star of the Chinese government, will take charge of preparations. Widely tipped as the successor to President Hu Jintao when he retires in 2012, Mr Xi, 54, will be in charge of the massive security operation, while trying to dispel concerns over human rights abuses and air pollution.