Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chinese human rights website founder arrested

Allegra Stratton and agencies

Guardian UK: A Chinese dissident who founded one of the country's pioneering human rights websites has been arrested for possessing state secrets.

Huang Qi, who set up 64Tianwang – the numbers refer to the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre, on June 4 1989 – was detained in the south-western city of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, his mother said.

"They didn't say when he would be freed - first they have to do an investigation," Pu Wenqing, 74, said.

Pu said she was informed by the police of the arrest yesterday and had been unable to speak to her son since then. The reason for Huang's arrest, possession of state secrets, is an ill-defined offence often used to clamp down on dissent.

Officials in Chengdu declined to comment on his arrest.

Huang's website, founded a decade ago, allowed people, for a fee, to post information about missing friends and family members.

The watchdog Human Rights in China said Huang had been detained on June 10 after visiting areas affected by the earthquake in May, centred in Sichuan province.

The group said Huang's purpose there had been to write about parents whose children had died or were missing in the quake.

"This is another illustration of how a person who is only trying to help might find himself snared by China's state secrets laws," the watchdog's executive director, Sharon Hom, said.

"This use of the law as a sword hanging over rights activists, such as Huang Qi, contradicts the reported 'new media openness' in China following the Sichuan earthquake."

The Paris-based rights monitoring group Reporters Without Borders said last week that three men, likely agents from China's ministry of state security, had forced Huang into a car.

It said his arrest might be linked to articles he had posted criticising the government's response to the magnitude-7.9 quake that killed almost 70,000 people in Sichuan.

China's security forces have begun to clamp down on dissent after initially tolerating independent reporting on the quake and allowing public complaints by parents who blame corruption and shoddy construction for school collapses that killed their children.

Huang has long been one of China's most outspoken activists. Earlier this decade, he served a five-year prison sentence on subversion charges linked to politically sensitive articles posted on his website.

Since his release, in 2005, Huang, who is in his mid-40s, has supported causes ranging from aiding families of people killed in the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing to publicising the complaints of farmers involved in land disputes with authorities.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008


redrichie said...

Hi there,

This isn't a comment on this or any post specifically, more a voicing of an unease at the unseemly rush to call for a boycott of the 2008 Olympic games.

First off, this is also not a sop to the Chinese government. I have no love of the current state which has all the worst aspects of a repressive communist government, but without the socialism.

It's just I'm not entirely sure what liberal hand-wringing and shouting "boycott the olympics" will actually achieve. Unquestionably, the Chinese government is not a model to emulate, but a boycott of a single sporting event (albeit a big one) seems to me to be at best pointless and at worst counter-productive. One may point, for example, to the sports boycotts of apartheid-era South Africa which, one may well argue, had an effect upon prestige. But these were combined with a wider economic boycott. It is possible (and it appears to be happening) that this is another opportunity for the current government to stir up nationalist feeling within China (I don't question that Chinese news networks will feed in that information which suits their methods best in the same way that they did with Tibet) by creating a siege mentality within much of the populace. Remember that China is a big place with a large population which is without a doubt seeing a rise in living standards (unevenly, yes, but that hardly sets it apart from the rest of the world). There will be plenty of people who are happy with the current state of affairs and will not perhaps understand why "they" are having so much opprobrium heaped upon "them".

As much of the Chinese "economic miracle" is based upon a zealous application of western, Friedmanite economic theory which serves to increase Chinese exports of consumer goods to the west, it seems to me that a far better and more effective way to damage the Chinese governments standing within China would be to boycott Chinese goods. However, this is harder for people in the west to do, as they are addicted to hi-tech consumer goods, many of which are manufactured in China and it would mean action on their part.

Of course, there is the problem that economic boycotts only serve to harm the poorest.

It's a sad fact of life that significant numbers of people are not actually that concerned about things that I (and clearly you) hold dear. I live in the UK and there is ongoing debate around the potential introduction of ID cards and the spread of hi-tech surveillance (and 42 days detention without trial!? Madness!) lots of people just don't care. They subscribe to the "if you've nothing to hide" idea. Granted this is all a little unscientific, but think how-many revolts have happened in the past through economic pressures rather than a high-minded pursuit of abstract concepts of liberty.

Sorry if this is a ll a little rambly, but I could write a book on the rights and wrongs of all this!



MaKina said...

"but think how-many revolts have happened in the past through economic pressures rather than a high-minded pursuit of abstract concepts of liberty."

I agree, I think it's time to turn the table around. But we can't deny that the Olympics offer an excellent platform to move human rights forward by highlighting the abuses by the Chinese communist regime--that violate the Olympic Charter--and pressing for change. Boycott or no boycott, it's an opportunity that just can't be missed.

ps - Did you ever consider writing Op/eds for the Epoch Times UK edition? I bet you would have a big audience!

redrichie said...

Yeah, I think that I've possibly become a little cynical in my old age and spot some potential parallels with say the Seattle protests and what's happening now (if I were older, I suppose the 1968 protests would be a touchstone).

At that time there was a lot of anti-globalistion chattering, hell, the NME (ex-yoof bible) devoted reams of paper to covering it and urging the kids to become involved (now they have a major tour sponsered by a hair-gel company - go figure) and, well, nothing changed. Some kids got to rage a little before they finished their degrees and went off to work for major finance houses and screw the world economy (by which I mean ordinary people, those at the top won't be affected). I have a horrible suspicion that this could be the same. A lot of noise at the time, but after the Olympics have ended, China will still be oppressive and people will still buy ipods. I don't even pretend to be immune to this. I had to replace some components in my computer recently "Made in China, made in China" and so on.

A part of me wonders if the Olympics is considered a good platform by some because they actually don't care about the Olympic games, in general (I would be keen to point out that I really don't believe that of you, having read what you've written! Actually, none of this is a dig at what you area saying, like I said before!)

This hypocrisy is even more rank when it comes from our leaders as they make some noise about wanting "improvements" in Chinese human rights, but they're afraid of pissing the Chinese government off to much because of the effects it will have on their own economy and, by extension, electoral chances.

Never really read the Epoch Times, had a look there seems interesting. Do you do stuff there yourself? I'd be interested to look.

MaKina said...

Agree. The hypocrisy is mind boggling.

About Epoch Times. Have a look at their website. Yes I help with distribution in my little town.