China Cracks Down on Human Rights Defenders, Liu Xiaobo’s Wife a ‘Hostage’ [VIDEO]
The Chinese government’s response to anonymous calls for a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ of protests on Sunday showed how nervous, even ‘skittish,’ it is as uprisings against authoritarian governments have sprung up around the Middle East and North Africa. After anonymous reports—first on the US-based Chinese language site Boxun—appeared online about a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ (taken from the successful Tunisian revolt), those words were blocked on websites similar to Twitter and on Internet search engines in China, and cellphone users were unable to send out text messages to multiple recipients.
Protests were to be held in Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin, Tianjin, Xinjiang, Ganzu, Qinghai, Anshan, Taiyuan, Fuzhou, Changsha, Guangdong, Sichuan, Guangxi.
Sunday’s New York Times reports that a huge crowd gathered outside a McDonald’s in Beijing. The fast-food restaurant was reportedly one of the 13 protest sites:
By 2 p.m., the planned start of the protests, hundreds of police officers had swarmed the area, a major shopping district popular with tourists.
At one point, the police surrounded a young man who had placed a jasmine on a planter outside the McDonald’s, but he was released after the clamor drew journalists and photographers.
In Shanghai, three people were detained during a skirmish in front of a Starbucks, The Associated Press reported. One post on Twitter described a heavily armed police presence on the subways of Shenzhen, and another claimed that officials at Peking University in Beijing had urged students to avoid any protests, but those reports were impossible to verify on Sunday evening.
Below is a video taken outside the McDonalds Beijing.
Photos, apparently of someone being escorted away by the police in Shanghai, can be seen via the BBC.
Also on Saturday—in another sign of tensions with China—President Hu Jintao called ‘top leaders’ to a special “study session” and ‘urged them to address festering social problems before they became threats to stability.
Sunday’s Guardian reports that Liu Xia, wife of the jailed Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo said she and her family, are ‘hostages.’ Supporters have not been able to reach her since October—when it was announced that Liu Xiaobo had won the award—when his wife was placed under house arrest by the Chinese government, though she has never been accused of any crimes. While it was initially thought that Liu Xia was under arrest in Beijing, it is now thought that she is being held at her parents’ house.
According to the Washington Post, Liu Xia was able to break her government-imposed silence last week for a brief period and get an Internet connection while Chinese were celebrating the Lantern Festival, the last day of the Lunar New Year celebrations. A friend happened to be online at the same time and they communicated via an Internet chat room.
The poet said she was miserable and added: “No one can help me,” according to a transcript of the conversation. The Washington Post said it received the document from the friend, with whom she had communicated online, via an intermediary.
“I don’t know how I managed to get online,” Liu Xia wrote in the five-minute chat on Thursday night. “Don’t go online. Otherwise my whole family is in danger.”
Asked whether she was at home, she added: “Yes. Can’t go out. My whole family are hostages.”
She added: “So miserable. I’m crying. Nobody can help me.”
The chat ended when her friend asked her to log out because he was concerned he would cause her more trouble, adding: “We miss you and support you. We will wait for you outside.”
Human rights advocates note increasing concern about a recent crackdown on rights defenders.
On Saturday, at least 15 well-known lawyers and activists were detained or placed under house arrest. According to the New York Times, when several of them (including Pu Zhiqiang and Xu Zhiyong) were reached by phone, they said that ‘were in the company of security agents and unable to talk.’ Others could not be reached on Sunday evening and two, Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong, remain missing. Jiang, a lawyer, was forced into an unmarked van on Saturday night–his second abduction in recent days, according to his wife, Jin Bianling. She also said that the police had searched the couple’s home and confiscated her husband’s computer and briefcase. Jiang had first been detained on Wednesday and said that he was taken to a police station, where he was assaulted.
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Photo of the Wangfujing shopping district in Beijing taken in September of 2010 by chinnian.