Civil Liberties under Attack after a Brief Thaw

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Civil Liberties under Attack after a Brief Thaw
China Must Respect Freedoms of Expression and Association in Wake of Earthquake

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, May 23, 2008) – Restriction on civil liberties has resumed after a brief thaw in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake on May 12. Authorities have ordered websites to delete postings on the disaster and detained activists for questioning authorities’ handling of the earthquake and organizing donation drives.

“The temporary official distraction following the disaster left open a floodgate for civil society activism and free expression. But the slow and unprepared official response after the quake also exposed serious problems with China’s political system – information blockage, endemic corruption, media control… We have only seen the tip of the iceberg,” said an activist affiliated with CHRD.

The earthquake poses serious challenges to the Chinese government. According to Xinhua, over 50,000 people have died in the disaster, hundreds of thousands are injured, and millions are homeless and require aid for survival and reconstruction. In addition to official relief efforts, an unprecedented number of Chinese citizens has taken independent initiatives to provide assistance. Yet, the Chinese government has responded to the spontaneous outpouring of citizen activism with suspicion. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, many Chinese journalists were able to report on the disaster independently, but authorities have resumed tight control over the media and continue to harass and detain individuals whom they consider “troublemakers”.

On May 17, Guo Quan (郭泉), Assistant Professor at Nanjing Normal University, was taken away from his home by half a dozen Nanjing police and detained. When asked for justification, police replied that Guo ‘did not commit any crimes’. Yet the following day, police told Guo’s family that he was to be administratively detained for 10 days. Guo is believed to be detained for posting online commentaries about the earthquake. The last article he posted urged the government to release information concerning the safety of nuclear facilities in Sichuan Province following the disaster.

Scores of concerned citizens have been intimidated and summoned for providing assistance to earthquake victims. Since May 16, “higher authorities” have frozen the bank account of Niubo Web (牛博网), an online community that has coordinated civil society relief efforts in response to the earthquake. Police also summoned key members of Niubo Web, Du Qiao (杜桥) and Huang Bin (黄斌), for interrogation. Police reportedly suspected members of Niubo Web of “fraud” in relation to the earthquake, but no information has emerged regarding evidence to support that suspicion.

According to Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, a Hubei-based organization, police harassed and warned hundreds of victims of forced evictions from Wuhan, Hubei Province, against making a collective donation to the Red Cross. For example, on May 19, the day of the planned donation, Wuhan police barred 16 of the victims from donating money.

On May 14, Liu Xueli (刘学立) and six other petitioners from Hunan Province were taken into detention for collecting money for earthquake victims from fellow petitioners outside the Letters and Visits Office of the Supreme People’s Court. They were released after 21 hours in detention at Yongwai Police Station, Beijing.

Authorities resumed a firm grip over freedom of expression on the Internet in the wake of the earthquake. Shizhao, a blogger on, was told by internet police to block all earthquake-related information on its blog because the reports were “non-official”. Members of China Democracy Party Zhejiang Branch, such as Wang Rongqing (王荣清) and Qi Huimin (戚惠民), have been summoned and warned against “meeting friends for tea” to discuss the relief effort.

On May 20, Xie Fulin (谢福林), member of Pan-Blue Alliance of Chinese Nationalists in Changsha, Hunan Province, was summoned by police from Changsha’s National Security Unit. Other members of Pan-Blue Alliance, including Wei Zhenling (魏桢陵) from Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province and Li Dongzhuo (李东卓) from Hunan Province, were summoned on the same day. The whereabouts of Zhang Qi (张启), another member from Sichuan Province, have been unknown since May 20. It is believed that all members were summoned in connection with the inauguration of Ma Yingjiu (马英九), president of Taiwan, on May 20. However, there is also speculation that they were summoned for organizing earthquake donation drives.

In incidents unrelated to the earthquake, activists have continued to suffer heightened intimidation during the past week.

Since May 9, Shandong authorities have stepped up surveillance and monitoring of Yuan Weijing (袁伟静), wife of imprisoned human rights defender, Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚). In addition to a dozen guards monitoring Yuan at her home, checkpoints have been set up at the main entrances of Dongshigu Village, where Yuan lives, and ‘suspicious’ individuals entering the village have been interrogated and monitored.

CHRD urges the Chinese government to respect freedoms of expression and association and to refrain from harassing those providing independent humanitarian assistance and expressing criticism and dissent. The rights to freedom of expression and association are guaranteed in Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution, as well as Articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which China has signed but not yet ratified.

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