Chinese Government Silences Activists Ahead of Shanghai World Expo

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(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, April 28, 2010) As the 2010 Shanghai World Expo opens on May 1, conspicuously absent from the festivities will be the residents of Shanghai who have lost their homes, businesses, and freedom to exercise their rights in the government’s drive to bring its ambitious plans for the Expo to fruition. Ahead of the arrival of an estimated 70 million visitors over the next six months, officials in Shanghai have detained, placed under surveillance, or threatened activists, dissidents, and petitioners across the city and in surrounding areas. Police in other cities have warned activists not to travel to Shanghai.

“The government is working to create an atmosphere of fear in the activist community in Shanghai and elsewhere,” said one activist who has been closely monitoring developments ahead of the Expo. “Many activists, dissidents, and petitioners are under some form of restriction of movement or surveillance. Some are refraining from speaking out for themselves or getting in touch with others for fear of serious retribution.”

Police have sought out high-profile local activists and made it clear that any efforts to expose abuses by the government will be met with swift and serious retaliation. For example, Feng Zhenghu (冯正虎), a veteran Shanghai activist who for years has sought to draw attention to the failures of the Shanghai judicial system, had planned to set up a “Shanghai Expo of Unjust Court Cases” during the Expo. Around midnight on April 19, Shanghai police raided his home, confiscated his computer equipment and took him away for a four-hour interrogation. Police threatened that if he spoke out during the Expo they would “make him disappear like Gao Zhisheng (高智晟).”

Other activists have been placed in detention to ensure that they will be out of sight for the duration of the Expo. CHRD has documented six cases of Shanghai petitioners-turned-activists who have been sent to Re-education through Labor (RTL) since January for reasons related to the World Expo, and a total of 10 dating back to the latter half of 2009.[1] For example, Tong Guojing (童国菁) was sent to 18 months of RTL on February 13. Tong, like most of those sent to RTL, started petitioning after his home was forcibly demolished, and became an activist as he learned about the plight of fellow petitioners.

A number of activists in the provinces surrounding Shanghai, such as Wen Kejian (温克坚) and Zou Wei (邹巍) in Zhejiang Province, and Zhang Lin (张林) in Anhui Province, have been warned by local police against traveling to Shanghai during the Expo. CHRD has received reports that activists in cities as far away as Guangzhou, Xi’an, and Beijing have been asked to “tea” or questioned by police in recent days, and warned not to travel to Shanghai or speak out during the World Expo.

Forced evictions carried out in preparation for the Expo have been a source of widespread anger among Shanghai citizens for years. According to official statistics, 18,000 households were relocated to clear the grounds for the Expo, but activists argue that, taking into account other development related to the Expo, many more residents were affected.[2] Shanghai officials estimated in 2009 that complaints over forced eviction and demolition accounted for “70 or 80 percent” of petitions originating from the city (for interviews with Shanghai residents affected by Expo-related forced evictions, please see CHRD’s report, Thrown Out: Human Rights Abuses in China’s Breakneck Real Estate Development).[3]

To prevent victims of forced evictions from drawing attention to their grievances during the Expo, police are detaining, harassing, and threatening petitioners. Many are being held under “soft detention” at home. For example, Huang Yuqin (黄玉芹), a resident of Minhang District, Shanghai, whose home was demolished on March 2, has been under “soft detention” since April 19. Security guards have followed her whenever she leaves her home, and have prevented her from leaving on at least one occasion. Huang also received a notice warning her not to gather with others or petition on or near the Expo grounds for duration of the Expo. Other Shanghai petitioners have received an identical notice in recent weeks, threatening “strict punishment” for any who disregard the instructions.[4]

Finally, some veteran Shanghai petitioners have been detained as a warning to others ahead of the event. For example, Shen Peilan (沈佩兰), who has been petitioning since the forced demolition of her home in 2003, was administratively detained for 15 days in the Minhang District Detention Center in late March and early April. Shen, who was beaten during her detention, has since been released, and has gone into hiding in Shanghai.

CHRD urges the Chinese government to immediately release all activists, dissidents and petitioners detained because of the Shanghai Expo. The government must stop the practice of placing “troublemaking” individuals under surveillance and restricting their movements on “sensitive” occasions. These individuals should not be punished for exercising their freedom of expression or their right to defend human rights.

Media Contacts:

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 301 547 9286
Jiang Yingying, Researcher (English and Mandarin), +852 8170 0237


[1] “Ten-odd Shanghai Rights Activists Sent to RTL Because of World Expo” (因世博会上海维权人士10余人被劳教), April 13, 2010, https://www.nchrd.org/Article/Class53/201004/20100413144927_20771.html

[2] Yang Qiong, Record of the Responses of Yang Qiong and Gao Yan to Journalists at a State Council Information Office Press Conference (杨雄高燕在国务院新闻办新闻发布会答记者问实录), http://www.expo2010.cn/expo/chinese/rdzt/guowuyuan/userobject1ai30094.html. Activists believe that many more were moved to make way for new roads for the Expo or new buildings in order to ‘beautify’ the city. Developers have also used the excuse—that residents need to move to make way for the Expo—when in practice the vacated land was then used for commercial development unrelated to the Expo.

[3]俞正声同志就上海党建接受媒体专访,” News of the Communist Party of China, November 17, 2009, http://cpc.people.com.cn/GB/64093/64094/10388522.html.

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