China detains over 40 people for supporting H.K. protests

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Originally published by Kyodo News International on October 10, 2014

China has detained over 40 mainlanders over the past two weeks for supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, according to reports compiled by human rights activists and lawyers.

The detainees come from a cross-section of Chinese society, ranging from artists and democracy activists to dispossessed Chinese farmers.

Authorities made most of the arrests in Beijing and Hong Kong’s neighboring city of Guangdong, records maintained by human rights activist Wen Yunchao show.

Based on Wen’s accounting, the detentions began with five arrests on Sept. 28, the same day Hong Kong police unleashed tear gas on thousands of peaceful demonstrators gathered in the city’s business district to call on Beijing to grant free elections.

Rather than dispersing the crowds, the action prompted tens of thousands to join the rallies and provoked a massive outpouring of online support both in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

The initial wave of arrests appears to have come after detainees voiced approval for the democracy movement on Weibo, a popular Chinese micro-blogging site.

A second large roundup of eight mainlanders took place Oct. 1, the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Among the group were four farmers from the outskirts of Beijing, including 70-year-old Guo Zhiying.

In late 2012, Guo and several others attempted to file a complaint with the central government after local authorities destroyed their homes, a common occurrence in China where publicly owned land is often turned over to developers over residents’ objections.

The protests in Hong Kong seem to have touched a nerve with Guo’s group. Her lawyer, who has so far been unable to contact her, says he believes she and the others were arrested for holding a sign supporting the democracy movement.

On Oct. 2, police arrested 10 artists, writers and journalist in the Beijing creative enclave Songzhuang, according to human rights lawyer Li Fangping.

The group included poet Wang Zang, who was detained after taking a picture of himself standing in front of a Taiwanese flag while holding an umbrella.

Umbrellas became the most prominent symbol of the Hong Kong democracy movement, after protestors used them in a futile effort to protect themselves from tear gas.

Authorities later detained his wife and 2-year-old daughter, according to a Twitter post by Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

The circumstances surrounding all of the detentions remain unclear.

According to accounts from detainees’ families and others familiar with the cases, the authorities appear to have charged almost all of the more than 40 detainees with “picking quarrels and starting disputes,” a broad and ill-defined accusation often used against political activists who find themselves on Beijing’s bad side.

The government appears to be holding the majority of the protestors in a detention center in southwest Beijing.

A group of attorneys attempted to visit several of the protestors at the location on Sunday, but were turned away by the authorities, according to Li.

Although Beijing has so far taken a wait and see approach to the rallies in Hong Kong, it is clearly nervous that they could spill over into the mainland.

Since the protests came into full swing in late September, the government has tried to limit coverage of them to state-run media reports, many of which have sought to find economic explanations for the demonstrations or blame them on foreign influence.

Authorities have blocked online news site’s reporting on the events, including Hong Kong’s own South China Morning Post, and have blacked out foreign television segments on BBC, CNN and NHK overseas broadcasts among others.

Beijing has also stepped up its online censorship. Authorities recently added Instagram to their long social media blacklist and have banned several search terms related to Hong Kong from Chinese social media sites.

The government’s actions are intended “to prevent any opportunity for an initially small gathering to grow into something much bigger and out of its control,” according to Maya Wang, a researcher in Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

“It is nipping any solidarity with Hong Kong in its bud,” she said.


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