Human rights in China suffered in 2007, activists and experts say, with heavy-handed crackdowns on dissidents and petitioners as well as tougher curbs on freedom of expression and religion. “The worst period of China’s human rights violation in the last five years was when the Chinese Communist Party held its 17th Congress” in October, dissident and rights activist Hu Jia said in an interview. “People involved in the Congress security arrangement totaled almost 1 million. It was out of fear that unmanageable protests might erupt while the meeting was in session,” Hu said. At the same time, authorities warned dissidents and activists against traveling or publishing. Hu Jia himself was detained Dec. 27, soon after speaking with RFA’s Mandarin service, on charges of “incitement to subvert state power,” a fellow activist said. Economist and writer He Qinglian saw 2007 as “marked by tightened control over freedom of expression by Chinese authorities, especially over the Internet.”
“Beijing even scaled back a certain degree of cyber-freedom allowed the year before. I once had a message board on China’s popular Web site www.tieba.baidu.com with hundreds of postings critical of government. But the message board was deleted in 2007.”
Authorities also banned or blocked blogs by freelance writer Zan Aizong, and they detained cyber-dissident Lu Gongsong for alleged subversion in August after he called publicly for expanded farmers’ rights.
According to Paris-based Reporter Without Borders, some 80 journalists and writers are currently detained in China.
Authorities also cracked down on religious freedom in 2007, targeting family and underground Christian churches.
Zhang Minxuan, a minister and chairman of the China Association of Family Churches, runs a family church and orphanage in Sanhe county near Beijing. He said local authorities forced a dozen of his orphan students out of his church and cut off its electricity.
Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights activist, meanwhile remains behind bars while his wife in kept under house arrest, while civil rights lawyer Guo Feixiong was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for alleged “illegal business activities.”
But petitioners—ordinary citizens seeking official redress—remain perhaps the most vulnerable cohort. Beijing officials have now demolished the last of a shanty town housing people lodging complaints against the government.
“It’s because of the Olympic Games. The area around the southern railway station will become an international railway terminus, which will be huge, with three levels underground,” Beijing-based petitioner Zhao Shuling said. “Around the time of the Olympics, a lot of foreigners will come to Beijing, and the petitioner village will spoil the look of the city. That’s why the authorities have demolished it.”
Asked where the petitioners were going to live, Zhao said: “Of course there’s nowhere for them to go.”