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China arrests leading Web dissident

As the Olympics near, tolerance is low for domestic criticism.

December 30, 2007|Barbara Demick | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — In what human rights activists are calling a pre-Olympics crackdown on criticism, a leading dissident has been arrested here on charges of "subverting state authority."

The 34-year-old activist, Hu Jia, is among the best known in a new generation of Chinese online dissidents, blogging about issues such as the treatment of AIDS patients and the Tibetan antelope.

His relentless activism has landed him in jail many times, but this latest arrest is likely to provoke a greater outcry because of the spotlight on Beijing in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Hu and his wife, 24-year-old fellow blogger Zhen Jinyan, were already under house arrest when police barged into their Beijing home Thursday afternoon. Activists say the police disconnected the couple's telephones and Internet lines and seized a computer, memory sticks and documents. Zhen, who gave birth six weeks ago to a daughter, was not taken into custody.

Hu joins a number of other activists, many of them similarly plying their criticism over the Internet, who have been arrested in recent months.

In a statement released late Friday, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called Hu "one of the foremost representatives of the peaceful struggle for free expression in China." The advocacy group, which this month had given Hu and Zhen an award for their activism, urged the international community "to rally to Hu's defense so that he does not become another victim of China's pre-Olympics repression."

Despite having been under house arrest since May, Hu and Zhen remained as active as ever, using the Internet to compensate for their lack of mobility. Hu testified by Web camera at a European parliamentary hearing Nov. 26 in Brussels, at one point calling the Olympics a "human rights disaster."

Beijing has made it clear that it will not allow domestic critics to spoil what is being touted as the ultimate "coming out party," celebrating China's emergence as an economic power.

"We are against anyone politicizing the Olympic movement and the Olympic Games," said Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, during a talk Friday with journalists. "If anyone is to try to violate the Olympic spirit, they will not succeed."

The Chinese government made no statement over the weekend about Hu's arrest, which was first reported by fellow activists.

From Beijing to Athens, where the Olympic torch is to be lighted in March, protests are being organized to publicize grievances against China on dozens of issues, such as its policies in Sudan and the treatment of North Korean refugees.

Trying to forestall the inevitable protests, China began rounding up suspected troublemakers in the days and weeks before another important event, the 17th Communist Party Congress, in October. Lawyer Gao Zhisheng was arrested in late September after writing an open letter to the U.S. Congress referring to the Games as the "handcuff Olympics."

Online commentator Wang Dejia was arrested in the southern Chinese city of Guilin, in Guangxi province, this month after complaining that excess spending for the Olympics would force ordinary people to "live like pigs and dogs."


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