Wednesday, April 8, 2009

China Still Fears Free Press

The last days of December, 2008, journalist Hu Jia (photo, right), his wife, Zeng Jinyan, grandmother and six-week-old daughter were sleeping soundly in their Beijing apartment. When, at 3:00 AM, about 20 policemen burst in, cut their phone lines and disconnected his Internet. Hu Jia was immediately arrested and taken to a detention center. Why? Hu Jia was dangerous because he has been "subverting state authority."

Hu Jia is a well-known humanitarian activist. He has been defending prisoners of conscience, and China's failure to keep their word and laws. On paper, China claims to have law. In real life justice and law are orphans there.

He made ample use of the Internet, where he has a blog, to expose the government's acts of repression on those who defend human rights.

Days after his arrest, the police told his wife, Zeng Jinyan, they were looking for articles Hu had posted online. They were especially looking for stories and remarks regarding last August's Olympics. (Zeng Jinyan was named by Time magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential people in 2006.)

Last November Hu used his webcam to address a European parliamentary hearing on human rights. He said China had promised they would lighten up on dissidents before the Olympics. The chief of police was on the Olympic organizing committee. He kept none of the promises to lighten up on people's freedoms. So China got the 2008 Olympic Games. But they never let up on strong-arm tactics. By letting the world know the truth was too much for the police state to tolerate. (The European parliament president Hans-Gert Pöttering called for Hu’s release. The American Embassy has looked into the arrest and trial. USA has absolutely no leverage.)

Hu Jia was sentenced April 3, 2008, to three-and-a-half years' jail and another year's denial of political rights. His crime: "inciting subversion of state authority." The Chinese pull this accusation out of the hat constantly. The People's Republic of China does not release any details on arrests or trials.

The Hu apartment is surrounded by 10 police cars and more than two dozen armed policemen. Zeng is not allowed to have contact with anyone and has been threatened if she does not cooperate.

Hu's lawyers, Li Jinsong and Li Fangping, were not allowed to see him. His case was classified as a "state secret." Li Jinsong was put under house arrest in his hotel for a day. Li Fangping was "advised" not to visit Hu's home or try to talk to his wife. Beijing lawyer Xu Zhiyong sent an open letter to China's President Hu Jintao criticising Hu Jia’s arrest.

A call for release for Hu was signed by 90 well-known Chinese activists, writers and lawyers. The letter called his arrest "unacceptable."

After some German journalists talked with Zeng through a window, the police installed a heavy curtain and told journalists to delete any photos they may have taken.

Chinese bloggers are behind Hu and continue to post comments about the arrest. They write messages of comfort and support. These are quickly censored by the officials.

It is difficult to comprehend such repression going on openly. And there being little concern around the world. Hu is an honest man who loves his country or he would have left long ago. He wants China to be a more open society, quit being so dominated by paranoid new technocrats. Their actions show their fear of losing control. In January his lawyers requested he be released on medical grounds until his trial. That was ignored.

Journalists with Radio Free Asia were told by one observer, "There were eight or nine state security agents [police] stationed outside when we arrived, but they called for reinforcements." Another group, Reporters Without Borders, are working for justice in the case.

It took two months of international outrage toward China and support for Hu that the authorities allowed Zeng to visit her husband. Such support relaxed the strangle hold the government had on the situation. China only reacts, and then very slowly, when the truth becomes known around the world. This week foreign tourists have been welcomed back to Tibet.

So last Friday, in spite of pleas from the European Parlament and western powers, Hu Jia was give his sentence. Hu and Zeng and many like them are fearless in demanding transparency and press freedom.

We in the free world are taking our press freedom far too lightly. If the press is muzzled, or run by cliques or corporations, you can say good bye to all the other freedoms, one by one.

The American government is deep in financial debt to China. On the other hand, the Chinese government is in debt to us. A moral debt to humanity; opposition to giving dignity to their fellow man.

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