July 30, 2013

NO DEMOCRACY, NO RELATIONSHIP:

What's Behind the New Chinese Crackdown? (Li Xiaorong, 7/29/13, NY Review of Books)

While the rationale for the current crackdown remains unclear, what all the detained activists seem to have in common is that they are accused of organizing actions that would take place not just in cyberspace but in the physical space of city streets. Chinese leaders always see such public campaigns as an open challenge to their control. They fear that activists are seeking to take China's rising number of local protests about social and economic problems to another level--turning it into a political movement that could challenge the authoritarian regime.

Several more clues about the detentions can be gleaned from what lawyers and supporters of the activists have said about the police interrogations the activists have been submitted to. The goals of the police, according to these reports, have clearly been to find "behind-the-scenes organizers," to identify "sources of funding," and to challenge the legality of acting in groups. Police told one activist that he was detained for his "illegal organization." But "we were only applying for a legal permit. How could that be a crime?" replied the activist. Another activist, who was detained for "gathering crowds to disrupt public order" asked her interrogators, "How could I have gathered any crowds or disrupt any public order while I was asleep?" The police explained: You joined others in organizing a rally at a trade show in Beijing.

Across China, there are now hundreds of thousands of spontaneous local demonstrations against layoffs, unpaid salaries, land grabbing, and pollution each year. The Chinese government has been unable or unwilling to suppress all of them, but it is determined to prevent the politicizing of these protests through the increasing involvement of rights activists and political dissidents, who live under close police surveillance but pursue their causes largely online. [...]

The crackdown poses a further challenge to the Obama administration as it confronts the many human rights violations in China. The Chinese government has already taken advantage of the US's awkward situation because of the Snowden affair. It has been more defiant when the US criticizes the Chinese government's behavior toward its citizens. But the recent detentions in China are a disturbing reminder that the new leaders are walking the old road of abusing the basic rights that the government grants its citizens on paper. If the US does not take up these issues at this week's bilateral human rights talk, it will be vulnerable to the criticism that these "dialogues" are empty exercises. In Kunming, the US should identify some concrete steps for progress. Persuading the Chinese government to release prisoners of conscience, including the recently detained civil-society organizers, should be among them.

Posted by at July 30, 2013 5:24 AM
  

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