BEIJING (Reuters) - A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer said on Wednesday that police had prevented him from attending a meeting with the visiting deputy chancellor of Germany, in the latest example of curbs on government critics in China.
Sigmar Gabriel, the number-two ranking member of the German government after Chancellor Angela Merkel, had planned to meet with a small group of dissidents at the German embassy on Tuesday, but most of them did not show up.
Before returning to Berlin, Gabriel expressed regret that the talks had not taken place, and said he would stress to Chinese authorities the importance the German government places on such meetings.
One of the invitees, human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping, told Reuters that police had come to his office and said they had received orders “from above” that he was not allowed to attend.
“They must have understood that I had been invited and so came over to say that I could not go,” he said. “This is quite typical. It’s not the first time it has happened.”
Gabriel told reporters: ”I’ve visited China often and have always met members of civil society. There have never been any problems. That is why I regret all the more that the planned event in Beijing could not take place.
“We will express to our Chinese partners in an appropriate way that contact with civil organizations is of great importance to us,” he added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said he was unaware of the incident.
“I believe that Germans, as a very rigorous people, know how to be a (good) guest in other countries,” Qin told a daily news briefing.
“We uphold the principle of mutual respect and equality in dealing with differences to be able to increase dialogue and understanding. This is the ... necessary path to take.”
Gabriel is on a two-day visit to China, accompanied by a large delegation of business officials. He raised the issue of human rights and the rule of law during hour-long talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Two years ago police blocked Mo, who defended China’s jailed Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo in his 2009 trial, from attending a Beijing dinner hosted by German leader Angela Merkel. Merkel will visit China again in July.
“It’s regretful, but this is the present situation in China,” Mo said. “I was invited, as an ordinary citizen, by a visiting foreign dignitary, and there is no legal basis for stopping me.”
Mo said he had been able to meet German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier when he was in China earlier this month.
Hu Xingdou, a specialist in migrant issues at the Beijing Institute of Technology and an outspoken critic on social issues, said he had been invited to meet Gabriel too, but could not go as he was teaching.
It was ridiculous that the police should be telling people like Mo they could not meet Gabriel, Hu added.
“This is China blackening its own name in front of Germany,” Hu told Reuters.
China generally takes exception to criticism of its human rights record by other countries, saying this amounts to an unwarranted interference in its internal affairs.
China this month accused Britain of interfering in its domestic affairs after the government criticized Beijing’s human rights record.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration has ratcheted up pressure on dissent, detaining and jailing activists, clamping down on Internet critics and tightening curbs on journalists in what some rights groups call the worst suppression of free expression in recent years.
Additional reporting by Gernot Heller in Beijing, Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Simon Cameron-Moore and Catherine Evans