January 7, 2008 / 8:21 AM / 13 years ago

China urged to improve human rights before Olympics

BEIJING (Reuters) - A group of Chinese dissidents has signed an open letter condemning the arrest of an AIDS and environmental activist on subversion charges and urged the government to improve human rights ahead of this year’s Olympics.

Pupils look at a painting of the 2008 Beijing Olympics logo at a school in Nanjing, Jiangsu province January 2, 2008. A group of Chinese dissidents has signed an open letter condemning the arrest of an AIDS and environmental activist on subversion charges and urged the government to improve human rights ahead of this year's Olympics. REUTERS/Jeff Xu

The letter, signed by 57 lawyers, academics, editors, writers and civil rights campaigners, said Hu Jia’s arrest last month on charges of inciting to subvert the government was “unacceptable” as his words and deeds were protected under the constitution.

Hu’s activism has set him on a collision course with the Communist Party, which has stepped up curbs on non-governmental organizations, the media, the Internet, lawyers, academics and civil rights campaigners to maintain its grip on power.

The signatories urged the government “to make good use of the opportunity to make the Olympics a truly grand event for the Chinese nation by opening the door of social reconciliation” and proving that it has made efforts to improve human rights.

The letter, e-mailed to reporters by the rights watchdog Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said Hu, 34, was suffering from liver problems and should be released at once.

At the very least, he should receive medical attention and be allowed to meet his relatives and lawyer.

Last week, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pottering called on Beijing to free Hu, saying he hoped the Olympics would be a chance for China to show it is committed to internationally recognized human rights standards, including freedom of expression.

Asked to comment on Pottering’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said: “China is a country ruled by law. Everyone is equal before the law. No one is above the law. Relevant agencies acted in accordance with the law.”

CUT OFF

Police have prevented Hu’s wife, blogger and fellow AIDS activist Zeng Jinyan, her newborn baby and elderly mother from leaving the couple’s Beijing home. Authorities have cut off her communications with the outside world.

“They broke into our home and took away Hu Jia ... Then they searched our home for about five hours and took away our cell phones, laptops, fax machine, business cards, bank pass books, notebooks and video tapes,” Zeng told Reuters last week.

“Six men refused to leave and occupied our living room for two days and one night. I protested angrily but they ignored me and called me a traitor,” she said, using a friend’s cell phone which was smuggled in but has since been confiscated.

“I feel tremendous pressure ... I don’t know what’s going on,” said Zeng, named by Time magazine last year as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

In May, Hu and Zeng were barred from leaving the country and accused of endangering national security.

Hu has been a thorn in the government’s side and spent 214 days under house arrest in 2006. He first came to prominence over his advocacy for AIDS sufferers in rural China.

While under house arrest, Hu followed closely the trials of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, blind civil rights campaigner Chen Guangcheng and octogenarian AIDS doctor Gao Yaojie, e-mailing almost daily updates to foreign reporters.

Editing by Nick Macfie and Roger Crabb

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