China Targets Writers Group

2004-12-15
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The traditional-style seal of Independent Chinese PEN, an association of writers affiliated with International PEN. Image: www.penchinese.net

HONG KONG—Authorities in Beijing have detained and questioned three members of an independent writers' organization that advocated greater freedom of expression, raising the specter of a crackdown on intellectuals.

Three prominent independent writers—Liu Xiaobo, Yu Jie, and Zhang Zuhua—were separately detained by police overnight Monday until the early hours of Tuesday. The three have all been released, but are still under tight supervision and restriction.

Simultaneous arrests

"They came to my house at about five in the afternoon and searched it," Beijing-based activist and writer Liu Xiaobo told RFA's Mandarin service. "When they had searched about half of it they took me away to the police station and asked me about the articles I'd been writing. I got back (home) at 2:30 a.m."

Liu said this questioning session differed from previous encounters with the authorities. "This time, they've taken my computer away, and my contacts book, and computer CDs. They said they'd give it back to me...when they were finished with it."

Asked if he thought he was in serious trouble, Liu said: "I can't tell..." at which point the telephone connection was cut off.

Zhang said he was unable to give an interview, suggesting he was still under strict surveillance.

They say that the Independent Pen Association isn't a political organization, that it is a writers' association. But because it is in favor of creative freedom, well, in China that is a political activity.

"I'm sorry, it's really not convenient for me to speak at the moment. I hope you will understand," he said. "I'm already out, and I'm fine, at least for the time being I'm okay. Please thank everyone for their concern."

Meanwhile, Yu said he was told he was in serious breach of China's laws. "They brought out several dozen articles I have had published overseas in the last couple of years."

"They showed me copies of dozens of articles that I had published online over the past one or two years and asked me to confirm and then sign and do a fingerprint for each copy. The police told me that the articles attacked the government and Party leaders and had seriously violated the law," Yu said.

"They were not happy about my involvement in calling for human rights improvement while visiting the United States and France.... It was only after I was forced to give them access to all my computer files that they released me," he said. "Right now there are still police outside the building."

The arrests have raised concerns among Chinese writers and analysts both in the country and overseas that the authorities may be launching an ideological campaign that takes specific aim at intellectuals, despite attempts by the government of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao to present their policies as "human-centered."

"It seems as if the arrests are all of members of the Chinese Independent PEN association," Shenzhen-based dissident Zhao Dagong told RFA. "They say that the Independent PEN association isn't a political organization, that it is a writers' association. But because it campaigns for creative freedom, well, in China that is a political activity."

Counterrevolutionary label

At a top-level law enforcement meeting Dec. 7-8 in Beijing, China's security chief Luo Gan pointed to a loosening in national security, sources told RFA's Mandarin service. He singled out four major regions as areas of concern: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xinjiang. The problem in Beijing was said to be too much liberalism, one source said.

I'm afraid of a kind of anti-rightist movement, or of a real red terror or white terror campaign that is specifically targeted at intellectuals.

But more worryingly, Luo also told the meeting that Independent Chinese PEN was "a counterrevolutionary organization," the source said.

Yang Yinbo, a writer from the southern city of Guangzhou and a member of Chinese Independent PEN, said the group had links with International PEN, and affirmed an independence of spirit among writers.

"I am strongly opposed to the labeling of Independent Chinese PEN as a counterrevolutionary organization.... The meaning of the word 'independent' in our name is that of an independence of mind," Liu said in a panel discussion with RFA's Mandarin service.

"To judge from the current situation, I am worried about this. I'm afraid of a kind of anti-rightist movement, or of a real red or white terror campaign that is specifically targeted at intellectuals," Liu said.

U.S.-based scholar Fang Jue said the crackdown on what the Party sees as liberalism among intellectuals in recent months showed that the Hu-Wen administration was still strongly connected to its political roots.

"The arrest of these three independent writers shows that there are people in the Chinese leadership who have taken an ideological stance against the so-called problem of liberalism," Fang told RFA. "The new generation of Chinese leaders ought not to employ the controlling tactics, the oppression of the intellectuals, from the Mao Zedong era. This is inappropriate."

Fledgling civil groups

Fang said Hu's attempt to get closer to ordinary Chinese people excluded intellectuals. "Hu Jintao's policies of trying to get closer to the people are really aimed at the poorest people in China... In this you can see a lot of traditional Marxist-Leninist and Mao Zedong thought coming out," he said.

"His ideology is quite Maoist in that it involves creating a link with the masses. It's got nothing to do with what you or I would call democratic thinking," Fang said.

They said they were unhappy about my activities in France and the United States, saying that I had been involved with human rights campaigns, and that they thought this was a serious breach of the law.

The Chinese authorities have so far been unsure how to deal with special interest groups that make up China's nascent and fragile civil society.

"The government has a bit of a headache with the Independent Pen, because it's not like the China Democracy Party, Labor Party, whatever party, where they can arrest you for subversion of state power. You can't ban this kind of organization," Shenzhen-based dissident Zhao Dagong told RFA.

"They say that the Independent Pen Association isn't a political organization, that it is a writers' association. But because it campaigns for creative freedom, well, in China that is a political activity," Zhao said.