HONG KONG—Leading Chinese rights activists, angry at the Communist Party's treatment of Chinese citizens, are staging a rolling hunger strike launched by Beijing-based lawyer Gao Zhisheng, whose own fast lasted 48 hours.
Gao lost his law license after public and embarrassing criticism of China’s leaders and support for followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. After his fast, the hunger strike was continued by AIDS activist Hu Jia and Tiananmen pro-democracy veteran Qi Zhiyong, who lost a leg as a result of the bloody 1989 crackdown.
The protest, which began in reaction to the beating of top Guangdong rights lawyer Guo Feixiong at the weekend, continues with Beijing housing rights activist Guan Zengli and fellow activist Li Yang. Gao hopes it will eventually spread throughout China.
On behalf of our fellow citizen Guo Feixiong, who was beaten by the police, and of Gao Kunwu, who was subjected to a revenge attack from the forces of evil, and for Wu Xianghu, the newspaper editor who died after being beaten by the traffic police, we are carrying out this hunger strike.
Their fast will be relieved by Zhao Xin, who heads the Beijing-based Empowerment and Rights Institute, one of a growing number of non-governmental groups set up to represent the rights and interests of disadvantaged groups against official abuses of power.
Zhao himself was beaten by unidentified men last November as he left a restaurant in the southwestern province of Sichuan.
The activists’ statement issued at the start of the protest also said it was also prompted by the death of a newspaper editor following a beating at the hands of traffic police. The police were said to be unhappy at allegations of kickbacks printed in his paper.
“On behalf of our fellow citizen Guo Feixiong, who was beaten by the police, and of Gao Kunwu, who was subjected to a revenge attack from the forces of evil, and for Wu Xianghu, the newspaper editor who died after being beaten by the traffic police, we are carrying out this hunger strike,” the statement said.
“Few words are needed; only our hunger strike, in protest at these inhuman, barbaric acts of violence, will adequately express our anger. Faced with an inhumane government which acts like a criminal organization, this hunger strike may cause them to laugh sneeringly, but we will not allow the value judgments of others to dictate our actions,” it said.
“The crimes cannot continue; the oppression must stop.”
I am at the neighbor’s house right now, and there are around 60 people standing outside with pipes and sticks in their hands. Some are thugs but there are some police there too. They can watch me for as long as they like, for 50 years if they like. It won’t make a bit of difference. We are working on behalf of people’s rights, but now ours are being violated.
Gao said the hunger strike would continue indefinitely, and he called on Chinese citizens across the country to take part.
“There is no time limit. As long as there are Chinese people oppressed, then we will continue with our hunger strike. Our numbers will grow, to an extent that will surprise people,” he told RFA’s Mandarin service.
“I have already had calls from people in England, France, Australia, Canada, the United States, Hong Kong, and Taiwan who wish to join us.”
The wife of dissident He Depu, jailed in 2002 for Internet articles critical of the government, said she would support the fasters. “This isn’t an individual matter. It affects every individual,” she said.
A Chinese man surnamed Qi said he would join in the fast from Canada.
“It may seem as though what Gao and the others are doing is a very small thing that will have no effect. But I understand that good and evil hang in the balance here, and I want to make sure my effort goes into supporting the cause of good," he said.
Qi said he was proud to align himself with Gao.
“There is no peace under an authoritarian regime, but at least we can walk side by side. I am especially proud to walk alongside Lawyer Gao, who has no vested interest in this action at all, and has simply been trying to bring legal assistance to ordinary people with no-one else to help them,” Qi said.
“We must wake up those who are fast asleep and recharge the batteries of those who have a conscience.”
Hu Jia, who has just quit the Aizhi Foundation he founded to avoid getting it into trouble as a result of his activism, said the hunger strike movement was the tip of an iceberg.
“This sort of resistance is taking place now everywhere across China. We don’t know how many people have already stood up for their rights, nor how many have been killed doing so,” Hu said.
“These people are already beginning to feel a mighty pressure building up in the air, and suddenly all the teeth are standing up together.”
Gao has already survived an apparent attempt on his life by a car with obscured number plates, which braked suddenly in front of him on a busy urban freeway in Beijing last month.
Wu Xianghu, who was deputy editor at the Taizhou Wanbao newspaper in the eastern province of Zhejiang, died from liver failure Monday after sustaining massive internal injuries during a beating by traffic police three months earlier.
Meanwhile, blind activist Chen Guangcheng has been kept under house arrest at his home in the eastern province of Shandong, after his whistleblowing over forced abortions and other abuses in the family planning system led to the sacking of several top officials.
“I am at the neighbor’s house right now, and there are around 60 people standing outside with pipes and sticks in their hands. Some are thugs but there are some police there too.”
“They can watch me for as long as they like, for 50 years if they like. It won’t make a bit of difference. We are working on behalf of people’s rights, but now ours are being violated. This is a hard reality to face,” Chen told RFA reporter Ding Xiao in a recent interview.
“Chinese people are usually so well-behaved, but they have turned around and really woken up in the past six months. People have begun to see clearly, to experience these feelings for themselves.”
“Even the people paid to watch me are saying that the Communist Party has no future. But they say, ‘We need the money. If we didn’t do this someone else would. But we know what’s going on.’”
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Lei Kin-kwan. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.