Election Activist 'Disappeared'

A Chinese school teacher is missing after campaigning to register independent candidates in parliamentary elections.

Officials count votes at local elections in Wuhu, eastern China's Anhui province, March 20, 2008.

Authorities in China's central Hubei province are still believed to be holding former independent parliamentary delegate Yao Lifa, sparking fears for his safety.

Yao's wife Feng Ling said her husband had already attracted a security detail after he joined an online campaign for ordinary citizens to seek registration as candidates in regional and local-level elections this year.

"He was definitely taken away by them," Feng said from the couple's home in Qianjiang city. "Otherwise they would be looking for him everywhere."

"They would take him to work at the school every day and escort him back home again afterwards," she said. Yao currently teaches in an elementary school.

"But he hasn't been home for a long time now."

Missing for weeks

Feng said Yao, who successfully ran as an independent candidate for the local congress in the late 1990s, hasn't been in contact with friends or family since June 20.

Yao's disappearance is thought to be linked to recent announcements by popular microbloggers that they intend to stand as independent candidates in elections to local legislatures.

Rights groups have expressed concern recently at the large number of extrajudicial detentions, as China cracks down on dissent in the wake of popular uprisings in the Middle East. They say those who are "disappeared" are at greater risk of torture than other detainees.

Feng said the authorities were likely afraid that Yao would encourage a chain reaction in the campaign.

Independent delegate

In 1998, after a 10-year struggle, Yao became the first independent delegate to be elected by winning a municipal seat, but was shunted aside five years later and has been harassed ever since.

The Chinese authorities have warned that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate, and that anyone hoping to stand for elections this year to the People's Congresses will first have to clear "due legal procedures," the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Apart from a token group of "democratic parties" which never oppose or criticize the ruling Communist Party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.

More than two million lawmakers at the county and township levels will be elected during nationwide elections, held every five years, in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships from May 7 through December of next year.

'Not afraid of oppression'

One would-be independent, Jiangxi-based laid-off worker Liu Ping, gained the backing of more than 30 people for her nomination in district People's Congress elections, but still didn't make it onto the official list of candidates.

Instead, she was assaulted by local officials as she tried to take photographs at a local district office, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

"Our aim is to supervise the democratic process in China so as to ensure that the elections are carried out legally," said Liu's lawyer Wu Yuanshu.

Asked if he was concerned about a backlash from the authorities similar to that experienced by Yao, Wu replied: "Of course there are some concerns. It would be a lie to say that there weren't some concerns and worries."

"We will be sure to act within current laws," he said. "Any activities undertaken by lawyers will respect the Constitution and national laws, and under such circumstances we are not afraid of oppression."

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service and by Dai Weisen for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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