China on High Alert, Detains Critics, Protesters Ahead of War Parade

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Chinese paramilitary police march near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, March 7, 2014.
Chinese paramilitary police march near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, March 7, 2014.

As the ruling Chinese Communist Party gears up for a massive military parade to mark the end of World War II in September, authorities across the country are detaining former army veterans, tightening controls on ethnic minority groups, and rounding up anyone with a complaint against the government.

Thirty heads of state, including Russian president Vladimir Putin and South Korean president Park Geun-hye, will attend China's celebration on Sept. 3 of its victory over Japan, although Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe won't be among them, the foreign ministry said.

Guests also include former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Myanmar president Thein Sein, Vietnamese president Truong Tan Sang, and senior North Korean official Choe Ryong-hae.

Beijing is already under tight security as crack People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops practice with military hardware by night along the city's tree-lined boulevards, residents said.

A Beijing resident surnamed Li said she had been refused entry to Tiananmen Square at the weekend, amid tight security.

"I tried to go to Tiananmen [on Sunday], to go onto the Square, but I couldn't get in," Li said. "They're not allowing people to go in there right now, although you can go past it in the bus."

Petitioners targeted

Nationwide, police are targeting anyone with a potential grievance against the government, including petitioners, former PLA soldiers protesting a lack of pension, and ethnic minority groups.

Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, said local governments have been issued with a set of guidelines aimed at ensuring that petitioners don't even make it as far as Beijing in the next few days.

"Local governments have been taking outrageous measures, including the use of judicial action, to stop people getting to Beijing," Huang told RFA. "In the process they have been using criminal detention and other methods as a way of persecuting the general public."

"This is actually a disgrace for this military parade being held in mainland China ... [which is] a disaster for petitioners."

He said police and volunteer security guards are detaining petitioners on the streets and forcing them back to their hometowns.

Beijing-based petitioner Zhang Shufeng said she is currently in need of medical attention after being detained and beaten by police, and held under house arrest ahead of the military parade.

"What right to they have to curb my freedom of movement?" Zhang said. "My back hurts [and] they won't pay the medical bills."

Postal controls

Meanwhile, authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have stepped up controls on the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group ahead of the anniversary parade, an exile Uyghur group said.

"China is ... stepping up controls targeting the districts where Uyghurs live, carrying out security checks of everyone's bag as they go in and out," Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, told RFA.

He said the controls even extend to packages being sent by mail.

"Now, they are collecting the personal details of everyone who sends a package and everyone who receives one," Raxit said. "I think the authorities are bringing a state of terror on themselves ... and that's why they are coming up with such extreme policies."

An employee surnamed Liu at a courier depot in Xinjiang's regional capital, Urumqi, said Beijing is operating on high security alert.

"The security alert is very high now, and that includes Tianjin, where you can't send any goods at all right now," Liu said.

"If you want to send something to Beijing from here, it has to be requested from headquarters, and any consignments have to have the full, real name of the sender, because of the military parade," he said.

"This is a rule set by the national postal service," Liu added. "They are [also] not taking any consignments from Tibet at all now. It's too risky."

Clashes with veterans

Dissent is also potentially rife within the party's own ranks.

Police in the southern province of Guangdong recently clashed with several thousand PLA veterans demanding better retirement pay and conditions, escorting large numbers of them back to their hometowns over the weekend.

The clashes came after some 20 veterans were injured by police after 700 protesters converged on Guangdong's Yangjiang city government in a bid to make their demands heard on Sunday.

News of the clashes prompted hundreds more veterans to travel to the city to support them, veterans told RFA at the time.

"They have imposed an information blackout now, and they are taking us all home," a veteran surnamed Cai told RFA after arriving in nearby Guangzhou, en route to Yangjiang.

"Nobody can get into Guangdong province now," Cai said. "They are watching all the roads, and if they see one of our people, they take them away."

"They have already taken away more than 200 people [to my knowledge]," he said. "They are being taken away by interceptors from the place that they are from."

Cai said many of the protest leaders are now incommunicado. "We can't get in touch with them, and we don't know who detained them," he said.

Huang said the authorities are particularly worried about protesting PLA veterans.

"A lot of veterans are under surveillance or house arrest now, because this event has had a big impact," he said.

Amnesty for prisoners

China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC) is considering granting an amnesty for prisoners in certain categories to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war with Japan, Hong Kong media reported.

Those given a pardon could include survivors of the war with Japan and the civil war with the Nationalist KMT government, which fled to Taiwan in 1949.

According to Xiao Jiansheng, editor of the official Hunan Daily newspaper, the move echoes similar pardons granted by late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

"In Mao Zedong's time they would pardon political prisoners, but we haven't seen this at all since then," he said.

"They definitely want to make a symbolic statement, but at least it's an enlightened statement."

But Chongqing-based political commentator Zhang Qi said he thought the amnesty would only affect much older people.

"The people for whom this would be most meaningful would be young offenders of 18 and under," Zhang said.

"[President] Xi Jinping isn't doing this for human rights, or on the basis of the rule of law, but out of nationalism--to encourage a nationalistic mood."

Reported by Xin Lin, Yang Fan and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wei Ling, Pan Jiaqing and Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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