Chinese Democracy Activist Held Under House Arrest to Prevent Election Bid

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Democracy activist Sun Wenguang, an independent candidate in forthcoming local elections to his district People's Congress in eastern China's Shandong province, appears in an undated photo.
Democracy activist Sun Wenguang, an independent candidate in forthcoming local elections to his district People's Congress in eastern China's Shandong province, appears in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Sun Wenguang

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong are holding a veteran democracy activist under unofficial house arrest to prevent him from standing as independent candidate in forthcoming local elections to his district People's Congress.

Retired university lecturer Sun Wenguang, 82, has been unable to leave his home in Shandong's provincial capital Jinan since last Friday.

Video seen by RFA from last week showed him canvassing potential voters and handing out leaflets on the campus of Shandong University, surrounding by unidentified men that Sun refers to as "state security police."

In a later video, Sun is shown arguing with a man in a leather jacket who prevents him from getting into the lift outside his apartment, and asks him where he is going.

"It's none of your business where I'm going," retorts Sun. "This is a violation of my personal rights; you are not even in police uniform. What department are you from?"

Sun said he has now been prevented from registering his candidacy, as the deadline for initial registration passed at 5 p.m. local time on Wednesday.

"There are five or six people outside my home, and two of them are on my floor, preventing me from going downstairs," he told RFA. "There are another three or four downstairs blocking the exit."

"They stop me from leaving if I try to go downstairs," he said. "They are there round the clock, even through the night."

"Effectively, I am being imprisoned in a black jail ... They sent around a dozen police officers to my house on Dec. 2 when we were canvassing on the university campus," Sun said.

"But the police dispatched 20 or 30 officers to surround me on campus, so that I was being followed by more than a dozen of them wherever I went," he said.

Closely followed

Sun's wife and the family's domestic helper were also prevented from leaving the apartment until the deadline had passed, he said.

While Sun is now able to leave his apartment, he is still closely followed by a group of state security police wherever he goes.

Sun said the five days under house arrest has dealt a fatal blow to his hopes of standing as an independent candidate.

"You need to find 10 people to recommend you, but I haven't been able to do that, nor to go and pick up a registration form for candidates," he said.

"They only gave me a three-day window to pick up the form, and then they put other difficulties in my way," Sun said. "Also, I had no way of communicating with voters, of getting my views across."

"[But] even if you apply and collect the recommendations, they can still refuse to accept you as a candidate," he said. "The [ruling Chinese] Communist Party has a monopoly on elections."

One of Sun's campaign assistants, Gao Xiangming, told RFA that he had also been visited by local police after he helped canvass votes for him.

"My phone is now being monitored 24 hours a day," Gao told RFA. "I am under surveillance whether I am helping Prof. Sun with canvassing or visiting his home. These actions are those of a dictatorship."

Electoral guidelines

China's electoral guidelines state that candidates may put themselves forward if they receive recommendations from at least 10 local voters in direct elections to district and township level People's Congresses.

But powerful vested interests mean that the majority of local "elections" are decided in advance, while would-be independent candidates across China have reported being targeted for persecution, harassment, and detention in recent months.

Official media have also warned that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate.

Every three to five years, China "elects" more than 2 million lawmakers at the county and township levels across the country to local-level People's Congresses in more than 2,000 counties and 30,000 townships. The congresses largely rubber stamp party decisions and personnel choices.

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

Activists have expressed concern over the safety of constitutional scholar and former People's Congress deputy Yao Lifa, who has been incommunicado since the beginning of the month in the central province of Hubei.
Yao, who in 1998 became the first independent delegate to be elected to a municipal seat in a local People's Congress, has since coached other election hopefuls via social media how to win votes.

His bid to use his status to campaign for poverty alleviation and the rights of local people inspired a nationwide movement to field independent candidates in local elections.

Reported by Lee Lai for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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