China Cracks Down on Public Discussion of Activist's Subversion Trial

china-baoguests-091817.jpg Bao Tong, seventh from left, shares a meal with friends in an undated photo.
Photo sent by an RFA listener

China's internet censors have shut down a human rights chat group on the popular social media platform QQ after users discussed the recent subversion trial in China of a Taiwan political activist, moderators told RFA on Monday.

A QQ chat group was shut down by authorities after it discussed the trial of Taiwan NGO worker and democracy activist Lee Ming-cheh, who pleaded guilty to subversion charges at his trial last week, organizer and rights activist Xu Qin told RFA.

Lee, the first foreign national to be held under new laws governing NGO activity in China, stood trial on Sept. 11 alongside Chinese national Peng Yuhua at the Intermediate People's Court in Hunan's Yueyang city, where he "confessed" to charges of "incitement to subvert state power."

"I had planned a seminar on the topic, but my QQ account got shut down, as well as the QQ group chat," Xu said. "The group moderator's account died too."

"My account on Sina Weibo ... has also been permanently deleted," she said. "[The authorities] are very sensitive about the topic of Lee Ming-cheh's trial."

Group member Xu Kun said he had heard of around five or six QQ accounts being permanently shut down following the group chat.

"I know of five or six people whose QQ accounts have been shut down, and about four or five on WeChat," Xu Kun said. "Normally, the authorities just block groups planning to hold public seminars."

"It was because of the Lee Ming-cheh case that they blocked us; they are very frightened," he said.

Dozens questioned

Dozens of supporters who traveled to the central province of Hunan to show support at Lee's trial have been questioned by state security police after arriving back in their hometowns, activists said.

They said the government is likely hoping to silence the country's dissidents and activist community ahead of the 19th Party Congress next month, where President Xi Jinping will be looking to consolidate his power at the head of the ruling Chinese Congress Party.

Bao Tong, a former aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, said he has been forced to leave town ahead of the meeting, and is currently under round-the-clock guard by state security police.

"They have set up a monitoring and listening station below the room where I am staying," Bao said. "The listening station is on the ground floor, and I am staying on the third floor."

"There is an 'audio-visual' company that sends a van every day to pick up the recordings ... they have their meals sent in by the local police station," he said. "One time, they brought the food up to me and I asked if it was for the audio-visual company, and they said, no, they are on the ground floor."

Bao, 85, who has been under close surveillance and continual house arrest after serving a seven-year jail term in the wake of the June 4 military crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, said he has been subjected to ever-tightening restrictions in recent months.

"Three months ago they stopped me meeting up with anyone for a meal," Bao said. "I couldn't do that in July, nor in August, nor in September."

Bao said he was also warned not to speak to the media following the July 13 death of late Nobel peace laureate and political dissident Liu Xiaobo from liver cancer while in police custody.

"Now, I won't be able to share a meal with my wife from now until the 19th Party Congress," he said.

Concerns raised

Last week, human rights activists called on China to stop detaining lawyers and critics, voicing concern for their health and fate in custody after Liu's treatment prompted an international outcry.

The activists highlighted the case of Jiang Tianyong, a prominent human rights lawyer disbarred in 2009, who disappeared last November and was held incommunicado for six months.

Rights groups also highlighted the case of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, declared a case of arbitrary detention by a U.N. panel in 2014, who is serving a life sentence for “separatism”.

Meanwhile, Zhang Qing, wife of jailed activist Guo Feixiong, told an NGO event in Geneva last week that he has suffered after being sentenced to six years in prison in late 2015 and staging a 101-day hunger strike in 2016 in protest.

"Guo has encountered a wide range of brutal and evil torture in jail, such as 13 days and nights of sleep deprivation, and a high-voltage taser applied to his private parts to extract a confession," she said.

Human Rights Watch has said Beijing is waging a campaign of harassment against Chinese activists who seek to testify at the U.N. about repression.

Reported by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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