China crackdown is linked to Clinton policy shift

July 29, 1994|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- With the easing of international pressure over China's human rights abuses, authorities here have been "steadily tightening the noose" on all forms of dissent, a new report by two U.S.-based human rights organizations says.

The groups' report says a renewed crackdown on dissent has followed President Clinton's decision two months ago to end the U.S. link between human rights and granting China most-favored-nation trade status.

It notes that since Mr. Clinton's decision, China has held a long-delayed trial of 15 dissidents, continued a wave of arbitrary arrests of at least 17 other activists and enacted a new set of repressive security rules.

"Clinton's May decision to delink human rights and [China's most-favored-nation trade standing] has left Chinese authorities with the impression that their repression of dissent will have no negative consequences," the report concludes.

"Under such circumstances, the Chinese government has felt free to detain the principal movers of the dissident movement, especially those working on the sensitive issue of labor rights."

The report -- released today by Human Rights Watch/Asia and Human Rights in China, both based in New York -- details the following official moves to suppress dissent since Mr. Clinton's decision:

* After more than two years of detention, 15 dissidents and labor organizers belonging to three banned organizations were put on trial in mid-July for "counterrevolutionary activities."

These alleged activities included aborted plans to use a remote-controlled airplane to drop pro-democracy leaflets over Beijing's Tiananmen Square on the third anniversary of the June 3-4, 1989, military massacre of protesters near there.

The trial of the 15 activists had been delayed twice, first to avoid negative international reaction right before the decision in September on China's unsuccessful bid for the 2000 Olympics and then this spring to avoid influencing the Clinton trade decision.

* From March through this month, authorities have rounded up at least 17 other activists, including key organizers of a new wave of dissent that had just begun to surface.

The dissidents are being held without trial; some simply "have been made to disappear," the report says.

Among them is China's best-known dissident, Wei Jingsheng, who had resumed openly lobbying for democracy after being released from 14 years in jail in September. Mr. Wei was picked up by police April 1.

Authorities say he is is being held while under investigation for having committed "new crimes."

"This is the latest manifestation of a new and disturbing development," the report says. "The authorities appear to be dispensing with any attempt to adhere to the procedures laid out in Chinese laws and regulations governing arrest and detention."

Before Mr. Clinton's MFN decision, there was hope that Mr. Wei and the many of the other detained dissidents might be released after the fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre in June.

But since the president's decision, the report says, "there have been repeated indications that the authorities intend ultimately to prosecute them."

* New laws effective in June give sweeping new legal powers to China's State Security Bureau to clamp down on dissidents.

The new laws represent "the clearest legal signal to date that far from expanding freedoms as economic reform proceeds, China's rulers are actually regressing on the human rights front," the report concludes.

These laws "effectively criminalize virtually all of the strategies that rights activists in China evolved to work openly within the narrow confines of Chinese law," the report says.

They forbid unauthorized cooperation with foreign groups and receiving aid from foreign organizations defined as "hostile." They define writings harmful to "state security" as "sabotage."

The report says the new laws allow officials to prosecute dissidents without using the more overtly political sections of China's criminal code.

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