Democrats arrested as China hails its human rights record

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THE CHINESE government has again demonstrated its limited sense of irony by announcing it is to launch the first television series on human rights, just as more dissidents were rounded up for trying to form an opposition party. The television series has been launched to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, it is unlikely to become compulsive viewing, as it will consist mainly of interviews with government officials and academics.

Having basked in the glow of visits from American, British and French leaders, who all stated that the Chinese human rights record was improving, the government has bided its time before cracking down on the Chinese Democratic Party. The party is a small organisation but one that seems to have some form of nationwide network and has had the audacity to apply for legal recognition under the terms of the Chinese constitution.

The Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China, based in Hong Kong,` said yesterday that the latest arrest of party leaders brought in Zhang Baoqin, 41, a founder of the party's branch in Fujian province, which faces Taiwan.

The centre stated that Mr Zhang was arrested by 20 policemen who broke into his house and seized documents.

Six days ago he launched a protest, with four other party members, to try to secure the release of other party members including Xu Wenli, the best known, who was arrested last week. Two dissidents who also protested against the arrests, in Liaoning province, were also detained last Saturday.

Wang Youcai, another well- known leader of the beleaguered party. is due to appear in court in the eastern city of Hangzhou on December 17 on charges of "incitement to overthrow state power". He faces the possibility of a life sentence for trying to register the party with the authorities.

The Hong Kong centre says more than 100 dissidents are expected to make their way to Hangzhou to give their support to Mr Wang. In doing so, they risk missing the first of 24 television programmes, each of 15 minutes, to be aired over the next three months.

The state controlled Wenhui Daily newspaper, said the programmes were intended to "promote universal education on Marxist human rights concepts and basic knowledge about human rights".

The paper stated the programmes would emphasise the differences between Chinese and Western concepts of rights, and the future of human rights in China.

The Chinese government won considerable international kudos by recently signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but it has yet to be ratified by China's parliament. This means that China is not yet subject to the monitoring incumbent on signatories who have ratified the treaty.