Chinese democracy activist disappears during protest

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The Independent Online

A Chinese democracy activist, protesting at being beaten up by government-hired thugs, went missing yesterday after he tried to stage a hunger strike outside Beijing's central leadership compound.

As news broke that human rights campaigner Yang Maodong - also known as Guo Feixiong - had gone missing from outside a police station, the US internet giant Yahoo was accused of giving evidence to Chinese authorities that led to a pro-democracy journalist going to jail. It is the second case of its kind involving Yahoo.

The internet is a central medium for human rights campaigners in China to exchange ideas and organise themselves. As a result, the ruling Communist Party has intensified its crackdown on freedom of speech, both on the internet and in traditional media, and clamped down on civil rights campaigners. Chinese human rights defenders have been fasting to show support for Yang, a rural campaigner, taking turns at not eating for 24 or 48 hours. An Aids campaigner, Hu Jia, one of the leading figures in the protest, said Yang went missing after he tried to protest at Zhongnanhai, China's heavily guarded seat of power near Tiananmen Square.

Mr Hu said: "We know that at six o'clock yesterday he was at the Xicheng district police station, but we do not know where he is now. We cannot get hold of him."

Another protester, Qi Zhiyong, who lost a leg in the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, had gone to look for his colleague but was dragged to his home by police. Mr Hu's own home was under surveillance.

The Beijing government has been trying to contain increasing social unrest, sparked by public anger over issues ranging from land grabs without adequate compensation to official corruption and a yawning wealth gap. The hunger strike takes place as pressure mounts on human rights campaigners. The latest furore over Western web firms in China comes shortly after Google bowed to Beijing by blocking politically sensitive terms on its new China site.

The veteran rights activist Liu Xiaobo said Yahoo had co-operated with Chinese police in a case that led to the arrest in 2002 of Li Zhi, who was charged with subverting state power and jailed for eight years. Yahoo said it had to obey local laws.

Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders insisted Yahoo knew it was helping to arrest dissidents.

In September, Yahoo was accused of helping authorities identify Shi Tao, who was sentenced last April to 10 years in prison for leaking state secrets abroad.

The recent clampdown has seen the dismissal of the editor of the outspoken Beijing News. Chen Jieren, the chief editor of the Public Interest Times, was reportedly sacked this week over criticism of authorities.