China cracks down ahead of Games

Clifford Coonan
Monday 23 June 2008 00:00 BST

To get to the apartment we have travel down a series of laneways in the south of Beijing, all bearing the character "chai", which means "demolish". A series of locks are opened as the steel door is pulled back, but it won't do much good when the police do come.

Thousands of miles away from the Olympic torch relay through Lhasa, a group of wronged, cheated and abused Beijing residents are gathered in the house of Hua Huiqi. A self-taught "barefoot" lawyer-activist and underground Christian, Hua, 46, and all those present have been warned they will be arrested during the Olympics and told to shut up before the world's media arrives.

"The closer we get to the Olympics, the worse the effect on our human rights," he says.

The police come every day to warn him and we speak in a climate of real fear, with everyone jumping whenever there is a knock at the door. He knows he will soon be arrested, because nothing can be allowed to interfere with a smooth running of the Olympics. All over the city, human rights defenders, fighters for free speech or advocates for property rights say they are being told they are not to use the Olympics as a platform for their complaints.

Police beat Hua unconscious in October when he tried to intercede for residents kicked out of their homes by private security thugs. He served six months in jail last year for "obstructing justice" after he and his 78-year-old mother scuffled with police as they prepared to present a petition to the government about the demolition of their home in 2001.

Hua's mother, Shuang Shuying, was sentenced to two years in jail for damaging public property during a protest against her son's detention. "Yesterday they came looking for me to give me a warning," he says. "Two days ago they knocked the door down violently. They told me to be honest, be careful and to shut up because of the Olympics. They said that I would be held under house arrest during the Olympics."

Among those gathered in the room looking for justice are Wang Xuebin, who was dragged 300 metres behind a car by thieves who robbed his shop in 1999. His right arm had to be amputated, but although the criminals were punished, they received leniency because they had good connections.

The medical report said his injuries were "slight" and related to a "woman's breast injury". This, to an imposing man with Dickensian sideburns, is insulting.

Li Guifeng's daughter, Gaoping, was cheated out of tens of thousands of yuan by her boyfriend. When she reported the fraud to the police, the boyfriend used his connections to have Gaoping arrested, and the 33-year-old mother died in custody. "She was in the police station for a half an hour," says Li.

"When I went to the police station to get her body they threw her body into the car like a dead pig. She'd been beaten. They say she committed suicide, but she didn't. We've kept her body frozen, we want answers."

Li and Wang have both been told to drop their complaints ahead of the Beijing Olympics on 8 August.

In international terms, the government is espousing a policy of openness for the Games, saying there will be complete media freedom for visitors. But the country has only tightened its grip on domestic reporters.

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