China is in the midst of what the Chinese call 打压, da ya, which literally means “beat and compress”.
These periods crop up every so often, as the Communist Party seeks to reassert its control. The latest oppressive phase coincides with the run up to the 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule in October.
The anniversary is being taken very seriously in Beijing, where security will allegedly be tighter than it was for the Olympic Games last year.
Yesterday, it emerged that yet another leading intellectual, Mo Zhixu, has been put under house arrest. Mo is an author and the recently elected head of China’s PEN centre, a charity that defends the right to free speech. He is also one of the founders of Bullog.cn, one of China’s most influential websites.
Mo joins a host of prominent Chinese thinkers, charity workers and lawyers who have been rounded up this year and locked away. We’ve put together a list to record them all.
Liu Xiaobo is one of China’s most important intellectuals. After six months in a hidden jail, he was formally charged with “inciting subversion of state power” on June 23. Liu helped to draft Charter 08, a manifesto signed by more than 8,000 people calling for modernization and reform.
Xu Zhiyong is a lawyer and the director of Gongmeng, an NGO that aimed to reform China’s woeful judicial system. Gongmeng was a shining example to other NGOs of how to work within the Chinese system. However its success eventually unnerved the Party, and Xu has been formally arrested on the charge of tax evasion after three weeks of detainment. Gongmeng was given a 1.42m yuan (£126,000) for suspected tax evasion and was declared an “illegal organisation” by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Civil Affairs.
Meanwhile two cases have come to trial in Sichuan involving intellectuals who spoke up about the shoddy construction of schools in the province. It is widely believed that many schools collapsed during the Sichuan Earthquake because their construction budgets had been funnelled away by corrupt officials. The topic remains extremely sensitive.
Tan Zuoren, an author and environmentalist, was detained on March 28 after he spoke with foreign journalists about the Sichuan Earthquake. All his defence witnesses were barred from entering the court during his trial on August 12, and one, Ai Weiwei, was punched by police.
Huang Qi, an activist in Sichuan, was also detained for speaking to foreign journalists about the protests by the families of schoolchildren killed in the Sichuan Earthquake. He was tried behind closed doors on August 5 for the “illegal possession of state secrets”. The verdict has not been released.
A number of other lawyers, bloggers and activists have been detained for specific offenses.
Liu Ruiping, Wang Yonghang and Wang Ping, all lawyers in North East China, were detained between July 2 and 8 for defending Falun Gong practitioners.
You Jingyou, Wu Huaying, and Fan Yanqiong were all detained after they publicised information about an alleged gang rape and killing of Yan Xiaoling in Minqing in February 2008.
Another blogger, Guo Baofeng, was detained on July 16 for the same offence but then suddenly released by the police after using Twitter to inform the public about what happened.
Ilham Tohti, a Uighur Muslim university professor, was arrested after the race riots in Urumqi, on suspicion of disseminating information through his blog.
Huang Wei, a folk singer in Zhejiang province, was given 18 months in a labour camp for attempting to play a gig in Tiananmen Square on June 4, the 20th anniversary of the bloodshed.
Every indication is that there is worse to come. On July 9, the Beijing Justice department issued a statement saying it would cancel the licenses of 53 lawyers who had taken on controversial cases. The statement implied that further cancellations were imminent.
Last Sunday, two more public-spirited NGOs, Yirenping and Aizhixing, received unannounced inspections from the State Administration of Industry and Commerce.
The question is whether the current round of da ya will relent after the anniversary passes in October, or whether it is the beginning of a longer period of repressive measures by the Communist Party.
If it is the former, then Europe and the US, while pressing the cases of the individuals above, can afford to be relatively relaxed.
If it is the latter, foreign governments should start putting pressure on the Chinese as soon as possible to behave in the responsible way a superpower should.
Personally, I think its optimistic to think that the tightening is related to the anniversary. Beijing seems to be struggling to impose its control over the provinces at the moment, and articles condemning the behaviour of local governments across China are emerging on a regular basis in the People’s Daily.
The fact that so many people are now being arrested for merely probing at the borders of the system makes me feel that China’s leaders are more worried about the country that they are letting on.