CHINA: Chinese riot over detention of activist

Shandong officials accuse one-child policy activist of giving foreign journalists state secrets

The Age
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

By Mary-Anne Toy

Beijing --- Angry villagers in China's Shandong province have rioted in support of a blind activist who has been under house arrest for campaigning against forced sterilisations and abortions.

Chen Guangcheng, a peasant blind since birth who taught himself the law initially to fight for disabled rights, last year began exposing official abuse of the one-child policy. The abuse included making women have abortions, sometimes as late as seven or eight months into their pregnancies, then making them undergo sterilisation. Duress has included detaining and threatening to kill relatives unless the pregnant woman submitted.

Mr Chen's whistleblowing led to several Shandong officials apparently being sacked and statements of support from the central Government in Beijing.

When he began preparing a class-action lawsuit, Shandong officials accused him of giving foreign journalists state secrets and placed him under house arrest in his village, Dongshigu, in September. On Sunday, farmers and supporters of Mr Chen learnt that police had detained and beaten up his cousin and neighbour, Chen Hua, when he tried to visit the activist.

Mr Chen told The Age by telephone that 300 to 400 farmers surrounded his house and confronted the armed guards who prevent him leaving.

Dozens of police were called in to quell the protests and several people were injured. Mr Chen said his cousin was assaulted by police for backing him and refusing to be a spy for the local family planning committee. He said villagers were fed up with the authorities.

"They are a bunch of bandits," Mr Chen said. "I have been detained and beaten several times since September last year but continue to do whatever I can to provide my villagers legal assistance.

"The grassroots civilians are awakened already, so the only thing they (local authorities) can depend on is violence. There are always a dozen guys with truncheons watching my house. So if you want to see and talk to me, you have to break through them. It's a matter of who gives up first."

The Yinan county police and the family planning committee yesterday said they knew nothing about Sunday's incident.

Forced abortions and sterilisations, key parts of China's effort to contain its huge population since the early 1980s, were banned in the mid-1990s after growing rural anger and international criticism, but local officials sometimes flout the rules because failure to meet population targets affects promotions and pay rises.

The protest, a week after Premier Wen Jiabao visited the province to promote "harmony" in the countryside, will underline Beijing's fears about social instability brought about by widespread corruption and the increasing gap between rural and city incomes. Mr Wen and President Hu Jintao have been touring the countryside highlighting planned improvements to health care, schools and incomes in the nation's next five-year development plan.

Mr Wen's use, in a speech reported last month, of the term "historic error" --- when warning of the consequences if the party did not stop illegal land seizures and other corrupt practices --- was considered significant. This is Communist Party code for the gravest political error, the sort that threatens legitimacy.

But analysts said it was too early to tell whether recent statements directing provincial leaders to resolve "major contradictions and problems" were just rhetoric.