Monday, May 26, 2008

Why Limit the Freedom of Human Right Activists in the Face of Sino-US Human Rights Dialogue?

Wan Yanhai is director of the Aizhixing Beijing Institute, one of the leading organizations doing advocacy in China for the human rights people living with HIV and of groups affected by HIV. I met him in Beijing when I was researching my report on the Canada-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue for DFAIT.

Why Limit the Freedom of Human Right Activists in the Face of Sino-US Human Rights Dialogue?
May 25, 2008

By Wan Yanhai

As a result of the human rights dispute prior to the Beijing Olympics, China and the US started dialogue on human rights again. From the information I gathered in the past few days, the dialogue will take place on Monday in Beijing .

But something strange has happened. In the face of the human rights dialogue, Beijing public security apparatus began to limit the personal freedom of human right activists. For example, Zeng Jinyan was prohibited from leaving her residence on the morning of May 24th.
(She has just recently been allowed limited freedom, in that she can go out but is followed). Li Hai is under house arrest beginning on the same day. One human right activist were asked to leave the city, also on the same day. Many more has been contacted by the police and told to remain low key.

For the first time, I myself now have a police car parked in front of the door. Wherever I go, police car follow. On May 24th at around 9:30AM, police from the Beijing Haidian District Precinct called me and wanted to meet at 10 to "discuss something". At 10 and two policemen from the Haidian District and the person in charge of the local police station came. They told me that in the next few days, there will be policemen stationed outside my home, that if I want to go out, I will have to ride in the police car, with police escort. They then said however, that the police would "not interfere with my work and life." I was not shown any document and there was no explanation as to why these actions are taken.

I asked if this is related to the Olympics and was told no.
I asked if this is because June 4th is coming up, and was told no.
I asked if this is because we organized a charity dinner, and again was told no.

Around noon on May 24th, a policeman came to my residence. He was very polite. In the afternoon, when we went to the supermarket, the police followed. That night we went to a party, the policemen parked outside the restaurant, and then followed me home. Today, another policeman came, and there was a large picture of me in the front window of the police car, presumably so that I could be easily identified.

If it were not for the police visit, I would not have known there was going to be a Sino-US human rights dialogue. My neighbors heard from the police that some international VIPs are coming.

In the evening, others told me that this is probably related to the human rights dialogue, because apparently the US State Department Vice-secretary in Charge of Human Rights is coming to China and wanted to meet with human right activists.

In the face of Sino-US human rights dialogue, why limit the freedom of human right activists' Have our police friends thought about what this means'

Human rights dialogue is a good thing. If our government can invite those who are critical from civil society to join the dialogue, that would be the best. If our government does not want to involve civil society, it should at least tolerate the work and personal freedom of those who are working for human rights in this city. This would enhance the government's stature in respecting human rights. Thoughtlessly limiting their freedom would not contribute to the government claim that it respects human rights.

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