The Olympics and Dissent: Taping Over the Cracks

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This is a picture of China’s youngest political prisoner, as she has been dubbed evocatively, Hu Qianci, daughter of activists Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan, about whom we have written often. It’s from Zeng’s blog (here, though as ever those inside China have to watch out for GFW), which she is still managing to update despite being held under house arrest, something that sounds fairly benign but probably means she has up to six police living in her apartment with her.

A colleague, Jim Yardley of the New York Times, recently went out to try and talk to Zeng in her apartment in a Beijing suburb. Now, in theory, even though her husband has been arrested, she herself hasn’t been charged with anything. That means not only is therefore being held illegally, but also that she can accept interviews from foreign journalists whenever she wants. The reality of course is a little different, but even the police must be feeling a little sheepish at the contrivances they are forced to undertake to preserve a fig leaf of legality. I ran into Jim after he came back from her apartment complex (it’s called “Bobo Freedom City,” something you could’t make up without drawing howls of derision). He said the policeman “guarding” her apartment jumped up and started to put up yellow crime scene tape to block their way as soon as they appeared. This was apparently so that they could claim they were trespassing on a crime scene and refuse them access.

It’s so absurd it would be funny if it wasn’t yet another sign that, despite all its protestations to the contrary, Beijing has decided that the old ways are best; clearly a decision has been made that putting troublesome people like Hu Jia in prison until the Olympics are over is the best way to keep the peace. But it isn’t going to be that easy. In Shandong Province, the wife of jailed blind activist Chen Guangcheng, Yuan Weijing, about whom we have also written often, is in a similar position to Zeng Jjinyan. But her guards, as she has put it herself, are mostly of the unemployed-thug type that the local authorities often turn to when intimidation is needed. These guys don’t fool around with tape. This was forcibly demonstrated last week when a German TV crew was beaten up –though no one was seriously hurt–after they tried to interview Yuan. The trouble is, as the Games approach, many, many more reporters are going to show up wanting to do the same thing. I don’t see how they can keep beating them all up as a deterence without causing a major stink. Also, eventually, someone will get hurt, possibly seriously. Anyway, I m on holiday right now but will certainly see if we can get the police in Beijing to wave their magic tape around us when I return. Stay posted for the video.