Tough Times For China’s Dissidents

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Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty

Wu Lihong at work

According to conventional wisdom, the approach of the Olympics was supposed to have been a time when conditions got easier for dissidents/activists in China as Beijing tried to show its best face to the world. But as Amnesty reports (here’s the link but forget it if you are in China), the opposite seems to be the case. The amnesty report, which argued that jailing and harassment of activists has actually increased in the last year came out in April. Recent days seem to have confirmed that it is a tough time to be a dissident in China.

First there’s the case raised some weeks ago by the redoubtable Southern Metroplis Daily (here in translation) of Wu Lihong, the imprisoned environmental activist. For well over a decade, Wu has campaigned tirelessly, some might say obsessively, to publicize the pollution of Lake Hu in central China, mentioned in my previous case. At what should be his moment of vindication, Wu is languishing in jail, accused of attempting to extort money from local officials. We’ve had Wu visit our Beijing office a number of times and can say that we’re quite familiar with him and his cause. The likelihood that he would sacrifice nearly 15 years of dogged work and much anguishfor a few thousand renminbi is laughable. Or it would be if her weren’t in jail.

Then there’s the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer about whom TIME has written often, most recently on this blog. He was beaten in prison, allegedly for refusing to have his head shaved, and went on hunger strike for three days. The information about Chen’s beating was original passed on by his wife, who went to visit him in jail and found him in a sorry state. She spoke to another dissident, Hu Jia, who has been under house arrest in Beijing since late May. Hu told one of my colleagues that the inmates who beat him up told Chen: “The Party will give me credit for beating you up.” Chen was been on hunger strike for 76 hours. “I was on hunger strike myself so I know what it feels like. Chen refused food as well as water so in no time he would have been dehydrated and

Hu, an AIDS activist, has been under house arrest since May 18 when he attempted to go to the airport for a planned trip to Hong Kong. “They took me in and questioned me about everything i said. They said I was a disturbance to the social stability. I don’t see why some remarks could be hazardous to the social stability. I think it is ridiculous.” Hu was planning to go to Europe early June, “but the government was worried that I might join the commemoration of the June the 4th.” He’s not sure why he is still being held, tho it may have something to do with the film he and his wife, Zeng Jinyan (a Time 100 World’s Most Influential People selectee this year) made that chronicled their lives under surveillance by the police.