China’s ‘Jasmine Revolution’ Crackdown Shows No Sign of Easing

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More than a month after an online call for anti-government protests in major Chinese cities, a crackdown on dissent continues. On Friday writer Ran Yunfei, who has been in police custody since February 19, was formally arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power,” the advocacy group Human Rights in China reported.

Ran, a prominent blogger and government critic, says he’d much rather spend his time in a library doing research, but feels compelled to speak out against social injustice and restrictions on individual liberties in China. On Feb. 3, two weeks before he was detained, Ran wrote a blog post titled “How I Lived My Life in 2010.” (A translation by China Digital Times is available here.) It’s worth reading for a sense of just how moderate Ran’s ideas are, which in turn gives an idea of how extreme the current crackdown is. If someone like him can be accused of inciting subversion, then many others will have to think carefully before speaking critically of the government.

Ran is far from being the only person ensnared in the crackdown, which began in February when anonymous calls circulated online urging protests that would draw inspiration from the uprisings in the Arab world. Rights groups say that more than 100 Chinese activists have been questioned, put under house arrest or otherwise pressured by police. At least 23 have been detained for criminal investigation, according to China Human Rights Defenders. Prominent online commentator and spy novelist Yang Hengjun disappeared after telling a friend he was being followed on Sunday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. A half-dozen lawyers known for handling sensitive human rights cases—the very sort who would defend the detained activists—have disappeared into police custody. The lack of information about the six—Jiang Tianyong, Li Tiantian, Liu Shihui, Tang Jingling, Tang Jitian and Teng Biao—has raised fears that they could be subjected to the same sort of abuse as Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer who has repeatedly gone missing. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called on the Chinese government to release Gao, according to Freedom Now, a legal advocacy ngo that released a copy of the UN body’s opinion on Monday.

Gao’s wife, who fled to the U.S. with their two children in 2009, wrote about his plight in an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times, asking President Obama to add to the calls for her husband’s release. “The Chinese government must not be allowed to claim that China is a nation operating under the rule of law while persecuting those who try to ensure that it respects the law,” she wrote. “And when the government silences dissent, the international community must speak up.” Still, at a time when the international community is preoccupied with the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, continuing unrest in the Arab world and civil war in Libya, it seems unlikely that Gao, or any of the other activists and lawyers target in the current crackdown, can expect to receive any more attention from the outside world.