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Activists to rally against China crackdown

Anger at most heavy-handed action against rights activists for years

Activists to rally against China crackdown
Ai Weiwei reporter, Hong Kong
Hong Kong

April 8, 2011

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Christians will be among those joining a large rally in Hong Kong this Sunday to protest against the biggest crackdown on human rights activists in mainland China in over a decade. The detention of renowned artist Ai Weiwei on April 3 has sparked greater concern among local Christian activists on the wave of arrests since an Internet call for a “jasmine revolution in China.” Ai is also active on human rights issues. He collaborated in the design of the Bird’s Nest stadium for the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. Christian activists describe the latest crackdown as “the darkest period of human rights situation in China” in recent decades. Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, has called on Beijing not to target dissidents. “It will only backfire if suppression continues, as the common people do not have a channel to air their grievances,” he said. Yesterday reports from Beijing said China's foreign ministry has confirmed police are investigating artist Ai Weiwei for suspected economic crimes, suggesting the authorities want to place him as a common criminal instead of a political prisoner. In a statement, the US state department called for Ai's "immediate release," saying his detention was  "inconsistent with the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Chinese citizens." The government seems to be using a heavy-handed approach to suppress anyone who wants to exercise their rights as Chinese citizens, said Lee, a Protestant. Activists who showed up at the so-called “jasmine” rally sites were either arrested, prosecuted, put under surveillance or house arrest. “Almost no one is spared,” he said. He urged Beijing to be open-minded and allow freedom of speech and allow the press to monitor the government in order to maintain a stable society. But he is pessimistic, noting that the central government’s budget on domestic public security expenditure is even higher than that for national defense. Equally worried about the “irrational” situation is Or Yan-yan of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong. She expects there will be a new wave of arrests as sensitive days are approaching, such as the commemoration of the June 4 “Incident” in 1989, during which a pro-democracy movement was cracked down upon. While there is global concern about the situation of the renowned activists, Or said her commission hopes the international community could also take up the cases of lesser-known “heroes” as systematic suppression is occurring rather than individual incidents. This Sunday, the Justice and Peace Commission will join Lee’s alliance to rally in front of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong and to mount a signature campaign to demand the release of Ai and the others. HK13901.1648
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