China’s Crackdown Continues (Updated)

While it appears that Chinese-Australian writer Yang Henjun is or soon will be a free man, the stream of reprisals against other critics of the government continues. The New York Times reports on the formal charging of Chen Wei, which comes soon after that of Ran Yunfei last Friday:

A rights activist in Sichuan has been formally arrested and charged with inciting subversion against the state, according to a statement on Wednesday by China Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group that tracks violations by the Chinese government. The advocate, Chen Wei, was charged on Monday, and his family was notified on Tuesday.

Mr. Chen is the third person in recent days to be charged with inciting subversion in an extraordinarily harsh crackdown on progressives in China that has been unfolding since late February. The other two, Ran Yunfei and Ding Mao, are also from Sichuan and are known, like Mr. Chen, to be promoters of rule of law and democracy-oriented reforms.

Parts of Sichuan Province, a rugged, populous area in western China, are known to be havens for liberal thinkers, and the region has had a long literary and philosophical tradition. The authorities there are now at the forefront of pressing charges against people advocating political reform.

Though formal charges have only just been brought against the three, they have been in custody for over a month, according to Amnesty International (PDF):

On 19 February, the police in Mianyang city, Sichuan province, detained activist Ding Mao on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. At midnight on 19 February, Ran Yunfei, an activist, writer and blogger, was detained in Chengdu, the provincial capital. The next evening, the police escorted him home, searched his house, confiscated his computer and returned him to the police station. On 24 February, the police issued Ran Yunfei’s family with a written notice, dated 21 February, stating that Ran Yunfei is held on suspicion of “subversion of state power”.

On the morning of 20 February, the police also searched the home of another Sichuan activist, Chen Wei, in Suining city. They confiscated his computer, external hard drive and mobile phone, and took him away to “have a cup of tea” with them. On 22 February, the police gave his wife a written notice, dated 21 February stating that Chen Wei is held on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.”

While a long list (compiled by ChinaGeeks) of government critics have disappeared, others have faced different reprisals. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports the dismissal of two journalists in Guangzhou:

Time Weekly opinion editor Peng Xiaoyun reported on her Twitter account Monday that she had received an official dismissal notice from the Time Weekly company, which operates under the Guangdong Provincial Publishing Group. International news reports said Peng had taken “involuntary leave” in January after including controversial figures, such as jailed food safety advocate Zhao Lianhai, in a December 2010 retrospective of 100 influential contemporary figures.

In a separate case, outspoken Southern Weekend commentator Chen Ming, who publishes under the name Xiao Shu, also announced Monday via his local Sina microblog that he was taking a two-year sabbatical. The term “sabbatical” was likely a euphemism for permanent notice since journalists have to resign after six months on leave, U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia reported. The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post confirmed the news with an unnamed former colleague of Chen’s ….

“In their drive to stifle public discussion, China’s propaganda authorities are depriving the people of some of the country’s most forward-thinking opinions,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Not just bloggers and activists who straddle the realms of politics and journalism, but mainstream journalists who have long operated in traditional Chinese media are now being targeted.”

The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch reports that another Chengdu resident, writer Liao Yiwu, has had his permission to travel abroad revoked:

Liao has spent much of his life in and out of Chinese police custody, on account of his insistence on describing the world as he sees it, but for years he has hoped to be able to accept an invitation to the PEN World Writers Festival in New York. Last week, the public-security bureau approved his travel. He got a ticket for a flight leaving next Monday. Then, a few days ago, the police showed up, and said that there had been a change of plans. He was grounded.

“From now on, I’ll apply for my travel permit at the public-security bureau every two weeks until they allow me to go,” Liao said to a Chinese friend, now living elsewhere, who passed his words on to me. “I told them repeatedly that what I’m going to participate in is a literary event, not a political one. I told them that I’m an ordinary writer and they can’t deny me my basic rights to travel. They refused to listen. I’m dealing with a scoundrel government. I’m so outraged.”

March 31 Update:

See reports on the ongoing crackdown from The Guardian:

At least 23 people have been detained, mostly in relation to charges of incitement to subversion or creating a disturbance; three more have been formally arrested; and a dozen people are missing, including several prominent human rights lawyers. Rights groups say they are increasingly concerned that those who have vanished may be at physical risk.

The AFP has a similar report with slightly different numbers:

At least 26 activists have been detained in the wake of the political upheaval that has rocked the Arab world and sparked calls for anti-government demonstrations in China, human rights organisations said.

More than 30 others have been “disappeared” by authorities without charge, Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said, with the victims including prominent rights attorneys and bloggers who had otherwise been tolerated for years.