China’s Silencing Season

The Washington Post tells the story of activist who is currently in detention in Chengdu, possibly for his recent work investigating the collapse of shoddy schools in the Sichuan earthquake:

Huang, 45, is among dozens of Chinese writers and lawyers who have been convicted, detained, placed under house arrest, tailed or otherwise harassed as part of China’s broad crackdown on dissent in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing next month. At least 44 writers are in Chinese prisons in violation of their rights to free expression, more than at the beginning of the year, according to a report released Tuesday by the PEN American Center, an advocacy group.

While much has been written about the political stakes involved, less well known is the personal toll that opposing the official Chinese government line these days can take. Huang’s friends are often harassed and sometimes detained; his wife, Zeng Li, has been forced to change apartments frequently after police pressed landlords to evict her; frequent beatings when he was in prison left Huang with brain injuries that now spark bouts of violent anger and other health problems. The stress eventually became too much for Zeng; she separated from Huang in 2006.

A New York Times article has more details about Mr. Huang’s work in the earthquake zone:

Mr. Huang knew the terrain of Sichuan well and did his best to help. He accepted interviews with the foreign press. He and his volunteers rented a truck and handed out bottled water, instant noodles and crackers to refugees. In June, he helped reporters from a British television channel contact parents whose children had been killed in schools destroyed by the earthquake. And he began acting as a clearinghouse of information for reporters.

Mr. Huang kept in touch with the five fathers whose children had died at Dongqi Middle School. They joined a group of experts to investigate the wreckage for clues as to why the building crumbled. Mr. Huang posted a short article on his Web site saying that, according to the experts, the school was structurally unsafe.

It was one of his last postings before his detention.

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