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China cracking down on protests, rights group says

IHT | March 14, 2007
David Lague

BEIJING: China has mounted a violent crackdown on protests and arrested political activists in a bid to curb dissent during the annual session of its parliament, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Wednesday.

The human rights group said protests in the central province of Hunan and another in Guangdong province in the south had been violently suppressed earlier this week.

In Beijing, the report said, the authorities rounded up hundreds of petitioners this month, while dozens of activists around the country were under house arrest or close surveillance.

China's parliament, the National People's Congress, which meets only once a year in a two week-session, is widely seen as a rubber stamp for the governing Communist Party. The public and the news media are normally excluded from monitoring any debate.

But, while these sessions are under way, the authorities appear to be anxious to head off any potentially embarrassing protests over official corruption or unpopular government policies

Since the opening of this year's session on March 5, the police and paramilitary security services have been deployed in big numbers around the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to head off any public disturbances and prevent petitioners from approaching delegates.

The session is scheduled to close Friday.

"China's leaders are showing that they are afraid of the views and the voices of their own people," said Brad Adams, Asia director of the New York-based human rights monitoring group, in the report. "If they were confident they had popular legitimacy, they would not resort to such heavy-handed tactics."

The official Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday that calm had been restored to the village of Zhushan in Hunan after what it described as a "mass incident" that began when villagers, upset at higher bus fares, destroyed some buses.

The police detained those responsible for damage and there were no reports of any deaths, Xinhua said.

Overseas news reports and witnesses said a student was killed and about 60 protestors injured when police clashed with about 20,000 protestors in Zhushan on Monday.

In Dongzhou village in Guangdong Province last Sunday, the police broke up a protest of about 1,000 people, the Human Rights Watch report said. People in Dongzhou have been involved in a long-standing dispute over land with the local government.

In an earlier protest, police in December 2005 shot and killed at least three demonstrators, the report said.



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