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Activist Disappears after Reporting Nuclear Contamination

August 19, 2005

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that a Gansu uranium mine employee has been missing for 110 days after being detained by public security police following his attempts to petition officials over severe radiation poisoning affecting local residents.

Sources in China told HRIC that Sun Xiaodi, an employee of the Gansu No. 792 Uranium Mine, was in Beijing to petition central authorities when he was interviewed by an AFP journalist around 6 p.m. on April 28. After the interview, Sun headed back to the "Petitioners’ Village" near Beijing’s Southern Train station, but when he reached the southern corner of Taoranting Park, two men in civilian dress emerged from an unmarked car, and with the help of some men from another car standing nearby, they bundled Sun into the first car and drove away. Many people witnessed Sun’s abduction, and word quickly spread throughout the Petitioners’ Village.

Sources further report that on the evening of April 29, several plainclothes police officers searched the Beijing home of a friend of Sun Xiaodi, then took the friend to a State Security Bureau office in the southern suburbs. They reportedly told the friend that Sun was a "wanted criminal" and that he had committed a "very serious crime related to state secrets." Police also produced Sun’s cellular phone, wallet, telephone diary and other personal belongings, as well as a document purportedly written by Sun, in which he acknowledged being detained and made certain representations.

Sources say that on June 20, this same friend was summoned to the State Security Bureau again and was told that following investigations by Gansu authorities, Sun Xiaodi had been escorted back to Gansu. In the meantime, between June 14 and July 8, the Gansu PSB had deployed police officers several times to the No. 792 Uranium Mine and had summoned several employees, questioning them about Sun’s allegations concerning the mine. Sun’s daughter, Sun Haiyan, in the meantime had inquired into her father’s whereabouts many times between May 29 and mid-July, but was repeatedly told by Beijing authorities that they had not detained Sun, and that they had no knowledge of his whereabouts. Sun’s family initially maintained a low profile concerning his disappearance in hopes that the matter would be resolved quickly, but they are now seriously concerned over his welfare, and are appealing to the international community for assistance. Sun Haiyan’s open letter is appended to this press release.

The No. 792 Uranium Mine is located in Diebu County (also known as Thebo District) in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It was originally established under the State Nuclear Industry Department as one of China’s most important sources of uranium, but was "closed as a matter of policy" in 2002 on the basis of mine-exhaustion. Sources say that after the closure, mine employees accused mining and Nuclear Industry Department officials of plundering employee and state assets and damaging the environment, not only locally, but in all downstream areas. However, their complaints were ignored by the authorities.

Sources say that radioactive material from the mine has been improperly handled, with the result that residents near and downstream of the plant have begun suffering a high incidence of cancerous tumors, leukemia, birth defects, miscarriages and other unusual afflictions. Before the mine opened in 1980, the area was well populated by a large variety of fish, bird, plant and animal species, but has since become a barren wasteland. Livestock also suffer unusually high death rates, apparently from drinking contaminated water. Banks, shops and other public buildings report radiation levels many times higher than the normal level. Local medical workers report that nearly half of all deaths in the area are from some form of cancer, but patients’ case histories are routinely altered because of "state secrets" concerns. As a result, many residents remain ignorant of the health hazards, and no preventative measures are taken to protect human and animal life.

Sources say Sun Xiaodi began reporting these health concerns to the Nuclear Industry Department in 1988. Instead of an official response, however, Sun reportedly found himself subjected to various forms of retaliation. In 1994 he was dismissed from the mine and forced to make due on a subsistence allowance of a little over 100 yuan per month. His wife and daughter also faced a range of discriminatory treatment and harassment, and the family was under constant surveillance and telephone monitoring, culminating in Sun Xiaodi’s apparent abduction at the end of April.

HRIC condemns the unlawful abduction and secret detention of Sun Xiaodi, which violate both his Chinese constitutional rights and his human rights. As reported by numerous international organizations, including the United Nations Development Programme and the Asia Development Bank, as well as by the Chinese government itself, the seriousness of environmental degradation in China requires greater attention and more effective responses. The retaliatory detention of Sun Xiaodi undermines the promotion of a clean environment and the right to health, to which the Chinese government has committed itself, both in international human rights treaties and in its Olympics Action Plan in the lead-up to Beijing 2008. HRIC calls on the Chinese authorities to immediately release Sun Xiaodi from custody, and as a matter of urgency to address the dangerous environmental contamination and severe health hazards to humans and animals near the No. 792 Uranium Mine.

Appendix:

An Open Appeal from Sun Xiaodi’s Daughter, Sun Haiyan
My father, Sun Xiaodi, was born in Shanghai in 1955, and was formerly employed at the No. 792 Uranium Mine. In 1989 he began petitioning the central government in Beijing on behalf of the 2,000-plus people who relied on the uranium mine for their living. In all of these years he never stopped. He always believed that justice would win out in the end. On April 28, 2005, my father suddenly disappeared. There has been no word of him since, and we don’t know what happened to him. Some informed people have said that the police secretly detained him, but I have inquired with the Public Security Bureau many times, and they always reply that they have no news of Sun Xiaodi.
Petitioning is a basic right of all Chinese citizens, and my father did nothing wrong. My father’s disappearance while exercising this right has had a heavy impact on my family. My mother’s health was already poor, and my father’s disappearance has delivered a great physical blow to her. She also lost her job because of my father’s petitioning activities. My father is the person on whom my mother and I hang all our hopes. My greatest wish is that my father can safely return to the bosom of his family as soon as possible.
As a daughter, I love my father very much; I miss him and think of him constantly. I urgently appeal to all concerned to unconditionally release my father, and I condemn these terrorist activities. Give me back my father, and give him back his freedom.
Sun Haiyan

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