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March 2006

March 31, 2006

The information contained in this summary is based on information collected by HRIC in March and is not intended as a complete list. Rather, it should be viewed as a representation of larger trends of dissent and repression in China.

Labor

Media Censorship

Petitions and Protests

Human Rights Defenders

Death Penalty


Labor

Disasters
At least 26 miners died in a flood at the Fanjiashan Coal Mine in Linxian, Shanxi Province on March 18. Thirty of the 58 miners working underground at the time managed to escape, but two others remained missing. The victims' families will each receive 200,000 yuan ($24,660) in compensation, according to a local government official. The cause of the flooding is unknown.[1]

A chlorine leak at the Donggang Electrochemical Factory in Zhejiang Province on March 22 sent nearly 200 people to the hospital with dizziness, coughing and chest pain. Fifty-one were admitted for further treatment. Witnesses reported seeing a cloud of gas over their fields. The factory, which manufactured alkali, sulfuric acid and other chemicals, had reportedly been closed by officials. There were no serious injuries reported, although farmers feared for their crops, some of which were scorched by the gas.[2]

An explosion at a gas well on March 15 forced the evacuation of some 15,000 residents of Xiaoyang Village, Gaoqiao Town, Chongqing. Although no deaths were reported, the nearby Gaoqiao River was believed to have been contaminated, and farmers expressed fear for their livestock. The accident occurred when a well owned by the Chuangdong Drilling Company (a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation) began to leak during final tests before it was brought into production. Witnesses reported a "big bang" and an immediate "bubbling" effect in the Gaoqiao River. States media reported high levels of hydrogen sulfide, which causes breathing difficulties and burning in the eyes and on skin, detected within a kilometer of the leak. Engineers were finally able to seal the well with an adhesive gel and alumina cement on their third attempt, and officials said that evacuees, who have been living in temporary shelters, would be allowed to return home on March 31. Another accident that occurred here in 2003 under the same management killed 243 people.[3]

At least four miners died following a mine blast in Guizhou Province on March 26 that filled an 80-meter-long tunnel with coal dust. Eight-nine of the 104 miners on duty at the state-owned Wulunshan Coal Mine in Nayong County were able to escape, but nine of them were hospitalized, and 11 miners remained missing. Investigators are looking into the cause of the explosion at the mine, which is under expansion as a project for the Nayong Thermal Power Plant.[4]


Media Censorship

Censorship and Corporate Responsibility
Chinese officials and Western investors gathered in New York on March 8 for the unveiling of Accoona, a new Internet search engine that signed a 20-year contract with the online version of the state-run China Daily. Based in New Jersey, Accoona is the latest of several Western corporations, such as Microsoft, Cisco, Yahoo and Google, that have adjusted their products to meet China's Internet requirements.[5]

Surveillance provider announced for Shenzhen cafés
On March 21, China Security and Surveillance Technology Inc. ("China Security") announced that the Shenzhen Cyber Café Association has named China Security as the primary surveillance system and service provider for all cafés in Shenzhen City, following the ordinance issued January 18, 2006, by the State Council. The ordinance states that by March 1, 2006, all entertainment halls are required to have video-monitoring systems. China Security's contract is worth an estimated U.S. $3 million over the next 12 months. There are about 1,000 Internet cafés in Shenzhen City.[6]


Petitions and Protests

Beijing petitioners detained at NPC
Chinese authorities cracked down on petitioners who converged on Beijing prior to the opening of the annual session of the National People's Congress on March 5. Liu Xinjuan (刘新娟) and several other petitioners protesting forcible relocation in urban redevelopment schemes were sent back to Shanghai, where Liu was detained against her will in a mental hospital. Farmers, laid-off workers, evicted families and individuals with HIV/AIDS were among others protesting in Beijing.[7]

Tibetans call off hunger strike
Three members of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) on February 27 agreed to end a two-week hunger strike at the Torino Olympic Winter Games after International Olympic Committee officials assured the group that its concerns would be addressed. The TYC is part of a coalition of human rights organizations attempting to highlight China's poor human rights record in the run-up to Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Olympic Games. The protesters, who began their hunger strike on February 14, emphasized that China's human rights violations are contrary to the principles and values of the Olympic Charter.[8]

Lu Decheng held back by Thai authorities
Under pressure from China, Thai authorities refused to release Lu Decheng (鲁德成) for departure to Canada, where he had been granted political asylum. Lu was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 1989 after defacing a portrait of Chairman Mao. Paroled in early 1998, Lu fled to Thailand, but has been held in an immigration detention center since being arrested by Thai police in 2004. With the aid of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Lu was scheduled to depart for Canada on March 14; however, his Canadian sponsors received an e-mail informing them that the Chinese government had intervened, preventing Lu from leaving Thailand.[9]

Pollution protested
The Shenzhen Municipal Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference on March 20 joined local residents in closing down a waste incineration plant that has been the center of protests by more than 3,000 people since January. Local residents say the plant emits carcinogenic pollution. When opened in 1988, the plant was located in a sparsely populated area of Guangdong Province, but residential complexes have been built up around it in recent years.[10]

Xiditou protests over land
About 200 people from Luxinhe staged a sit-in demonstration in front of the Xiditou township government on March 16, while 200 others protested outside a construction site in Luxinhe. In a related incident, Dongditou villagers accused Yu Guanglong and several other local officials of embezzlement. A village spokesperson said that 40 hectares of village farmland had been appropriated to build the 177 kilometer-long Second Jingjintang Expressway, but that just 17.5 hectares would be used. The villagers, who have not received any compensation, said that the central government paid local village officials 525,000 yuan for the land. Protesters said that they were encouraged by Premier Wen Jiabao's remarks about farmers' rights earlier that week, and his criticisms of illegal land seizures. The scene of the protest was closely guarded by local police, as was the main road in Xiditou.[11]


Human Rights Defenders

Hu Jia released from secret location
Chinese AIDS activist Hu Jia (胡佳) was released on March 28 after 41 days in the custody of public security officials. His family had received no word of him since his disappearance on February 16, which drew expressions of concern from the UN Human Rights Commission. Hu was one of hundreds of individuals who participated in hunger strikes in support of a protest led by human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng.[12] Hu said he continued his hunger strike during the first five days of his detention, but was told that he would be forced-fed if he did not eat. He suffers from cirrhosis, and reportedly lost 22 pounds.[13]

Filmmaker held
On March 21 it was revealed that Chinese authorities had detained a documentary filmmaker who was researching underground churches. Wu Hao (吴皓), who was working with human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, was detained by State Security police on February 22 after meeting members of an underground church in Beijing. Police searched Wu's apartment on February 24 and seized equipment and several videotapes. The specific charges or reasons underlying Wu's arrest are unclear.[14]

Trial Developments
Hopes were raised for the imminent release of journalist Zhao Yan (赵岩) on March 17 when his lawyer, Mo Shaoping, reported that Chinese authorities were withdrawing their charges against the former New York Times researcher. Zhao has been in detention for over 18 months, awaiting trial on charges of fraud and leaking state secrets. Mo Shaoping expected Zhao to be released within a few days, but a court order issued on March 17 made no mention of any change to Zhao's status. Zhao's case has drawn much international attention, and U.S. officials have reportedly raised it with Hu Jintao on several occasions, but Beijing continues to describe it is an internal affair.[15]

Shandong-based teacher and online writer Ren Zhiyuan (任志远) was sentenced to 10 years in prison on March 17 on charges of "subversion of state power." Detained by police in May 2005, Ren went on trial at the Jining City Intermediate People's Court in September on accusations of posting subversive essays, including "The Road to Democracy," and attempting to form a political group called the Mainland Democratic Frontline. Ren pled not guilty to the charges and intends to appeal the verdict.[16]

Released
Tong Shidong (佟适冬), 72, a retired physics professor, was released on March 9 from Hunan's Chisan Prison after serving seven years of a 10-year sentence. Tong was convicted of subversion in 1999 for writing essays on democracy and drafting a founding declaration for a local chapter of the China Democracy Party. He was reportedly granted two reductions in his sentence for good behavior and because of his advanced age.[17]

Phuntsog Nyidrol, a Tibetan nun, arrived in San Francisco with a U.S. embassy official on March 15. She had spent the last two years under house arrest after being released from Lhasa Prison in 2004. She was imprisoned for 15 years after taking part in protests in Tibet in 1989.[18]


Death Penalty

Amnesty International on March 1 condemned the Guangdong High People's Court for ruling that the death penalty can be imposed for purse-snatching or other violent robberies. This decision came amid claims by China's Supreme Court that it will increase the transparency of death penalty cases; the number of executions that take place annually remains a "state secrets."[19]

Yuan Baojing (袁寶璟), 38, former president of the Beijing-based Jianhao Group, was executed on March 16 after being convicted of murder by the Liaoning City Intermediate People's Court in January 2005.[20]

Wu Daping (吴大平) and Pan Mingquan (潘明权), accused of kidnapping and selling 12 baby boys, were sentenced to death by the Kunming Intermediate People's Court in Yunnan Province on March 20.[21]

A man surnamed Zhou (周), 43, was convicted of assaulting three women and sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by the Baishan City Intermediate People's Court in Jilin Province on March 20.[22]


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ENDNOTES

[1] "Death toll rises to 26 in north China's coal mine flooding," Xinhua News Agency, March 29, 2006.

[2] "51 hospitalised in latest China chemical accident," Agence France Presse, March 29, 2006.

[3] "China finally seals leaking natural gas well," Agence France Presse, March 31, 2006; "China tries again to cap leaking gas well that forced evacuation of thousands," Associated Press, March 31, 2006.

[4] "Death toll rises to four in southwest China coal mine gas outburst," Xinhua News Agency, March 28, 2006.

[5] Robert T. McLean, "Beijing's Freedom of Suppression," FrontPage Magazine, http://www.frontpagemag.com/...; Mark Bergin, "The ‘Great Firewall,'" WORLD Magazine, http://www.worldmag.com/....

[6] "China Security and Surveillance Technology Inc. Signs Contract as Exclusive Surveillance System Provider for Shenzhen City Internet Cafes," PR Newswire, March 21, 2006.

[7] "China detaining activists ahead of legislative session, rights monitors say," The China Post, http://www.chinapost.com.tw/...; "China pledges help for rural poor," BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/....

[8] "Hunger Strike Called Off; After Torino, world focuses on Beijing's human rights record," International Campaign for Tibet, http://www.savetibet.org/...

[9] Radio Free Asia, "China Intervenes to Keep Mao Portrait Protester Detained in Thailand," Radio Free Asia, http://www.rfa.org/....

[10] "Residents Slam Waste Incineration Power Stations," China Daily, http://www.china.org.cn/....

[11] "Buoyed by Chinese premiers remarks, hundreds protest over land rights," Agence France Presse, March 16, 2006; "Villagers escalate land row protest," South China Morning Post, April 4, 2006.

[12] Alexa Olesen, "U.N. Writes Beijing About Missing Activist," Guardian Unlimited, http://www.guardian.co.uk/....

[13] "Chinese AIDS activist plans to accuse government," Pravda, March 31, 2006.

[14] Radio Free Asia, "China Detains Film-maker, AIDS Activist," Radio Free Asia, http://www.rfa.org/....

[15] Jim Yardley, "China May Release Jailed Times Researcher, Lawyer Says," New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/....

[16] Reuters, "China sentences teacher," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/....

[17] "China frees democrat after seven years," United Press International, http://www.upi.com/....

[18] "Tibetan nun, jailed for 15 years, arrives in US," Agence France Presse, http://www.news.com.au/....

[19] Luis Ramirez, "Rights Group Condemns Chinese Plan to Execute Purse Snatchers," Voice of America News, http://www.voanews.com/...; "China: Guangdong bag snatchers may face death penalty," Amnesty International, http://web.amnesty.org/....

[20] "China Executes Former Business Tycoon," Voice of America, March 16,m 2006 http://www.voanews.com/....

[21] "Men Sentenced to Death for Babies Trafficking in Yunnan," Xinhaunet, March 23, 2006 http://news.xinhuanet.com/....

[22] "男子在3妇女身上刺字获死缓 (Jilin Man Sentenced to Death with Two-Year Reprieve for Abusing Three Women)," The Beijing News, March 22, 2006, http://news.thebeijingnews.com/....