China Brooks No Dissent Ahead of Party Congress

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 13, 2007

BEIJING, Oct. 12 -- Li Heping's ordeal began when two men kidnapped him on a rainy afternoon about two weeks ago, he said. It ended seven hours later, when he was dumped in a Beijing suburb after a dozen assailants had spent the evening beating him and shocking him with a cattle prod.

"Get out of Beijing," he recalled them saying. "If you don't, we will come after you again, and we will attack your wife and child as well."

Li, 37, a partner in a prominent Beijing law firm, said his attackers never identified themselves or spelled out why they were beating him up, aside from criticizing what he had said in press interviews. But for Li, the men's mission was clear: retribution by the Public Security Bureau for his role in defending dissident Chinese in human rights cases.

As delegates gather in Beijing for the Communist Party's 17th National Congress, the Public Security Bureau and China's other internal security agencies have cracked down on human rights campaigners and those who defend them. The goal, human rights advocates said, is to present an image of harmony as party officials go about the business of endorsing President Hu Jintao's policies and choosing his successor.

That imperative apparently has superseded the desire to create a favorable public image ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games, scheduled for next August. The tightening, which also includes tougher restrictions on Internet access, has attracted attention within China and abroad, but party authorities seem to have calculated that the concern will be diluted by next summer.

"The latest moves in the crackdown, which began in August, have included the abduction, arrest or violent intimidation of dozens of perceived dissidents who the government fears may protest on the streets of Beijing," said a report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch.

For instance, Gao Zhisheng, a human rights campaigner who last month wrote the U.S. Congress a letter suggesting that the Beijing Olympics should be opposed on human rights grounds, disappeared soon afterward and is presumed to be in detention at least until after the party congress.

Similarly, veteran farmers' rights organizers Yao Lifa and Lu Banglie have dropped out of sight and are believed to be in police custody, according to relatives. The brother and son of Ye Guozhu, a jailed Beijing land rights protester, were detained two weeks ago by what Human Rights Watch described as state security officers.

To discourage disgruntled citizens from petitioning congress delegates, Beijing police last month also began demolishing a group of ramshackle houses where several thousand petitioners had lived while waiting to get a hearing. And for good measure, the municipal tourism bureau issued a ban on model airplanes and paragliders during the week-long meeting.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company