By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 29, 2007
BEIJING, Nov. 28 -- The number of people arrested in China for "endangering state security" more than doubled last year, showing that the government is cracking down on the political crime of dissent despite pressure to improve its human rights record before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a human rights watchdog group based in the United States said Wednesday.
National statistics released in the annual China Law Yearbook show that prosecutors approved the arrest and detention of 604 people on the state security charge in 2006, compared with 296 the year before. The numbers were the highest since 2002, according to the group, the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, which lobbies for the release of political prisoners.
"This is the absolute, red-hot core of political crime," involving alleged subversion, trafficking in state secrets and separatism, said John Kamm, executive director of the foundation.
The sharp increase reflects the government's growing insecurity with traditional critics as well as a new generation of dissenters who are increasingly well informed about their scant legal rights and more inclined to spread their views using the Internet, experts said.
The arrested also include alleged spies and defense lawyers who represent grass-roots activists pitted against powerful local officials. Among the lawyers is outspoken human rights specialist Gao Zhisheng. Also detained on the charge of endangering state security are two sons of Rebiya Kadeer, a businesswoman who is an advocate in exile for China's ethnic Uighurs, a Turkic-language Muslim minority.
Human rights officials say the actual number of people facing politically motivated charges is much higher, because the state security arrest figures do not include people detained for offenses associated with illegal assembly and "mass incidents," a euphemism for rural protests.
Nor do the numbers include business activities deemed illegal, such as printing Bibles without the appropriate business license, or crimes in connection with religious groups.
Because endangering state security remains such a serious charge, officials tend to make more use of minor charges such as extortion or disturbing the social order to lock up troublemakers, said Mo Shaoping, a defense lawyer who has many clients held on state security charges.
"Now, the Chinese government depends more and more on force to control people, even while dealing with intellectuals," said political commentator Li Datong, a former editor. His newspaper section was shut down after he strongly criticized the Communist Party's propaganda officials and a plan to dock reporters' pay if their stories displeased party chiefs.
"For example, police will break into the house of an old guy who tried to publish articles in the middle of the night and confiscate his computer with the excuse of state security," Li said. "Since the law on state security is too vague, it allows the government to interpret it according to what they want."
State monitoring technology has also improved dramatically in recent years, said defense lawyer Mo. "The government has strengthened their control and surveillance of published opinions on the Internet. It shows they're more and more scared by public opinions."
The number of successful prosecutions or indictments on state security charges is also on the rise, jumping from 349 cases in 2005 to 561 cases last year, the highest since 2002, according to Dui Hua.
The increases come despite international and domestic pressure on China to showcase itself as an open and tolerant country for the Olympics. At the same time, Chinese leaders are having fewer human rights discussions with foreign counterparts, making it more difficult to obtain information on political prisoners, experts said.
Arrests and indictments were high between 1999 and 2002 because of a roundup of China Democracy Party activists and because, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, arrests spiked in Xinjiang province, where Chinese officials held Muslim separatists and suspected terrorists, Kamm said.
The recent rise may also be the result of China investigating nongovernmental organizations, reportedly because of fears that foreigners are conspiring to create a "color revolution" in China, such as the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004.
News researcher Li Jie contributed to this report.