The last year seems to have seen a rise in the Chinese government cracking down on political activists, seemingly in response to the threat of the Arab Spring influencing Chinese citizens. There has also been another increase of this type of activity over the last month, using the holiday season to catch people off guard. This also has to be seen in the context of the government trying to clean up their image by backing off in so called 'mass incidents', but really nothing much seems to of changed.
A couple of stories of recent activity have inspired this blog post. The first one being the story of a Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) activist being forced to flee China with the help of his comrades from Hong Kong where the group is more active (there is a lot more background info if you follow this article). It is one of a number of political groups banned in the mainland due to it's critical view of the Chinese government. He was one of many activists that the government wanted to clamp down in around the time of the Arab uprisings. The police interrogated him and tried to use him to help them get more information on other activities going on, especially those led from Hong Kong where the mainland police have no right to interfere in, despite it being technically under control from Beijing.
The other story is one highlighting how the government have used the holiday season as a period to punish it's critics, in hope that the rest of the world would ignore it as they are celebrating Christmas, New Year and the rest of it. Two activists, who "were both active in Tiananmen, both signed Charter 08, and have both have written a series of essays critical towards the government online" have been sentenced to 9 and 10 year sentences and essentially they have done no more than previously stated. One of them has already done a 10 year stint inside, being released less than 6 years ago.
The Guardian also have done a fairly decent article last year giving a bit more depth about how these activists are treat by the authorities.
While some were held only briefly, and several activists and dissidents were formally detained or sent to re-education through labour, others were held for weeks or months at unknown locations in breach of the current law...
...Friends say many of those detained lost significant amounts of weight and show clear signs of trauma, including disturbed sleep and memory loss. Many were hooded before they were driven away and several were badly beaten in the first day or two. In most cases they were watched around the clock by two officers at a time and deprived of sleep....
...Detainees were also forced to sit in stress positions for hours at a time. Although it is common practice in Chinese prisons to make people sit still for long periods, it was much more intensely enforced with these prisoners, so even slumping or closing their eyes could prompt a rebuke or threat.
Some were handcuffed for long periods. In other cases, air conditioning was run at full blast until rooms were unbearably cold...
All of this is nothing new in China as this libcom article shows.
I think a lot of these people get overshadowed when more well known activists like Ai Weiwei seem to be all that is represented by mainstream media and are counted more as just statistics. I think it hits home a lot for me because of where I'm living at the moment and reminds me that you have to be careful.
The way the Wukan uprising and other larger strikes have been dealt with, gives an impression that the Chinese government is turning a corner in how it deals with political activism and is on the road to becoming a more 'liberal' government. I think the main reason this happened is because this incident got so much press attention at the time, the government knew it had lots of people around the world monitoring the situation and had to act accordingly.
I think the final thought on this for me is that is not a case of China being the only country to do things like this nor is it just those more authoritarian governments like Saudi Arabia or Syria. If you look around you can find examples from most countries around the world doing this type of political policing, maybe not to the same extent but it is definitely there. When I was in the UK I was a victim of it myself, being visited by special branch as a young activist. It was no doubt both an intimidation tactic as well as an intelligence gathering exercise and leaves me confused to this day what the specifics were actually about and at the time freaked me out quite a bit.
We all need to be aware of these tactics and not be naive that in countries that supposedly allow freedom of speech, will leave you alone if you voice your opinion. If the economic situation of Europe and the US carries on declining and society becomes more unstable, expect the governments to become more like the Chinese government rather than the other way around.