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China dissidents eye uncertain post-Olympics landscape

October 22, 2008

AFP
October 21, 2008

BEIJING -- Despite hopes the Olympics would improve human rights,
China's crackdown on dissidents before and during the Games has
likely set the stage for a lasting period of even tighter controls,
government critics say.

Beijing-based AIDS campaigner Wan Yanhai is back at work following a
government-imposed shutdown of his activities during the recent
Summer Olympics, but he's treading carefully.

He said police have tailed him recently and the government last month
applied new pressure with a surprise tax probe of his Aizhixing
Institute, which advocates for the rights of AIDS victims, a touchy
subject in China.

"With the Olympics over, it looks like they have even more time to
give us trouble," Wan told AFP.

They also lament the failure of a Chinese to win this year's Nobel
Peace Prize as another lost opportunity to advance human rights and
bring greater openness to the communist-ruled nation.

Wan, 44, who works from a cramped and dingy office, said China was
unlikely to loosen the tightened grip taken in the Games run-up after
developing an even deeper understanding of dissident activities
during the crackdown.

"That is important to understand," said Wan.

As the Games approached, critics say China harassed, detained or
jailed dissidents, and ramped up security over the restive regions of
Tibet and Xinjiang.

Among those tried in court were Hu Jia, an AIDS and human rights
campaigner and one of the best-known dissidents within China, who was
sentenced to three and half years in jail in April on subversion charges.

Hu's wife Zeng Jinyan, who lives under unofficial house arrest in
Beijing, said the situation was grim.

"A lot of people are scared (of speaking out)," she told AFP during a
furtive recent interview.

Chinese authorities regularly insist that the cases of government
critics arrested are handled properly under Chinese law, and has
repeatedly rejected charges that it has unfairly cracked down on dissidents.

However, speculation was rife this month that the Nobel committee
would seek to punish China's perceived heavy-handedness by awarding
the peace prize to Hu or another Chinese rights campaigner.

The award went to Finnish peace negotiator Martti Ahtisaari,
disappointing Chinese activists, who said Beijing's growing economic
clout was muting vital foreign encouragement of rights campaigners here.

"If the Nobel Peace Prize had been given to (a Chinese), this would
have been very encouraging. That is something that China needs," said
Dai Qing, 68, a journalist who has campaigned against the harsh
environment and social costs of China's Three Gorges Dam Project.

Dissident writer Liu Xiabo, who participated in the 1989 Tiananmen
Square protests, scoffed at those who believed the Olympics would
further human rights in China.

"Those people don't understand the Communist Party," he said,
estimating that it could take 20 years before the party altered its
approach of stamping out any voices that challenge its supremacy.

That could mean trouble ahead, he added, noting rising discontent and
frequent outbursts of violence throughout China by marginalised
segments of society.

"China needs major (political) reforms or there will be an explosion.
But it is very hard for the government to do that," Liu said.

For now, activists such as Wan are keeping their heads down. He tries
to work with the government as much as possible, the memory of a
detention two years ago still fresh.

"After that experience, I've become more careful because you know,
you have a responsibility to your family and, actually, the
government has put a lot of pressure on me recently," he said.
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