Every year in March, China holds its annual Two Meetings—the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) –to “discuss and decide” the important matters of the country. Chinese citizens might not know who in the Great Hall of the People represents them, but they do know life becomes considerably more inconvenient during the Two Meetings. For some, it can mean major infringement on their rights and freedom. For still others, it can be outright scary and brutal.
If you are a dissident, a rights lawyer, an activist campaigning for any cause, or an outspoken intellectual, you have probably been placed under some sort of house arrest.
Since February 22, dissidents across the country have been Shanggang-ed (上岗). That is, outside their homes, policemen, or guards hired by the authorities, set up posts to watch them and make sure they don’t leave home, or don’t leave home without their company. In Beijing, the list of being shanggang-ed is long. Among them are Hu Jia (胡佳), Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦), Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), He Depu (何德普), Zha Jianguo (查建国), Wang Yonghong (王永红), to name just a few. Some veteran dissidents, too tired of the surveillance, chose to leave home. For example, Wang Lihong (王荔蕻) and Wu Gan (吴淦, known as Tufu the Butcher) are travelling in the south, while Mo Zhixu (莫之许), who had been away from Beijing for the Chinese New Year holiday, has been told to stay away.
In Guizhou (贵州), Shanghai (上海), Guangzhou (广州), Hubei (湖北), Hunan (湖南), Anhui (安徽), Zhejiang (浙江), more people are being restricted in their movement, media interviews, and online activities. Beijing-based dissident Hu Jia, who has collected information about “stability maintenance” measures during the Two Meetings, reported that dissidents and activists in the provinces had been forced by state security police to write statements pledging that they would not go to Beijing, nor express any views, during the Two Meetings.
Hu Jia also observed that this year, while he had been frequently subjected to house arrest, this time around, the measures are more drastic. As never before, he tweeted that a gang of plainclothes encamped outside his apartment door in the stairwells, smoking and talking loudly, and he and the neighbors had to argue with them.
Ai Weiwei (艾未未) tweeted that a car with a few people in it parked outside his home 24 hours a day. The other day when he and his friends came out with a video camera to film these people, they drove away and didn’t come back. Tweeting a parody of Xi Jinping’s hardline speech in Mexico in 2009, Ai Weiwei said, “There are some police officers, with full bellies, who have nothing better to do than try to interfere with my life. I do not export Jasmine [revolution], embezzlement, corruption, nor do I make trouble for you. Just what else do you want?”
Hu Shigen (胡石根, @hushigen), who served 16 years in prison from 1992 to 2008 for organizing a political opposition party, tweeted Monday that “I want to know, in Beijing and in mainland China, how many more people have been barred from leaving their own homes? I want to seek lawyers to bring lawsuit against the government for illegally restricting citizens’ freedom of movement.
In a particularly egregious episode of this year’s clamping down on dissidents, on February 27 in Hefei, Anhui (安徽合肥), four men kidnapped Zhang Anni (张安妮), the 10-year-old daughter of Zhang Lin (张林), after the school let out, and took her to the local police station. There she was detained for 20 hours without being given food or water, or even a blanket to stay warm. Later, the police also searched Zhang Lin’s home, taking away his computer, cell phone, cash, and other important necessities. The father and daughter have since been deported to Bengpu (蚌埠) where Anni, scared and refusing to talk for days, has no school to go for the time being.
A Tsinghua-trained nuclear physicist, Zhang Lin is a veteran dissident who has served three prison terms since the 1980s, totaling 13 years.
Of course the crackdown on dissidents and activists is only part of the picture, a small part at that. A newspaper in Shanghai reported that, beginning from March 1, passengers taking long-distance buses to Beijing will have to register using their real names, as passengers of trains and airplanes do, and, when boarding the bus, a passenger’s name, address, seat number and ID number will be recorded. In addition, check points have been set up around Beijing to scan or inspect IDs of passengers entering the city.
While the government is on high alert to clamp down on any possible source of perceived trouble, petitioners make special efforts to try to get to Beijing around this time of the year to voice their grievances. Weiquanwang (维权网), a website focusing on rights defense, has reported many ongoing incidents of petitioners being jailed, mistreated, locked up in black jails in Beijing, or rounded up and sent back to where they had come from, while the Economist also has a report on these black jails recently.
In recent days, Sina Weibo blocked many Weibo accounts, including some verified account with large followings. Writer Zan Aizong (昝爱宗), whose account has been repeatedly cancelled, told RFA that the recent raid is part of stability maintenance prior to, and during, the two meetings, and that Weibo has become more and more sophisticated in controlling expression, controlling news, and monitoring “sensitive people.” “They don’t care whether they are sowing seeds for a more and more unstable society in the future; all they want to do is to keep everything under a tight lid for the time being.”
The authorities are certainly not afraid of going too far to stop people from going about their normal business. On March 3, the legal publication Lawyer’s Digest in Beijing was due to hold its annual meeting of lawyers and legal professionals, but some of the high-profile participants, such as Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), He Weifang (贺卫方) and Mao Yushi (茅于轼) were unable to attend because policemen confined them to their homes, and the meeting was forced out of its original venue to a small conference room in a law firm.
On March 1st and 2nd, renowned independent writer Ran Yunfei (冉云飞) was scheduled to hold book-signing sessions with readers in Xi’an for his new book Give Freedom to Your Beloved, but they were arbitrarily cancelled by police. In Hangzhou, historian Fu Guoyong (傅国涌) received a call from the authorities that ordered him to cancel a lecturer about the recently-deceased Mr. Xu Liangying (许良英).
While citizens’ rights are subjected to arbitrary, gratuitous violations on a daily basis, a signature campaign is making the rounds calling for the NPC to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that China signed in 1998 but never ratified. Hundreds of Chinese intellectuals, lawyers, activists and ordinary citizens have signed up so far and more people are joining in every day by sending their name, city of residence, and profession to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other day when someone commented on Twitter how the heavy-handed security resembles the Olympics in 2008, someone else shot back coolly, “Well, that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Remember who headed the CCP’s Steering Group for Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games?”
Xi Jinping did.