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Thursday 17 October 2019

Activists detained as China marks 70 years of communist rule

Dissidents locked up in Beijing crackdown in run-up to celebrations

Propaganda: Pro-China supporters show their loyalty at a protest in Hong Kong. Photo: Jorge Silva/Reuters
Propaganda: Pro-China supporters show their loyalty at a protest in Hong Kong. Photo: Jorge Silva/Reuters

Sophia Yan

Activist Wei Xiaobing was held in detention for two weeks, harassed daily at work and is now confined with guards watching his every move, because he shared links online in support of the Hong Kong protests.

"At the moment, I'm not allowed to go outside," he secretly messaged journalists while under house arrest and living in a hotel, as a police officer sat across the room from him.

Mr Wei, along with other intellectuals and activists, is facing even greater repression than usual as China ramps up a crackdown ahead of tomorrow's celebration of 70 years of Communist Party rule.

"That the Hong Kong protests have coincided with this period means there have been more targeted detentions or threats issued even earlier than normal for a big political event," said Frances Eve, deputy director of research with Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

"The Communist Party is obsessed with ensuring high-profile political events run smoothly for propaganda purposes. It's this insecurity that sees the government afraid of activists, petitioners, or others speaking out."

So while the rest of China is preparing for the festivities - a massive military parade and fireworks show meant to stir nationalist sentiments - Mr Wei is sequestered indoors, and has been ordered to stay quiet on social media.

It started in June when he got a call asking him to go to a police station for a 'chat' about his online activity.

After he had been held for a full day, the officers returned with a document that found him guilty of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble", and imposed a 15-day detention penalty.

News is tightly controlled in China, and authorities scrub the internet clean of topics deemed to be of a 'sensitive' nature. Mention of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong was entirely banned for weeks until Beijing began allowing selective mentions that supported its broader propaganda message.

When released, Mr Wei had to agree never to speak of the incident. But he was still not free. State security began harassing him at work daily for weeks, before forcing him to make the 2,000km journey from the city he was working in back to his hometown in inland China.

Police have been conducting similar suppression efforts all over the country. In August, officers reportedly travelled 200km to order dissident Shi Yulin to stop sharing 'negative' news about Hong Kong, instructing him to "love the party, love the country".

Lawyer Chen Qiushi said he was pressured to return to Beijing after he live-streamed from the Hong Kong protests on Chinese social media.

The fear of further backlash was so great that he has fled China.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has claimed to have a good human rights record in a newly released paper.

Mr Wei's ex-wife has also been harassed and intimidated, as police try to pressure him, he said. However, he has no intention of being silenced, and plans to continue being outspoken.

Mr Wei joined mass demonstrations to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, when the Chinese military fired on student demonstrators, killing thousands, an incident communist authorities have never fully acknowledged.

"I'm not afraid," he said. "I'm prepared to lose my freedom, and even my life, for what I believe in. I'm just angry."

Telegraph.co.uk

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