BERLIN — In April 2011, I was kidnapped by the Chinese undercover police at a Beijing airport and detained at a secret location for 81 days. After my release, the government charged me with tax evasion, even though most of the questions during my confinement centered on my political activities. They demanded that I pay back taxes and a fine totaling $2.4 million, and when I asked why the shakedown, one official replied, “If we don’t penalize you, you won’t give us any peace.”
I decided not to give them peace. I contacted Pu Zhiqiang, one of the few courageous lawyers willing to defend political activists who suffer abuse at the hands of China’s authoritarian regime, to file an appeal. Zhiqiang took my case. I was impressed with his thorough preparation and clear thinking. In court, he was sharp, persuasive and fearless.
Over the years, Zhiqiang has defended many journalists, petitioners and human rights activists. His legal advocacy, along with his valor and superior skills, made him a target for political persecution. The leadership sees his rising influence as a threat.
After being detained for the last 19 months, Zhiqiang was put on trial on Dec. 14 by the Beijing Second Intermediate People’s Court for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and for “inciting ethnic hatred,” based on seven of his microblog posts that criticized Communist Party policies. The government found him guilty on Tuesday and gave him a three-year suspended sentence. The verdict automatically strips Zhiqiang of his attorney’s license — and eliminates the platform from which he has given voice to the voiceless.
As the world gushes over China’s economic power, no one should forget that its rise comes at the cost of freedom and human rights. Sadly, many people inside and outside China have resigned themselves to the fact that the judicial system submits to the power of the Communist Party.
Tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong marched to protest threats by activist groups to paralyze the city’s financial district if China refuses to allow direct leadership elections, underlining the division in the city.
The Alliance for Peace and Democracy put yesterday’s turnout at 193,000 people, compared with the 88,000 estimate by the University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Programme.
The protest highlighted the divide in Hong Kong over how to pick its new leader in 2017, with the political unrest threatening to erode its status as a global financial center. The Chinese government has insisted on having candidates vetted by a nominating committee, which has met with opposition from lawmakers, students and the activist group Occupy Central with Love and Peace.
“Occupy Central will block the traffic and affect my job and business,” Chan Cheung On, 40, a driver for a take-out delivery company, said yesterday at the protest. “Everybody in Hong Kong wants universal suffrage, but some people want to achieve it only through the way they want.”
Occupy Central has threatened to organize a 10,000 strong sit-in at the financial district if election methods fail to meet what it deems as international standards. A rally on July 1 for democracy drew 154,000 to 172,000 people, according to estimates by the University of Hong Kong.
HONG KONG — After almost two years of debate, China’s parliament has passed a new law that analysts say is a positive step in addressing the country’s systemic problems with the environment. Environmental groups say that although implementation may prove difficult, the revision gives them a legal framework to challenge polluters.
The new law gives more punitive powers to environmental authorities, allows a broader range of actions for environmental organizations and defines geographical “red lines” where the area’s ecology requires special protection.
It is the first time the environmental protection law has been revised since 1989.
Lawmaker Xin Chunying, told a news briefing Thursday that the revision will have an important effect on the future of China’s environmental protection efforts. “The revision of the environmental law is a heavy blow [in the fight against] our country’s harsh environmental realities, and an important systemic construct,” said Xin.
China has suffered from the effects of its rapid development, which has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty but heavily damaged the environment.
Air, water and soil pollution have reached alarming levels, becoming one of the key sources of discontent for many Chinese.
Despite official pronouncements to put the environment first, local governments have for decades been judged solely on their economic performance.
BEIJING — A wood sculpture of a larger-than-life man’s head whose gaping mouth is stuffed with a plug — a piece of Chinese protest art from more than 30 years ago — was supposed to be a star attraction at a retrospective here.
The startling visage, called “Silence,” born as a cri de coeur against the censorship of the period after the Cultural Revolution in China, was shown briefly during an artistic spring in Beijing in 1979 and 1980, before being banished.
Even today, says the creator of the work, Wang Keping, who lives in exile in France, his signature sculpture is too hot. “Silence” is notably absent from the exhibition of his works from his years abroad at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in the fashionable 798 Art Zone in Beijing.
“If it were part of the exhibit, there would be no exhibit,” Mr. Wang said as he showed a visitor dozens of dark-wood abstract sculptures, some of them hinting at the bodies of men and women, made in his studio outside Paris.
These newer pieces, including two towering black sculptures that in style and shape faintly recall the heads on Easter Island, proved acceptable to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture. The bureau must see in advance the number and subject of artworks imported for exhibits.
The Chinese authorities were in fact never given a chance to judge “Silence” anew.