Home  |   Jihad Watch  |   Horowitz  |   Archive  |   Columnists  |     DHFC  |  Store  |   Contact  |   Links  |   Search Sunday, May 27, 2018
FrontPageMag Article
Write Comment View Comments Printable Article Email Article
Dissent Behind the Bamboo Curtain By: Kathy Shaidle
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, December 18, 2008

On the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, a group of Chinese lawyers, academics, farmers, journalists – and even a few government officials – unveiled a declaration of their own to remind the world that millions still suffer under Communist tyranny.

Charter 08, signed by more than 300 Chinese citizens, “calls for free elections, an end to one-party rule, the rehabilitation of those purged in political movements, the withdrawal of the Communist Party from the military and the courts, and freedom of religion.” The Chinese Communist Party leadership responded by detaining a number of Charter 08 signatories, and are now even harassing and threatening ordinary citizens who are trying to file routine complaints at official government petition offices.

The signatories of Charter 08 say they modeled their document on Charter 77, the famous declaration by dissidents in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia, calling on the Communist government to honor the human rights obligations spelled out in the 1975 Helsinki Accords.

Charter 08 reads in part:

...as the ruling elite continues with impunity to crush and to strip away the rights of citizens to freedom, to property, and to the pursuit of happiness, we see the powerless in our society – the vulnerable groups, the people who have been suppressed and monitored, who have suffered cruelty and even torture, and who have had no adequate avenues for their protests, no courts to hear their pleas -– becoming more militant and raising the possibility of a violent conflict of disastrous proportions. The decline of the current system has reached the point where change is no longer optional.

For years, the Chinese Communist government has tried to keep a lid on dissent by adopting a limited form of capitalism, hoping to divert a restless citizenry’s attention from political reforms to personal wealth creation and material success.

“But that formula is now in danger of disintegrating,” wrote one expert on the region, Catherine Simpson of The Guardian. “The global financial crisis is hitting China harder than analysts at first expected. Stock markets and property prices have fallen, exports have slowed dramatically, and production is ceasing in many of the southern factories that keep the shops of the world stocked. The western world has been through boom and bust before, but China's newly affluent classes have so far only boomed. No one knows what to expect if things go bust, least of all the Chinese leadership.”

John J. Tkacik, Jr., Senior Research Fellow in Asian Studies at the Heritage Foundation, told FrontPage Magazine, “there is little likelihood that any ‘enlightened’ faction [of the Chinese Communist Party leadership] would want to use the Charter as a catalyst for political reform – even if the potential were there to do so. But it is clear that the CCP leadership is unsettled by the action.”

Tkacik explained that if the security police start cracking down on the Charter 08 signers even more harshly in the immediate future – “arrest them all, remove them from their jobs, harass their families and friends – “it will reflect the CCP leadership's belief that this is an existential crisis for the regime.”

Sure enough, reports coming out of the region as recently as yesterday indicate that Charter 08 signers and even ordinary citizens are being continually threatened.

“I was visited twice by local police, once on December 14 and then again two days later,” teacher Chang Xiongfa told the Telegraph. “They searched my house and asked me who was behind the Charter. Our lives are not safe here.”

Chang claimed he had filed close to 100 official complaints with the Shanghai government petition office, without success.

“The police told me that if I took a case to Beijing, I would get five days in prison the first time, ten days the next time, and then I would be sent to a re-education through labor camp,” he said.

One Charter 08 signer, businessman Liu Changliang, told the Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore that citizens visit the Shanghai petition office each week to “complain about their situation. In front of them all, the police beat up one or two every morning, despite their age or sex, as an example.”

In the wake of the Charter 08 unveiling, Chinese President Hu Jintao uttered vague platitudes about working “with the international community in promoting human rights” and basing “its human rights development on the basic situation of the country” – an innocent sounding phrase that’s actually a caveat frequently used to indicate that China maintains its own peculiar definition of “human rights,” which places more importance on rising the standard of living than expanding personal liberties.

Tibetan spiritual leader and longtime thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist leadership, the Dalai Lama, called Hu's milquetoast statement a “laudable initiative” but also called upon China to release “prisoners of conscience” who have been detained for exercising freedom of expression.

In a nation in which untold thousands of pro-democracy protesters were arrested or killed during the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, dissent is practically unheard of and is undertaken only at great personal risk.

“After we handed over the Charter, I was detained by the police,” said Zhang Zuhua, a writer and political analyst. “Right now the police have searched my home. My computer and documents have all been taken away. I am now being held at my home. I can't go anywhere. I don't know what will happen to me next. But I was told by the police that they are carrying out a formal investigation, so I think there will soon be further punishment.”

In the days leading up to the anniversary of the UN Declaration, numerous other dissidents were rounded up, including a leading Tiananmen Square protester, Liu Xiaobo, who has served time in labor camps or under house arrest since that failed uprising.

Washington expressed “particular concern” about Liu’s situation, in a statement issued by the State Department on December 11.

Meanwhile, one Chinese dissident expressed gratitude for President Bush’s ongoing support of his cause. Xiao Qiang, who runs the Chinese blog Rock-n-Go, was invited to the White House last week for a meeting between dissident bloggers from China, Burma, Cuba and other nations, and outgoing President George W. Bush.

Xiao reported, “For an hour, the president listened as the bloggers described how they attempt to circumvent state censorship to disseminate news and organize pressure for change on the Internet. His purpose, he said, was ‘to honor, herald and highlight the brave souls who are on the front lines – and that's you.’ More than anything else, the meeting itself showed that the voices of activists inside China are being heard and supported by the White House.”

Xiao Qiang pointed out the hopeful news that despite official controls on the Internet, there are now more Chinese bloggers than American bloggers. He said this “signifies the nascent convergence of different social forces – from voices within the system to human rights activists and bloggers – to promote political reform in China, facilitated by the Internet, under the common banner of a ‘Citizens’ Movement.’”

Also at Wednesday’s meeting was The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, who believes that this sort of personal attention from American president “gains them enormous attention in their own countries and injects their liberal ideas into arenas from which they are usually excluded. Though some may be thrown in jail on their return from the White House, they also gain a de facto immunity from torture or assassination.”

Diehl’s own relationship with President Bush hasn’t always been entirely cordial, and at Wednesday’s meeting he lightly scolded Diehl and another journalist for their “criticism of his freedom agenda failures.” However, the meeting focused primarily on Bush’s hopes for the future.

According to Diehl, Bush “said he hoped his successor would come under no less pressure to support democratic dissidents. He's right: On this at least, Barack Obama should follow Bush's example.”

Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury.com. Her new book exposing abuses by Canada’s Human Rights Commissions, The Tyranny of Nice, includes an introduction by Mark Steyn.

We have implemented a new commenting system. To use it you must login/register with disqus. Registering is simple and can be done while posting this comment itself. Please contact gzenone [at] horowitzfreedomcenter.org if you have any difficulties.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Home | Blog | Horowitz | Archives | Columnists | Search | Store | Links | CSPC | Contact | Advertise with Us | Privacy Policy

Copyright©2007 FrontPageMagazine.com