- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

SHANGHAI, China, Jan. 9 (UPI) — A veteran Chinese democracy advocate who was a signatory to a petition calling for the release of other jailed activists, has been secretly arrested on subversion charges, family members and a New York-based human rights group said Thursday.

Han Lifa, a prominent figure in China's pro-democracy movement, was arrested Dec. 26 in Shanghai, according to family members, who spoke to United Press International on condition of anonymity.

Han is the seventh member arrested from a group of 192 pro-democracy advocates who submitted a letter calling for more democratic reforms ahead of the 16th Communist Party Congress last November.

One relative said they only learned of Han's arrest this week after police contacted his brother and requested some of his personal items, including his computer and some of his political writings.

"We are concerned for his well-being; the authorities haven't told us what he is charged with and we have been prevented from visiting him," he said. "We know they have him in custody, but that's all we know."

The Shanghai Public Security Bureau, when contacted by telephone on Thursday, refused to provide any information about Han's arrest and detention.

"We have nothing to say about this case. It is a matter for the proper authorities," said an officer at the bureau's Yangpu district division, where Han is being held.

The New York-based Human Rights in China, which has been monitoring the growing number of arrests, called for the immediate release of the activists in a statement faxed to news organizations Thursday.

"The Chinese government can't possibly justify its harsh action against participants in such a benign political action," the statement said. "This case only goes to show the Chinese government's complete intolerance of any political views diverging from its own."

"If such arrests continue, there can be little hope of China making any progress at all in its democratic development," the statement added.

The petition that was sent to delegates attending last November's party congress called on Beijing to overturn its verdict condemning the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, demanded the immediate release of all political prisoners and urged the extension of local democratic-style elections to the national level.

It said China's political freedoms had not kept pace with the nation's economic development, warning that a lack of electoral representation and free speech would eventually lead to widespread social instability.

"As the Communist Party refuses political reform and the establishment of democracy and rule of law, corruption has deepened, problems in the villages and in the agricultural sector have become increasingly serious and polarization of society more intense," the petition, a copy of which was obtained by UPI, said.

"We have raised these opinions and proposals because we strongly believe that the many serious issues facing Chinese society are rooted in one-party centralized rule," it said.

The petition's author, Zhao Changqing, was arrested shortly after it was submitted and is currently being held under house detention on subversion charges. He is the only signatory yet to be formally charged.

The other five petition signatories in police custody include such high-profile pro-democracy as activists Ouyang Yi, Dai Xuezhong, Jiang Lijun, He Depu, and Sang Jianchen, the rights group said.

The group said others are believed to have been detained, a claim that could not be immediately verified.

Han, 32, has been a member of China's fledging democracy movement since 1989, and had previously served two three-year sentences and one nine-month prison terms on similar charges, the group said.

According to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, Han was one of the founders of the now-banned China Democracy Party in Shanghai, which was established in 1998.

China has outlawed the creation of political organizations not sanctioned by the ruling Communist party and has quickly smashed any efforts to form independent political parties and pro-democracy groups.

Despite the risks, calls on Beijing for political reforms by Chinese activists have gathered steam in recent years and a number of articles criticizing one-party rule have appeared in online and print publications.

While Beijing maintains a tight grip on political debate in the state-controlled media, average Chinese citizens have in recent years had more access to alternative political discussions via the Internet.

The arrests follow several high-profile releases of political prisoners, including Xu Wenli, who was freed last month from a 13-year sentence on charges of subversion and endangering state security. Xu, who was arrested in 1998 after setting up China Democracy Party, is now in exile in the United States.

Other high-profile members of the China Democracy Party, Wang Youcai and Qin Yongmin, remain in prison on subversion charges, serving terms of up to 15 years each, overseas rights groups have said.

Shortly after Xu's release, Human Rights in China president Liu Qing issued a terse statement warning that the international community should not be complacent about China's continuing human rights abuses.

"Of course we're happy to learn of the release of Xu Wenli and other political activists," Mr. Liu said. "But many other dissidents are still in prison, and they, too, should be unconditionally released immediately."

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