- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

BEIJING — Chinese rights activists say they expect anti-government demonstrations to spread this year as more citizens defy arrests and crackdowns to demand fuller rights. Officials also have warned of continued unrest.

“In recent years, the Chinese mainland’s citizen-rights defense campaign has gathered force, and its influence and scale are constantly expanding,” recently wrote Li Jian, an activist in northeast China.

“The authorities worry that from its midst will emerge opinion leaders and organizers with social credibility and broad influence,” wrote Mr. Li, who runs a Web site on human-rights issues. His report was carried on several Chinese Web sites based overseas.

Mr. Li’s comments were echoed recently in different terms by a senior police official, who told officers to brace for unrest in the new year.

Bai Jingfu, a vice minister of public security, said at a Dec. 19 meeting that the end of one year and the start of another is often a time of increased “mass incidents” — government jargon for riots, protests and petitions.

“We must appropriately deal with major mass incidents according to the law, and we must strictly prevent bloodshed,” Mr. Bai added in comments reported Dec. 20 by China Public Security News.

In August, Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang said China had 74,000 “mass incidents” in 2004, compared with 10,000 a decade before. Many of the protests involved farmers denouncing the taking of land with inadequate compensation.

Mr. Li’s report paints a mixed picture of continued, possibly increased, arrests and government restrictions on Chinese “rights protection” activists amid persistent popular unrest and increasingly organized protests.

“There’s a deepening crisis around citizens’ rights in China, and 2006 may be an important year,” Mr. Li told Reuters.

“Ordinary people are increasingly aware of their rights, and the Internet is helping this, but the authorities are also worried and may strike back.”

A Chinese human-rights campaigner who joined in some of the most prominent clashes between residents and officials also said he expects protests to increase.

Although detentions and restrictions will continue, rights campaigners feel emboldened by the recent freeing of some activists, said Guo Feixiong.

The full-time activist was released Dec. 27 without charge after more than three months in detention and said he would continue organizing disgruntled farmers and workers.

Mr. Guo was arrested near Guangzhou, the capital of southern Guangdong province, after helping residents of Taishi demonstrate against officials they said were corrupt and unaccountable. Mr. Guo said police could not find evidence to charge him with any crimes.

“My release shows that the forces of oppression still exist but can only go so far,” he said.

Mr. Guo said he and other activists plan to petition for clearer controls over China’s anti-riot militia — the People’s Armed Police — to avoid the kind of bloodshed that shook Dongzhou, 130 miles east of Taishi, on Dec. 6.

At least three Dongzhou residents were fatally shot by the government militia after protesting loss of their land to a power plant.

Mr. Guo said he hopes to educate China’s farmers in the peaceful-protest methods of Mahatma Gandhi, the pacifist leader of the Indian nationalist struggle against British rule. “If China is going to avoid increased bloodshed and instability, we must study Gandhi’s methods of nonviolent, active protest,” Mr. Guo said.

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