Late-night visit from police as Charter 08 support grows

John Garnaut in Beijing
January 13, 2009

BEIJING authorities are stepping up intimidation tactics to silence public demands for democratic reforms, and more than 20 security officials took away one activist for questioning over the weekend.

Beijing Public Security Bureau officials led the large police contingent to the home of Wang Debang, an internet writer and 1989 Tiananmen Square protest veteran, at 11pm on Saturday, according to China Human Rights Defenders. Mr Wang was interrogated through the night about his involvement in a forthcoming human rights report for the Hong Kong-based human rights organisation, Charter 08, a liberal manifesto that has spooked security officials since its publication last month.

He was subsequently released but his computer and notebooks have not been returned.

Wang Songlian, research coordinator at China Human Rights Defenders, linked Mr Wang's "heavy handed treatment" to official anxiety about Charter 08 and the approaching 20th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre.

She said more than 100 Charter 08 signatories had been detained, questioned or otherwise harassed since its publication on December 9.

The vast security clampdown against Charter 08 signatories and organisers has succeeded in publicising the movement as well as suppressing it.

Yesterday a Beijing newspaper, the Economic Observer, published a glowing tribute to economist and "national treasure" Mao Yushi, without mentioning that the aging professor is listed at No. 3 among the more than 7000 signatories of Charter 08.

Another signatory, Yang Hengjun, a former diplomat turned political commentator and author of spy thrillers, told the Herald that officials had generally been "gentle and restrained" when summonsing signatories for "a cup of tea".

"I believe President Hu Jintao has the wisdom and ability to deal with this charter," he said.

"I don't think he will be very hard on the people who have just signed the charter and who believe in the charter, because almost every person believes in it.

"This is a belief in constitutional democracy; it is the big trend of history and just political common sense."

On Friday Beijing officials closed down the country's leading intellectual internet forum, Bullog.cn, which had provided extensive coverage and commentaries on Charter 08. The Bullog founder Luo Yonghao told the Herald he would reopen the website on an overseas server if domestic regulators did not let him do so at home.