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Activists fear more crackdowns in Xi's 'new era'
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Oct 27, 2017

Dissident bookseller 'freed' by China contacts family, friends say
Stockholm (AFP) Oct 27, 2017 - The dissident publisher Gui Minhai has finally spoken with his family after China said it had released him from detention, friends said Friday, but it is still unclear to what extent he is a free man.

Fears were raised for the 53-year-old Swedish citizen when he failed to contact family members after Chinese authorities said Tuesday that he had been released on October 17.

The Swedish foreign ministry announced Tuesday that it had been informed of his release but was still trying to contact him.

Gui was one of five Hong Kong-based booksellers known for salacious titles about the lives of China's political elite who went missing in 2015 and resurfaced in detention on the mainland.

Swedish journalist and author Jojje Olsson, who is writing a book about Gui Minhai, told AFP that Gui had finally contacted his daughter Angela Thursday in a 40-minute phone call.

Olsson said Gui was in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo and had been able to meet his mother and sisters, citing a source close to the publisher.

When asked if she had received a call and whether she believed it was from her father, Angela told AFP: "A call did take place," without giving further detail about what was said.

"There are still many things that need to be clarified and I don't think we can jump to conclusions just yet," she said in an email.

Dissident poet Bei Ling, a friend of Gui's, also said Friday that Gui was in Ningbo and had been reunited with his wife, as well as his mother and elder sisters.

"A few days ago, he personally called the Swedish consulate in Shanghai, in Swedish, and will apply for a new passport soon," he added, without revealing his sources.

Bei said that Gui would go back to his home in Germany after spending "enough time" in Ningbo, but only with the permission of Chinese police.

"I cannot say if he has the freedom to leave, I wish for his full freedom!"

Rights groups believe he is still under close surveillance and have called for his full release.

Gui disappeared in 2015 while on holiday in Thailand and had been detained at an undisclosed location in China ever since.

In February 2016 Gui appeared on Chinese television, weeping as he confessed to involvement in a fatal car accident years before.

In another interview the same year, he also admitted trying to smuggle illegal books into China.

The Chinese foreign ministry told AFP Tuesday that Gui had been released after serving out his jail sentence over "a traffic accident".

A spokeswoman for the Swedish foreign ministry told AFP Friday that they were "following the situation" and in touch with Chinese authorities.


When President Xi Jinping was handed a second term at the helm of the Communist Party this week, he said China had entered a "new era". But human rights activists expect the same old crackdowns.

Xi has increasingly stifled civil society since taking office in 2012, targeting everyone from activists to human rights lawyers and teachers to celebrity gossip bloggers.

In his speech to the twice-a-decade Communist Party congress, Xi made it clear that there will be no loosening of the party's control over the country's affairs during this "new era", in which he envisions China becoming a superpower by 2050.

He warned that social tensions and problems should be met with the strengthening of "governance based in law," and made multiple stern warnings to those supporting independence for semi-autonomous Hong Kong, and for self-governing Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

"We will never allow anyone, any organisation, or any political party, at any time or in any form, to separate any part of Chinese territory from China," Xi said.

In recent years and months, the government has enacted several laws on internet control and other measures in the name of national security, giving a legal basis for its tightening grip on society.

It has also jailed several mainland citizens who spoke out in support of Hong Kong's democracy movement and arrested a Taiwanese NGO worker, Lee Ming-cheh, putting him on trial last month for "subverting state power."

"Emboldened by the national security laws passed by Xi, police will likely go after anyone who dares to criticise government policies," Frances Eve, researcher for the overseas Chinese Human Rights Defenders group, told AFP.

"There will be more crackdowns, arrests, mass surveillance and censorship."

-- 'Iron triangle' --

While Xi has also presided over efforts to improve the professionalism of the judiciary, such as raising criteria for the appointment of judges, the reforms have not led to better treatment of government critics.

More than 200 Chinese human rights lawyers and activists were detained or questioned in a police sweep in 2015 that rights groups called "unprecedented."

In July, the authorities ignored international pleas for mercy as they refused to free democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo before as he died of liver cancer.

Liu's death in custody triggered rage and frustration among the Chinese dissident community, and engendered a sense of hopelessness under Xi.

Margaret Lewis, an expert in Chinese law at Seton Hall University, said freedoms protected under international treaties "are under constant attack in China today".

"Police are by far the strongest component of the 'iron triangle' of police, prosecutors, and judges in the criminal system," Lewis told AFP.

Amnesty International researcher Patrick Poon said Xi's speech last week signalled that China will continue to use its laws to "crack down on dissidents in the name of protecting national security".

-- 'Single Voice' --

In recent years, rights groups noted an uptick in police harassment of China's most vocal critics, especially around major events, with activists getting sent on government-sponsored "holidays" away from Beijing.

During this year's week-long Congress, only one prominent mainland lawyer dared to challenge leaders on China's human rights record.

In an open letter to delegates, Yu Wensheng said the last five years have been marked by a deterioration of rights and freedoms.

"The Chinese Communist Party speaks about freedom, democracy, equality and rule of law, but actually China has no freedom, no democracy, no equality, no rule of law. The elite and the rich are in power and corruption is everywhere," the letter said.

The letter was reproduced or excerpted in several overseas Chinese-American websites and Hong Kong and Taiwanese newspapers, but it was not visible in mainland China without using software to bypass government filters.

Yu said in a follow-up statement that police detained him immediately after he circulated the letter on October 18 and interrogated him for three hours.

In the past, similar letters were signed by groups of activists and intellectuals.

Yu -- who is best known for suing the government in Beijing in late 2016 over toxic air pollution -- told AFP he decided to issue the letter on his own because he had seen the human rights situation worsen severely, "especially with the large-scale arrest of lawyers."

Earlier this month, his wife circulated a statement saying his law licence was invalidated and authorities had pressured his firm to fire him.

Terence Halliday, an expert on Chinese law at Northwestern University said he was quite surprised by Yu's "extraordinarily bold letter."

"I think the rest of the world will need to watch closely to see if it's possible for one single voice to speak out and still be heard without extreme punishment in Xi's China."

China's Xi welcomes 'objective' media at restricted event
Beijing (AFP) Oct 25, 2017
President Xi Jinping Wednesday encouraged members of the press "to visit and see more of China" when he unveiled his new leadership - but five Western media outlets were excluded from the event. Journalists bearing a deep red invitation, with "The Great Hall of the People" emblazoned in golden script, arrived to watch Xi formally begin his second term and introduce his ruling council. B ... read more

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