Chinese dissidents, activists await release from house arrest, forced ‘vacation’
Chinese police have yet to release dissidents and rights activists from house arrest and other restrictions in the wake of the 20th party congress, with one activist detained for breaking restrictions, people targeted by the measures told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday.
Independent political journalist Gao Yu said she was taken on an enforced “vacation” for more than two weeks, ahead of the party congress, which ended Sunday. “It’s been 16 days today,” Gao said, adding that she had only brought enough medication to last 14 days. “I thought I would be allowed home after the party congress ended, so I brought 14 days’ worth.”
“I have asked to go home,” she said. “I have to get to the hospital for a follow-up appointment.”
Gao said she had been banned from posting to Twitter during the party congress. “I saw a lot of people tweeting, but I wasn’t allowed to tweet,” she said. “They even told me to delete some tweets I had already sent.”
Ahead of the congress, at which Xi was elected to an unprecedented third five-year term, Chinese police launched a large-scale “stability maintenance” operation removing anyone pursuing complaints against official wrong-doing, migrant workers and political dissidents from view.
Some critics of the regime, like Gao, were taken out of town on “vacations” by the state security police, while others were placed under guard in their homes and warned against posting to social media or giving interviews to foreign media.
“Stability maintenance” measures can range from enforcing house arrest to stave off potential activism, to hiring “interceptors” to bring petitioners back from Beijing, to escorting dissidents under house arrest to hospital appointments or grocery shopping at politically sensitive times of the year, including the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.
Under Xi Jinping, such operations have grown to include a plethora of law enforcement agencies and committees, including state security police who target peaceful activists, political dissidents, religious believers and ethnic minority groups as potential “threats” to social stability.
While the cost of the stability maintenance regime that shores up the ruling party’s grip on power isn’t clearly labeled in annual budgets, political analysts say it has likely more than tripled under Xi, to an estimated 1 trillion yuan.
A rights activist who declined to be named said the measures taken this year have been tougher than in previous years. “The security measures for the 20th party congress are unprecedented,” the activist said. “It’s as if they are dealing with a major enemy. The police are on duty round the clock, and all leave has been canceled.”
Anyone being monitored has to check in at the police station or take a selfie at home every day to prove they aren’t going anywhere, the activist said.
“I’m still in Changsha, and I’ll be going back to Beijing in a couple of days,” Beijing-based dissident Ji Feng told RFA, saying his return has been delayed by the COVID-19 Health Code tracker app.
“I have to wait for my … health code to turn green [after quarantine],” he said. “I was in Kunming earlier, and now I have to quarantine for seven days in Changsha … because Kunming’s health code [isn’t] green.”
Rights activists in the central province of Hunan said they will likely remain under round-the-clock surveillance or on enforced “vacation” under Wednesday.
An activist from Zhuzhou city, who gave only the surname Li, said one of their number had been detained for breaking house arrest.
“Ren Ming refused to listen when they told him not to go out during the 20th party congress, so they could keep track of his whereabouts,” Li said. “He went out anyway, and they detained him.”
Ren is being held under 11 days’ administrative detention, a sentence that can be imposed by police on perceived “troublemakers” for up to 15 days without the need for a trial, Li said.
Most other Zhuzhou activists remain under house arrest until Wednesday.
“There are still people whose freedom of movement is restricted, and a Vietnam War veteran will be restricted until Oct. 26,” Li said. “He was taken to Yanling county, which is administered by Zhuzhou, where he was placed under house arrest.”
“It’s not clear whether everyone will have regained their freedom by Oct. 26,” he said.
Translated and written by Luisetta Mudie.