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China's continuing sensitivity to dissenting views

world Updated: May 07, 2012 01:54 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

The dust is far from settled over the story of blind Chen Guangcheng. Though Chen has occupied international headlines since he escaped from house arrest in an eastern Chinese province and surfaced at the US embassy in Beijing in late April, there are several Chinese citizens who have been incarcerated for dissenting views.

As the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) gears up for a once-in-a-decade change of leadership this autumn, the government seems to be increasingly sensitive towards critical opinion. First, the Bo Xilai scandal which many interpreted as a mirror to the intra-party unease and then Chen's story is likely to heighten that sensitivity.

What is it that makes the government here react sharply and strongly to opposition to its politics and policies? Even in the case of Chen who was demanding that abuses committed by local officials be investigated the authorities had possibly reacted far too strongly.

"What is preventing the Chinese government from responding to Chen's eminently reasonable demands--an end to his unlawful imprisonment at home and an investigation into the abuses committed by local officials--is the fear of encouraging the citizenry in standing up to the government when their rights are violated. Chen and his supporters are not calling for an overthrow of the Communist Party or even an end to the one party system: they are just asking that the state respects its own laws. The fact that the Chinese government and the Communist Party can't seem to be able to respond to such a basic demand goes a long way in explaining the very checkered human rights situation in the country and the mounting social tensions that increasingly turn into protests-- up to 500 a day according to some Chinese scholars, against 10 a day a decade ago," Hong Kong-based Nicholas Bequelin , senior researcher with Human Rights Watch told HT in an email. "Strike hard and take prisoners. That's the government's message on how it will respond to perceived dissent in this Dragon year of 2012," said a HRW watch report.

The government seems to be allergic to the written word. In February, activist Poet Zhu Yufu was sentenced to seven years in jail for writing a poem that talked about freedom. One verse of the poem in question read: "It's time, Chinese people!/The square belongs to everyone/the feet are yours/ it's time to use your feet and take to the square to make a choice."

"Sentencing activist Zhu Yufu to seven years for writing a poem is also an evidence of the government's repression of anyone who is perceived to directly or indirectly criticise its policies," Sarah Schafer, Amnesty International's China researcher had said. "These measures are a sign that the Chinese leadership must be afraid of losing its grip on power. Why else would it sentence someone to seven years in jail for writing a poem?"