China’s voices of dissent

Originally published by BBC News,7 December 2010 

 A small group of activists continue to call for political and legal reforms in China, despite the tight control of the Communist Party.

The BBC profiles some of the leading activists who, despite the consequences, have chosen to speak out.

LIU XIAOBO: Activist, in jail

Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia

Liu Xiaobo, 54, was a key leader in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

Last year he received an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion” after drafting Charter 08 – which called for multi-party democracy and respect for human rights in China.

Announcing the Nobel Peace Prize in October, the Nobel committee described Mr Liu as “the foremost symbol” of the human rights struggle in China.

His wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest since the award was announced, and friends and supporters have been prevented from leaving China.

Liu Xiaobo: 20 years of activism

HU JIA: Activist, in jail

Hu Jia at his home in Beijing in 2007

Hu Jia, a prominent environmentalist and Aids activist, was jailed for three-and-a-half years in April 2008 for “inciting subversion” – the same charge as Liu Xiaobo.

The state-owned Xinhua news agency reported that Mr Hu wrote articles criticising the Chinese political system, and accepted interviews with foreign journalists.

Human rights groups say the Chinese authorities put Mr Hu in prison to silence him ahead of the Olympic Games, and that his jail term was a warning to opponents of the Communist Party.

Mr Hu suffers from a liver disease and human rights groups say he may not be getting adequate treatment. His wife, Zeng Jinyan, herself an activist, has been under effective house arrest, with their young child, since Mr Hu’s detention.

Profile: Hu Jia

GAO ZHISHENG: Lawyer, missing

2005 file photo of Gao Zhisheng

Gao Zhisheng, a writer and self-taught lawyer, became known in China for defending citizens against the state.

His pro-bono work has included cases for evicted homeowners, human rights activists, victims of medical malpractice and members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

He published a book, A China More Just, detailing his experiences of confronting China’s legal and political system.

In August 2006, Mr Gao was arrested for “inciting subversion” through his writing.

He was sentenced to three years in prison in December 2006 but the jail term was suspended for five years. Mr Gao says he was tortured on several occasions while in detention.

He was also reportedly the target of an assassination attempt.

He went missing in February 2009, reappeared briefly a year later to say he was giving up campaigning for the sake of his family, and went missing again in the western province of Xinjiang in April 2010.

Profile: Gao Zhisheng

GAO YAOJIE: Aids activist, in exile

Dr Gao Yaojie in her flat in New York

In her 80s, Gao Yaojie, a celebrated doctor, is one of China’s oldest and most famous dissidents.

Known as Grandma Gao, she travelled across the country treating HIV/Aids patients, often at her own expense.

She refused to keep quiet about what she found. She believes the vast majority of people infected with HIV in China caught the virus as a result of selling their blood for money.

She wrote about China’s blood-selling epidemic of the 1990s in three books, overcoming a climate of secrecy to end the practice and draw attention to the scandal.

The authorities were initially lenient with her, but Beijing grew uncomfortable with her criticism of provincial Communist leaders.

Fearing for her freedom, she fled the country in 2009, and lives in exile in New York.

Interview with Gao Yaojie

BAO TONG: Former official, under house arrest

Bao Tong (2009)

In the late 1980s, Bao Tong was one of the most powerful men in China, as adviser to the then-Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang.

Both men opposed the brutal crackdown on students during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and both suffered for their stance.

Within weeks, Mr Zhao was ousted and Mr Bao jailed for seven years.

He has been under house arrest since his release in 1997, but still managed to sign the Charter 08 manifesto and reportedly smuggle out audiotapes made by Mr Zhao to Hong Kong, where they formed the basis of a memoir published after his death.

Interview with Bao Tong

NI YULAN: Lawyer and activist

2008 file photo of Ni Yulan

Ni Yulan is best known as a campaigner for the rights of people evicted from their homes to make way for Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics.

A former lawyer, Ms Ni was jailed, beaten and disbarred, and her own home was bulldozed by authorities after a six-year battle in 2008.

She was first detained by police in 2002 for filming the forced demolition of a client’s home, and was beaten so badly that she is unable to walk without the aid of crutches, human rights groups say.

Released from prison earlier this year, Ms Ni and her husband are reportedly living in a hotel, relying on handouts from their supporters.

Ni Yulan loses fight for home

CHEN GUANGCHENG: Lawyer, presumed house arrest

Undated file photo of Chen Guangcheng

Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist known as the “barefoot lawyer”, clashed with the authorities over the enforcement of China’s one-child policy.

He defended women whom he said were being forced into late-term abortions and being sterilised by over-zealous health officials in Linyi city, Shandong Province.

He was freed earlier this year after serving four years in jail on charges of damaging property and disrupting traffic.

The sentence drew international criticism, with campaigners and supporters claiming that the prosecution was politically motivated.

Mr Chen has not spoken publicly since his reported release in September.

SHI TAO: Journalist, in jail

Shi Tao, file picture

Shi Tao, who worked for the Contemporary Business News in China, was jailed for 10 years in 2005 for “divulging state secrets” – a charge commonly used to prosecute dissidents and pro-democracy activists.

Mr Shi was jailed for sending on to foreign websites an e-mail from the ruling Communist Party warning journalists not to cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 2004.

His case has become a cause celebre for free speech campaigners – not least because internet firm Yahoo was accused of informing on him.

The US-based web giant passed on details of his whereabouts to the authorities, and has since apologised to Shi Tao’s mother.

DING ZILIN: Activist, presumed house arrest

Ding Zilin pictured in 2009

Ding Zilin’s teenage son was shot in the back by soldiers during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

Along with other bereaved parents, she formed a group called the Tiananmen Mothers, which has spent the past two decades pushing for a full account of what happened that night in Beijing.

The former philosophy professor and her husband are believed to be under house arrest.

Liu Xiaobo has said in the past that the Tiananmen Mothers should win the Nobel Peace Prize for their work.

Interview with Ding Zilin

QIN YONGMIN: China Democracy Party co-founder

Qin Yongmin pictured in 1993

Just days after completing a 12-year jail term for subversion, Qin Yongmin vowed to advance human rights and democracy in China.

Mr Qin was sentenced to prison in 1998 after he and other activists tried to officially register the China Democracy Party.

Previously, Mr Qin was jailed from 1981-1989 as a “counter-revolutionary” following China’s “democracy wall” period of political openness.

In 1993, he was sentenced to two years in a labour camp for drafting the “Peace Charter,” a manifesto that called for a re-evaluation of the 1989 Tiananmen protests and the release of political prisoners.

“As a democrat, this is my life. One day, the China Democracy Party will be legal in China, but this will take time,” he said in a phone interview with AFP from his home in Wuhan.