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Act in solidarity
Typical Western concerns about China have focused - in recent years at least - on the issue of Tibet. And while the Tibet issue remains a challenging problem, not least for the nonviolent political movement led by the Dalai Lama, it may not be the most pressing thing on the agenda of local Chinese activists.
The emergence of a Chinese NGO-based environmental movement, the continuing activities of “pro-democracy” campaigners, a number of recent unauthorised anti-war demonstrations, and the work of women's groups on domestic violence issues, all suggest that there is a growing base of grassroots activists and campaigners in China. We hope in future we will get to hear from them more.
Another issue that campaigners both inside and outside China are tackling relates to one of the biggest crackdowns on what many would now consider to be a “personal freedom”. This has come in the form of restrictions on the use of the Internet, from the closure of more than 17,000 cyber-cafes and the blocking of access to a range of individual sites, to the detention of at least 25 individuals (AI reports up to 33). Some of the imprisoned might be considered “activists”, but many are merely “civilians”who continued talking openly about the crackdown itself and the imprisonment of the others.
Charges such as “subverting state power”have provoked human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with Internet freedoms campaigns, to take the issue seriously and to launch their own related actions and alerts. In November 2002, Amnesty commented that “everyone detained purely for peacefully publishing their views or other information on the Internet or for accessing certain websites are prisoners of conscience”.
In this issue of Peace News we really wanted to hear from local Chinese activists about their work. But, even with our best efforts, we have failed to elicit any direct response from the local groups we contacted--perhaps from concern at appearing in western-based media, sheer overwork, or language difficulties (on our part).
One of the reasons we have not merely reproduced any (of the limited number of) English-language texts from groups working “on China” is our inability to determine precisely where most of them are coming from politically and who is funding them.
However it remains important to support local activists and free-speakers. In circumstances where we are unable to hear directly from those imprisoned, we can still apply some limited political pressure on their government through acts of solidarity.
Respected non-partisan human rights groups such as Amnesty and HRW - whatever their failings - do supply accurate information and organise campaigns with the consent of the subjects of those campaigns.
For these reasons we would encourage our readers to participate in their campaigns in support of Chinese prisoners of conscience.
Digital Freedom Network (US-based organisation campaigning for "human rights through internet technology") http://dfn.org/focus/china/shutdown2002.htm
Internet Activists in China (Australian university -based project) http://journalism.uts.edu.au/subjects/oj1/ oj1_a2002/internetactivisminasia/china1.html
Amnesty International http://web.amnesty.org/web/content.nsf/pages/gbr_china_internet
Free Tibet Campaign http://www.freetibet.org/