Outside editorial" Pre-Olympic games

Posted: Monday, February 04, 2008

This editorial first appeared in the Washington Post:

The Chinese government formally arrested a one-man human rights organization this week.

Hu Jia, an active blogger, Skyper, AIDS activist and new father, had recently served as a clearinghouse for information about other political dissidents in China during 223 days of house arrest. Despite his confinement, Hu, 34, continued his critiques of Beijing's human rights record, even going so far as to testify at a European Parliament meeting on the subject in November (via the Internet, because China denied him a visa to travel to Brussels). On Dec. 27, he was detained by state security officials; on Wednesday, the family was informed of a formal charge, according to several human rights groups.

So far the government hasn't disclosed what act by Hu allegedly amounted to "inciting subversion." But it may not matter: The conviction rate for first-instance criminal cases is above 99 percent, according to a 2006 State Department report. Under Chinese law, police have up to seven months to continue investigations before handing over the case to prosecutors. Hu is not allowed to seek legal counsel until then. Not coincidentally, the investigation is likely to end right after the Beijing Olympics - which means that Hu will be out of circulation until then, and the regime of President Hu Jintao can still avoid the stigma of officially punishing a dissident ahead of the Olympics.

If the government intended to shut down political criticism by silencing this one extraordinary activist, it may have miscalculated. Posts have been appearing on the blog of Hu's wife, even though she and their 2-month-old daughter (dubbed "the World's Smallest Political Prisoner") are under house arrest and have reportedly been cut off from Internet and phone access. Friends and supporters have tried to visit the apartment - now cordoned off with police tape - despite being intimidated by police. Intellectuals, lawyers and bloggers from around China and supporters from around the world have taken up Hu's cause. Internet petitions and political poetry have sprung up to fill the void left by the dissident's forced silence.

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