Chinese lawyer missing after criticising human rights record |
Chinese lawyer missing after criticising human rights record
Jonathan Watts in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Friday March 7, 2008
A policeman patrols a closed-off plaza at the Olympic countdown clock in front of the National Museum facing Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images
A prominent human rights lawyer has gone missing, according to his family, in what is feared to be a move by the authorities to silence critics ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
Teng Biao - who has defended Aids activists, Falun Gong practitioners and farmers fighting for their land - was last seen yesterday evening, being bundled into a black car outside his home in Beijing.
He had been recently warned by police that he would be detained unless he stopped talking to the foreign media and writing about human rights abuses in the run up to the Olympics.
According to his wife, Wang Ling, Teng left home at 8.25pm on Thursday saying he would be back in 20 minutes. About half an hour later, she heard shouting downstairs. Two witnesses told her that a man had been pulled out of the family's car and taken away.
"It is strange because my husband is a very nice man who had no personal conflicts with anyone," she said. I don't understand why this happened. I can't make a judgment now."
Shortly before he went missing, Teng told the Guardian that his passport had been seized, his phone bugged and his emails check by the authorities. He was warned that he also faced the sack from his job as a lecturer at the China University of Political Science and Law and risked detention.
"They told me I cannot accept any interview related to human rights and the Olympics. I said I cannot make such a promise. I have a right to speak," he said last week. "I'm not sure if they will arrest me tomorrow. But I feel no fear."
Sources who met Teng this week said the lawyer looked downcast and under pressure because police had threatened to charge him with inciting subversion of state power, which carries a sentence of several years in prison.
This accusation is often levelled at dissidents. Last month, Hu Jia - a friend of Teng's and a prominent civic rights and Aids campaigner - was arrested and is likely to face a similar charge.
Tang and Hu co-wrote an open letter last September that highlighted China's failure to live up to its Olympic promise to improve human rights ahead of the games, which will take place this August.
"When you come to the Olympic Games in Beijing, you will see skyscrapers, spacious streets, modern stadiums and enthusiastic people. You will see the truth, but not the whole truth, just as you see only the tip of an iceberg," the pair wrote. "You may not know that the flowers, smiles, harmony and prosperity are built on a base of grievances, tears, imprisonment, torture and blood."
International human rights groups said they were deeply concerned about Teng.
"The detention of a member of the Beijing bar association signals an escalation in the repression against dissent ahead of the Games," said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch.
"We urge the International Olympic Committee to end its silence about the suppression of Olympic critics by the Chinese government. The IOC charter states that 'Olympism is a philosophy of life' - but what kind of philosophy is it to remain silent when human rights defenders are being silenced one after another by the Olympic host?"