March 10th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Nationals: the last hurrah?

EDITORIAL: Government embraces the politics of panic

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Competition Policy the next to go?

INDONESIA: Borneo violence further weakens Wahid

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Why refugees are a soft target

Help needed for North Queensland farmers

DRUGS: Drug policy criticised by international board

Straws in the Wind

Letter: Kim Beazley - look at the record

Senate inquiry attacks NZ apple import proposal

ECONOMICS: Trade blocs - where will Australia fit?


HUMAN RIGHTS: Amnesty Report may sink China's Olympic bid

HEALTH: Lessons of SA abortion experience

COMMENT: Paul Lyneham - Australia's H. L. Mencken

Teen books gone from "honest" to "offensive"

Letter: Refugees - coarsening of attitudes

Letter: Alice Springs - Darwin railway

Letter: One Nation

Books promotion page

Amnesty Report may sink China's Olympic bid

by Martin Sheehan

News Weekly, March 10, 2001
Things are not looking good for Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympic Games. After missing out on the 2000 Games, due among other things to the country's poor record on Human Rights, Beijing is determined to win the games in 2008, thus proving to the world that it is part of the international community and not a rogue state.

A recently released report by Amnesty International will not help China's bid. The report documents cases of the torture and physical abuse of Chinese citizens by the authorities. According to the report, torture is widespread in China and the victims are not necessarily the more obvious candidates.

As well, as the usual political dissidents, there are also documented cases of torture being used against Tibetan nuns, migrant workers, criminals and their lawyers, people found violating China's One Child Policy and even people caught evading tax.

Specific cases

Of the seventy-five specific cases documented in the report, many reveal horrific details of abuse.

In one case, a farmer in Hunan Province reported being tortured by local officials and law enforcement officers, after his wife went into hiding because she was pregnant without permission. The farmer reported he was beaten with wooden clubs, burned with cigarettes and branded with irons, before having his genitals ripped off.

The report also refers to six hundred other cases, though the evidence for these is less easily verifiable. Amnesty's US deputy executive director said that it was only the "tip of the iceberg." He also said that torture was "a daily occurrence" in China, with local officials often eager to carry out government directives by any means necessary. Amnesty claimed that the report underlines a growing trend in the use of torture, when compared with surveys conducted in previous years.

This comes at a time when the outlawed religious group, Falun Gong, continues its protests in China and in other parts of the world. A Falun Gong member burned himself to death in Beijing on February 16, in protest at the way in which his co-religionists were being treated by the authorities.

The Falun Gong sect had been outlawed in July 1999, with authorities referring to it as a "superstitious" and "evil cult" that was preying on the uneducated and the gullible.

The man was identified by the official government news agency Xinhua, as Tan Yihui, 25, a shoe shiner come to Beijing from the southern provinces.

On January 3, five people, including a twelve-year-old child, set themselves alight in Tiananmen Square.

These violent tactics show the desperation Falun Gong members feel, in the wake of a savage government crackdown, which has seen many members of the group, imprisoned and tortured.

The authorities are convinced, however, that Falun Gong is an evil, anti-state organisation bent on overthrowing the Communist Party's rule in China.

This is not as strange as may first appear to Western ears. In the 19th Century, the Qing Dynasty was almost overthrown by fanatical devotees of a new religion during the Taiping Rebellion. Chinese rulers have long memories and many believe that Falun Gong may become the nucleus of a new anti-government movement.

Falun Gong members, including their leader and founder of the sect, Li Hongzhi, claim their movement is purely spiritual and has no interest in politics, let alone in overthrowing the state.

Members practice a strict regimen of meditation and spiritual exercises in order to build up spiritual strength and cleanse their bodies of impurities. The beliefs of the sect are drawn from traditional Chinese sources, such as Taoism, as well as from modern scientific findings. This heady brew is proving popular with the young, urban professionals, often highly educated and employed in scientific fields.

These people seem attracted to a movement which is offering what seems to them to be an intelligent mix of scientific inquiry and ancient spiritual practices. The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s declared war on China's traditional beliefs with Mao's Red Guards maintaining that traditional religion was part of the "old beliefs" that should be thrown out.

An earlier generation of Chinese, in the 1920s and 1930s, also rejected traditional religion as part of the superstitious culture that they felt was preventing China from progressing into the modern world. Some turned to Christianity, while others embraced the scientific rationalism of the West.

In years past, the authorities encouraged nativist religious practices (called Qigong in Chinese), particularly if they also emphasised the importance of science, as a Chinese alternative to Western thought. In 1985 the government set up the Qigong Scientific Research Association to do just that. Official support for Qigong stopped in the 1990s with the advent of Falun Gong, which had come to dominate the Qigong movement.

The severity of the Government line was expressed recently in an editorial in the pages of the People's Liberation Army daily. The editorial condemned Falun Gong, and its leader Li Hongzhi, as "Western anti-Chinese forces."

Other religious groups, particularly the Christian Churches, are also suffering renewed persecution in China. The US State Department estimates that the authorities, in one province alone, have destroyed 1,200 Churches and temples over the last twelve months.

The independent, Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, also verified the State Department's claims. The Centre reported that in the city of Cangnan, 210 temples and churches were destroyed by the authorities, who claimed that the demolitions were carried out because the structures had failed to meet building standards, not because they were places of worship.

Political and labor activists are also feeling the full might of official disapproval at this time. In one incident, the operator of an internet website, a Mr Huang Qi, was arrested last June, on the eve of the Tiananmen Square 10th anniversary, for posting articles on the net of the events.

Mr Huang's web page operated as a bulletin board for families who are still seeking knowledge of their loved ones, who disappeared after the crackdown in Tiananmen.

Recently tried by the People's Court, Mr Huang was accused of "inciting the overthrow of state power" and daring to mention the Muslim separatist movement in Xinjiang, and the Falun Gong movement in his articles.

Also arrested recently was a Mr Cao Maobin, a silk-factory worker from Jiangsu Province. Mr Cao was the leader of a free trade union, which sought to organise in the region.

Placed in a psychiatric hospital since December last year, Mr Cao has been on a hunger strike, demanding to be released to see his family during the Chinese New Year period in mid January.

He was arrested after speaking to Western reporters, and has been drugged and subjected to electric shock treatment during his time in the hospital.

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