Reports indicate some movement in Chinese media

 

A MAN IS under investigation for allegedly raping a young petitioner he was guarding while she was being held in one of Beijing’s notorious “black jails”, where those who come to the capital to tell central government officials about their mistreatment at home are often held.

Meanwhile, the trial has begun in the Sichuan capital, Chengdu, of activist Tan Zuoren, who investigated the death toll from last year’s devastating earthquake and is accused of defaming the Communist party in e-mailed comments about the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

Both stories are important in terms of how China deals with information abouot dissatisfaction with the system or domestic dissent, but what is truly significant is that both were reported in mainstream Chinese media.

Normally cases involving controversial issues such as petitioners or leading dissidents are not reported in the Chinese state media, unless the cases involve clear-cut issues regarding Chinese sovereignty in Tibet or Xinjiang.

Yet in this case two of the biggest stories of dissent were carried in mainstream media. The report on Mr Tan’s trial also cited the June 4th (20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown) incident, which is extremely rare in Chinese media.

The Xinhua news agency reported how Xu Jian (26), from Tongbai county in Henan province in central China, surrendered to the police in his home town, citing a statement from the Beijing Public Security Bureau.

Police said Mr Xu allegedly raped a 20-year-old woman named Li from Anhui province at the Juyuan hotel on August 4th, after she came to Beijing to petition authorities about a wrongful college expulsion.

Ms Li told the Associated Press earlier that she was raped by one of the guards the same night she was taken to the hotel. The Xinhua piece said she had been held “illegally” in the hotel and was very careful to use inverted commas when referring to the guards, perhaps to show that the “black jails” do not have official sanction.

In its report of Mr Tan’s case, the China Daily said he was accused of “telling lies to foreign media organisations after the quake” and so “greatly staining the image of the government and the party”. Mr Tan faces life in jail if he is convicted.

In the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake last year, Mr Tan launched an independent investigation into the collapse of school buildings, trying to establish why they had collapsed and the number of schoolchildren killed.

This is a very politically sensitive area, because critics say shoddy construction and corruption were behind the poor quality of schools and the government has tried to keep a lid on the story. The China Daily said it was a “politically sensitive theory”.

Ai Weiwei, one of China’s best-known artists, who helped design the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium, was roughed up and reporters and witnesses were detained.

“Apparently, they [the police] just don’t want me to go to the trial,” said Mr Ai. His comments were carried in the China Daily.