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Risky business in China: speaking out for human rights

two.shot June 4, 1997
Web posted at: 1:44 p.m. EDT (1744 GMT)

From Correspondent Rebecca MacKinnon

BEIJING (CNN) -- Eight years after the Chinese military's bloody Tiananmen Square attack on pro-democracy demonstrators, China's economy is booming and living standards continue to rise, but few Chinese dare speak out against their leaders.

Chu Hailan is an exception, risking her freedom to remind the outside world of China's dark side.

Her husband, Liu Nianchun, is in prison, serving a three year sentence for -- among other things -- criticizing the government's actions on June 4, 1989.

Tiananmen anniversary quiet in Beijing;
Images from a vigil in Victoria Park, Hong Kong

Chu says he's being tortured. "They have been beating him every day with a 10,000 volt electric baton," she told CNN. "He has been put in a solitary confinement cell which is too small to lie down, and they're not giving him water or enough food to live on."


The torture, Chu says, began last month after Liu began a hunger strike to protest a six-month extension of his sentence, imposed after he refused to write a confession.

Liu was imprisoned for collaborating with jailed student leader Wang Dan on a petition urging government leaders to re-evaluate the Tiananmen Square crackdown, accepting money from overseas human rights groups, and trying to organize a group to promote workers' rights.

"Why does our government do this?" Chu asks. "Why do they persecute someone who only thinks and writes?"

In terms of prison conditions and arbitrary detentions, persecution by the Chinese government has "probably gotten worse," according to Sidney Jones of Human Rights Watch.

"As economic development proceeds in China, political repression has increased," she told CNN.

Economic pressure and human rights

As the U.S. Congress prepares to debate whether to renew China's most favored nation trading status, the international community is divided over whether the easing of economic pressure on Beijing in recent years has hurt or helped the human rights situation.

Chu Hailan believes it hurts. "Since (President) Clinton announced his support for most favored nation status, they've sentenced Wang Dan, my husband, and (dissident) Wei Jingsheng, all in a row."

"My husband is sick and they won't give him treatment, even though they say publicly they've been treating him. They're using all kinds of techniques to obscure the truth."

China's economic growth and trade with the outside world have improved the quality of life for millions of Chinese, most of whom have little interest in politics.

But exactly what -- if anything -- the outside world can do to get people like Liu Nianchun out of jail remains an open question.

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