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Journalist Pursued for Aiding Peasants

July 12, 2004

For Immediate Release

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that police have pressured peasant advocate Wu Zhongkai to frame Zhao Yan, a journalist who has written articles on the Tangshan peasant controversy. Zhao has already lost his job and his father as a result of official harassment, and now lives in fear of imminent arrest.

Sources in China told HRIC that Zhao Yan, a journalist with the Beijing-based magazine China Reform, has come under mounting pressure as a result of articles he wrote describing the plight of peasants at the hand of avaricious officials. Earlier this year he wrote about farmers displaced in the 1990s to make way for the Taolinkou reservoir on the Qinglong River near the city of Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province. More than 20,000 farmers claim that Tangshan municipal party secretary Zhang He misappropriated some 60 million yuan in funds meant to compensate them for the loss of their homes and livelihoods.

On July 8, around 11:00 a.m., a well-known peasant advocate, Wu Zhongkai, telephoned Beijing-based sociologist Zhang Yaojie from a village near Fuzhou and said Fuzhou Public Security Police had ordered him to expose the activities of Zhao Yan and legal scholar Li Boguang. Police described the two men as criminals and demanded that Wu Zhongkai have no more to do with them. Wu Zhongkai said he finally refused further cooperation with the police, and with the assistance of fellow-villagers fled to a hillside cemetery, where he remains a fugitive.

Sources say local officials had already begun carrying out a string of oppressive acts against Zhao Yan. On June 9 police from the Fujian Provincial and Fuzhou Municipal Public Security Bureaus stormed into the Harbin home of Zhao Yan’s father, who was recovering from a serious illness. The old man fell out of his bed in fright, causing deterioration to his condition, and he died a few days later. This followed an incident earlier in the year, after publication of the February issue of China Reform, when nine members of the Party Secretariat of Qingkou Village, Minhou County, Fuzhou City, collected 270,000 yuan, which they used for a mission to Beijing to find a way to have Zhao Yan removed from the magazine. Zhao’s name no longer appeared in the magazine’s March issue, and he formally resigned in April. Sources say the provincial and municipal governments of Fujian, Fuzhou, Hebei and Tangshan have over the past months joined in a concerted effort to pursue Zhao Yan and Li Boguang by all means available, and both men are reported to be in peril of harsh retribution at any moment.

As peasant affairs correspondent for China Reform, Zhao Yan observed many instances in which officials made off with funds earmarked for peasant welfare, and began writing articles exposing this betrayal of public trust. Due to the sensitive nature of the subject, many of the articles Zhao wrote were restricted to internal circulation within the bureaucracy, and were never made public. One of Zhao Yan’s articles on the peasant crisis is appended to the Chinese press release, along with a report by legal expert Zhang Yaojie.

The other target of official attention, Li Boguang, is Director of Beijing’s Qimin Research Institute. His active promotion of the rights of China’s disadvantaged groups has brought him into increasing conflict with Chinese authorities.

“The Chinese authorities obviously have no real evidence against Zhao Yan or Li Boguang, or they wouldn’t have to bully someone into false testimony against them,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “The examples of Zhao and Li show how low the authorities are willing to sink in their tactics against people who stand up for the rights of the disadvantaged. If the central government is sincere in its ‘People First’ policy, it should rein in these unscrupulous local officials and ensure that Zhao Yan and Li Boguang suffer no further harassment.”

For more information, contact:
Stacy Mosher (English) 212-268-9074
Liu Qing (Chinese) 212-239-4495