By Eva Cheng
Increased repression of dissident and ethnic minority movements in China has failed to silence opposition voices. A section of the Xinjiang independence movement chose bombing to make its point, while protests rocked the city of Karamay in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region after a disastrous fire in December.
Urban dissidents, meanwhile, have refused to dissolve and continue to press Beijing to remove some of its worst forms of repression. Dissent even emerged from what used to be the most docile of China's fake democratic structures, the National People's Congress (NPC), with unprecedented levels of opposition and abstentions, as well as some open criticism.
The scale of the Karamay protests has not been ascertained, but they were important enough for the party secretary in Xinjiang, Wang Lequan, to blame dissidents abroad — namely Wu'erkaixi, a 1989 Tienanmen student leader now in exile in the US — as well as "Western reactionary forces" for "plotting" and "stirring" the unrest. The disturbances had not been confirmed previously.
In trying to hold Wu'erkaixi responsible also for separatist bombings, Wang has again revealed details not previously available. He confirmed that bombings took place in a bus station in the regional capital of Urumqi in February 1992, at a hotel in the western city of Kashgar in June 1993 and in the western town of Aksu last year.
"We cannot extinguish this movement in the short term", said Wang, "but it does not enjoy mass support". He claimed that the main base of the movement is in Turkey, with activists in the US, central Asian countries and Switzerland.
Meanwhile, dissident Wang Dan, who was a student leader in Tienanmen protests in 1989 and is responsible for two of the six petitions to the NPC last month, was detained for organising a follow-up meeting with other petitioners. Wang has been briefly detained several times in recent months, after four years in jail for his 1989 involvement. Reuter reported that the police had questioned six or seven activists, including Liu Nianchun, who planned to attend the meeting in late March.
The group that Liu belongs to, the League for the Protection of the Rights of the Working People, was named by Communist Party general secretary Jiang Zemin as the "most counter-revolutionary" organisation in China since 1949, according to a report by the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.
Jiang has ordered that the League be nipped in the bud, putting state security minister Jia Chunwang personally in charge of the mission, the report says. The league was formed in Beijing last year by a dozen activists who are well known in the dissident community.
Liu was released only in October last year after being arrested in May together with three other founders of the league — lawyer Zhou Guoqiang, Beijing scholar Yuan Hongbing and Christian Xiao Biguang. All four are under detention in one form or another. Zhou is serving a three-year labour camp sentence in Qihihar in north-east Heilongjiang, Yuan is locked up in south-west Guizhou and Xiao in Beijing.
Agence France-Presse reported that Zhou, who is also a signatory of the 1993 Peace Charter, had protested from his cell near Beijing against the three-year "re-education" labour imposed on him 12 months ago. All labour camp sentences are made without trials; they are a common way to lock up dissidents. A number of petitions to the NPC called for an end to the practice.
AFP also reported the government's claimed ignorance of the whereabouts of Nobel Peace Prize nominee Wei Jingsheng, who vanished 12 months, presumably into secret detention. Wei was released in September 1993 after nearly 15 years in jail for his involvement in the dissident movement in late 1970s. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson denied knowledge of Wei's whereabouts but insisted that he is a "criminal" and does not qualify to be a Nobel Prize nominee.
The South China Morning Post reported during the sitting of the NPC that 21 Hong Kong deputies had launched an unprecedented blast at its Standing Committee for incompetence and compared the 160-member body to an old-age home for retired ministers and governors.
"This [Standing Committee] report is just like the one from last year. And, in fact, it doesn't seem to be a whole lot different from any of those in the past 40 years", deputy Ng Hongman told the newspaper.
In another unprecedented development, former Shandong chief Jiang Chunyun, seen as a close ally of CP chief Jiang Zemin, suffered humiliating disapproval in the NPC despite being "elected" a vice-premier. More than 36% of the 2752 deputies refused to endorse him by voting against (605), abstaining (391) or refusing to vote (10). The last significant disapproval happened three years ago, when 177 deputies objected to construction of the Three Gorges Dam Project while 664 others abstained.