WPF Day - The Same Old Tricks

WPF Day - The Same Old Tricks

2nd May 2008, Comments 0 comments

Chinese journalists continue to face censorship, repression and authoritarian laws. This second essay on World Press Freedom Day is by Harry Wu, Executive Director, The Laogai Research Foundation.

The rapid modernization of China's economy that has persisted since Deng Xiaoping initiated his policies of openness and reform in the late 1970's has resulted in a country that, from an economic standpoint, mostly resembles the market-based capitalist nations of the West and not the socialist society that Mao and other earlier Chinese leaders had envisioned. 

But although the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in effect, has largely abandoned the Communist ideology on which it came to power, it has retained much of its distinctively Stalinist political character, as it still relies heavily on repressive practices and institutions to maintain its hold on political power.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in China's use of imprisonment to silence and ultimately break dissidents.

As with most dictatorships, imprisonment, execution, and the fear that they create have always been the most powerful tool of the CCP.  Soon after taking control of China in 1949, the CCP imprisoned thousands of Kuomintang supporters and members of the bourgeois and landlord classes in order to consolidate its power.  Throughout the next three decades, the CCP imprisoned millions of its "enemies" in numerous purges, including the anti-rightist campaign of the late 1950's in which I, myself, was labeled a "counter-revolutionary rightist" and handed a life sentence without a trial.  Many of these prisoners either were executed or died of starvation, disease, or exhaustion. While such mass purges ceased with the death of Mao, the CCP continues to utilize imprisonment to eliminate all perceived threats to its authority.  

Overt challenges to the CCP's rule, including the Democracy Wall movement, the student democratic movement of Tiananmen Square, and the uprisings that have occurred in Tibet in 1989 and just this year, are crushed by force, and those involved who were not already killed are rounded up and imprisoned.  More subtle forms of dissent are dealt with no less severely - writers, journalists, and cyber-dissidents are routinely imprisoned for the most innocuous of activities, more than anywhere else in the world.  In recent years, the CCP has also undertaken campaigns directed against Tibetan and Uighur activists, practitioners of Falun Gong, and unregistered Christians.  Such campaigns are enabled by Chinese law, which permits authorities to detain individuals for "reeducation through labor" for up to three years without any trial or other legal proceedings. 

Now, in the run up to the Olympics, it seems that rather than abating, as some had expected, such repressive activities are on the rise as the government engages in a large scale crackdown driven by hyper-sensitivity and state of paranoia that have pervaded the CCP throughout the nearly 60 years that it has ruled.

Arresting dissidents functions to silence them, but it is China's brutal penal system, the Laogai, that works to break them.  Although the Chinese government stopped using the term Laogai, meaning "reform through labor", in 1994, opting instead to refer to the system simply as jianyu, or "prison", it is far more than a normal prison system.   Life for prisoners within this system of more than 1,000 prison camps and detention facilities is very difficult.  All prisoners are exploited in some form of forced labor - construction, manufacturing, farming, mining, etc., often under dangerous conditions.  They receive little food, insufficient health care, and no compensation.  Many are subjected to humiliation and torture.  Moreover, although the exact number is kept a state secret, we know that thousands of these prisoners are executed each year, many whose organs will be harvested to supply about 95% of the organs used in medical transplantations in China.  Thus, it is not difficult to see how the Laogai serves as an important tool of control and intimidation for the CCP.

China may not be a proper Communist nation, but it is certainly still a totalitarian dictatorship.  Dissent is no more welcome now than it was 28 years ago, when I was first arrested.  In response to the recent waves of arrests that we have seen, I cannot honestly say that I am the least bit surprised.

cartoons/photos: WAN/Cambon

expatica May 2008 

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