China takes hard line on activists, dozens missing

Jiang is among dozens of well-known lawyers and activists across China who have vanished, been interrogated or criminally detained for subversion in recent weeks, a crackdown that human rights groups say is on a scale and intensity not seen in many years.

Activists say China's massive security apparatus is using the government's anxiety over possible Middle East-inspired protests as a pretext for the crackdown. None of them will tell me anything about why he was taken away or where he has been taken to," Jiang's wife Jin Bianling said today. She said that after her husband's disappearance last month, a Beijing police officer told her verbally that "the case was being handled," meaning he was under investigation. But her repeated efforts to get more details from police have been fruitless.

More than 100 people have been questioned or followed by police or placed under house arrest, the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders, or CHRD, said in a recent statement. It said Jiang and others who have disappeared for weeks were at risk of being tortured to extract confessions. Human Rights Watch senior Asia researcher
Nicholas Bequelin said the crackdown is even more serious than the one in December when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a jailed Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo.

He said it is also more extensive than when police questioned and detained activists involved in signing Charter 08, a manifesto for peaceful democratic reform that Liu co-authored, in 2008.

"There is a sense that the authorities want to put an end to the kind of open defiance of the government by rights activists, people who have been fairly active on Twitter and other social networks who were allowed for a couple of years to do that," Bequelin said. Beijing police did not immediately respond to a fax asking whether they had any of the activists in custody.

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