08/09/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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In prison for defending victims of earthquake in Sichuan

The activist Huang Qi has been under arrest for two months, after protecting the parents of the students who died under the collapsed schools. But with the inauguration of the Olympics, all are expressing their solidarity with the victims of the earthquake.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Pu Wenqing, 74, has traveled three times from Neijiang to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, to ask that her son Huang Qi be freed from prison because of health problems caused by beatings during previous imprisonment. Huang has been in jail since June, for defending the rights of the parents of children who died under the collapsed schools during the earthquake on May 12.

It is a trip of 200 kilometers, and Pu tells the South China Morning Post that she is "very tired: I slept for a whole day after I got back".

Huang (with his son in the photo), founder of the human rights website 64 Tianwang, has defended the rights of the parents, most of them poorly educated farmers, and has talked about the extensive mismanagement of aid efforts following the earthquake. On June 10, he and two other activists were forced into a car. The two others were released, but Huang has been detained for "illegal possession of state secrets". On July 18, he was denied a lawyer, because - the authorities say - the investigations are still in progress, and he will have the right to a lawyer only after two months.

Pu says that "I haven't seen him for two months. I don't even know whether he has been beaten by the guards, like he was before".

Huang was jailed from 2000 to 2005 for subversion, after talking on his website about corruption in the government and human rights violations, and calling for the release of those who are still detained over the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He was beaten in jail, and was left with permanent disabilities like cerebral atrophy and enlargement and inflammation of the heart. In 2004, while he was in jail, Reporters without Borders awarded him the 2004 Cyberfreedom prize. After his release, he took up the fight again and opened the Tianwang Center for human rights, despite his mother's pleas that he do something else. "He answered me", she recalls, "that every day so many people come to him asking for help". She shows the photos of some of the "problems" he has taken care of: a kidnapped child, farmers whose land has been confiscated, others who have been driven away from their homes.

"He loves his country, ever since he was a little boy, he loves the people and he is passionately dedicated" to helping them. "When he saw so many children die [in the earthquake] he decided to talk about it, in part to draw the attention of the national leaders. But I think this has brought in corrupt local officials, who have had him arrested".

The schools collapsed immediately, without giving the students time to flee, while other surrounding buildings remained standing, and the parents charge that the schools were constructed poorly by corrupt officials.

Huang's wife works in Beijing, but she doesn't earn enough to provide for the whole family by herself. Their son, 16, lives with his grandparents and goes to school in Neijiang. He will take the exam to be admitted to the university in a year, and Pu is afraid that someone will block him from going, and "we cannot pay for a private university". But she trusts her country, and repeats that "if Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao he knew about our situation, they would certainly help us".

But Beijing is far away. Just as the words of the president of the Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, sounded remote when yesterday, during the inauguration, he recalled "the tragic earthquake in Sichuan province" and "the great courage and solidarity of the Chinese people". Just as basketball icon Yao Ming, China's Olympic flag bearer, seems far away, who yesterday marched in the stadium together with Lin Hao, a nine-year-old boy from Sichuan, the little hero who during the earthquake helped his classmates who had remained under the rubble.

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