02/29/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Chinese foreign minister says mainland does not arrest protesters as police jail rights activist

One the signatories of an open letter calling for greater respect for human rights was arrested. China’s foreign minister claims that anyone in prison is inside for violations of the law. Tiananmen Mothers call on the authorities to start talking about the 1989 slaughter, an event nowhere mentioned in history books and leaders’ speeches.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “No one will get arrested because he said human rights were more important than the Olympics. This is impossible,” said China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. In a counteroffensive over the mainland's human rights record he claimed that mainlanders enjoyed “extensive freedom of speech”. At the same time Chinese police were arresting Wang Guilan for demanding respect for human rights.

Mr Wang is one of 12,709 petitioners who signed an open letter that calls on the National People’s Congress (due to meet next month) to improve human rights, allow freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of association, and abolish re-education-through-labour camps, reminding lawmakers about the plight of an estimated ten million petitioners who are often arrested and sent to forced labour camps by government officials for complaining about social ills.

Open letter organisers did however cancel a press conference scheduled for today.

The Tiananmen Mothers, an association representing the families of the hundreds of victims of the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square movement, also appealed to Chinese lawmakers on Thursday, asking them to open a dialogue on the issue before the world’s athletes step on “this piece of blood-stained soil”. In fact some Olympic events are scheduled to take place in the now infamous square.

For the past 19 years the mainland government has held to the view that the student movement was “counter-revolutionary” and the subject has remained a taboo for as long.

Foreign Minister Yang did not discuss such matters, contending instead that people in prison are there for violating the criminal code.

Yang Chunlin also did not discuss the matter because he has been in prison since last July on subversion charges. His trial opened last week and he is waiting for the outcome. His “subversive activities” include writing, in a petition against land seizure, that people need human rights more than they need the Olympics.

Despite Foreign Minister Yang’s attempt to defend China’s human rights record, international criticism continues.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is still visiting the mainland, expressed concern yesterday for the human rights situation in the country but excluded any boycott, saying that “engagement, not isolation, is the right way forward”.

US President George W. Bush vowed that he will go to see the Olympics “because it's a sporting event,” but added that that “will not preclude me from meeting with the Chinese president and expressing my deep concerns about a variety of issues” like human rights and religious freedom.

In Brussels, EU parliamentarians urged the European Union to step up pressure on China to end its arms exports to African nations whose leaders are deemed responsible for widespread human rights violations.

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