10/03/2007, 00.00
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Dissidents disappear or are tortured as CP Congress approaches

Well-known human rights lawyers are attacked, beaten or simply disappear. Experts say someone wants to remove them from the scene before the party congress starts on October 15. Meanwhile exiled dissidents demand the right to return.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – As the 17th Communist Party Congress gets nearer (October 15) attacks and “disappearances” of known dissidents and human rights activists are increasing. The latest on September 29 involves Li Heping, a human rights lawyer who was abducted from his office, driven to the basement of a building outside the city, beaten for hours, tortured with an electric cattle prod by men who demanded that he and his family leave Beijing right away and do his work within “reasonable” limits. After he was released he had to walk at least two kilometres before he could a taxi to get home. Nothing was removed from his home except his lawyer’s permit and his computer had its hard drive wiped clean.

Mr Li said that he had been under police surveillance for more than a year, watched as usual by a team of four policemen in a police car wherever he went. But the night of his abduction it was not there.

He said he did not know who was responsible for his beating, but said that he had received a verbal order from Beijing police to leave the city.

On Sunday Ye Mingjun was arrested. He is the son of Ye Guozhu who tried to lead opposition to Olympics-related evictions and land seizures and was jailed for four years in 2004 on charges of “provoking and making trouble.”

Ye Guozhu's brother, Ye Guoqiang, has also disappeared and is believed to have been detained, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a mainland-based association of rights groups.

Also prominent rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has been missing since September 22.

Human Rights in China issued a statement saying that attacks against lawyers and human rights activists continue as the Olympics approach and “raise serious concerns about the will and ability of the Chinese government to protect lawyers' personal safety and right to practice law, which are essential elements of a system of rule of law.”

Meanwhile exiled Tiananmen Square student leader Wang Dan yesterday renewed his call for the mainland government to allow him to return home, saying his rights should be upheld now that he was a "free" person after legally completing his jail term.

Mr Wang, considered one of the key organisers of the 1989 protests that led to the June 4 crackdown, was arrested for "subverting the country" in October 1996 and sentenced to 11 years' jail. He was exiled to the United States on medical parole two years later and has since been banned from setting foot on the mainland.

Currently in Taiwan, he was involved in a petition for exiled dissidents who wanted to return to the mainland.

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