02/01/2008, 00.00
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Hu Jia charged, petition calls on government to protect human rights

Despite EU and US protests, the well-known Chinese activist is formally charged with inciting subversion against the state. More than 14,000 activists and dissidents call on the government to ratify the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Despite protests from the international community and appeals by the European Parliament and the US Congress, the Chinese government has formally charged a well-known dissident, Hu Jia, with “inciting subversion of state power.” According to his lawyer, who has not yet been able to see his client, Hu Jia faces a quick trial “and potentially a long prison sentence.”

Hu Jia is well known at home for his battle against the spread of HIV-AIDS, a problem largely ignored by the government. Hu has also been active in informing the press regarding the arrest of other activists and has gathered precious information regarding the situation of political detainees. His wife has also been under police surveillance for some time now.

For the past two years he has been under house arrest until his arrest on 27 December when some 30 police officers stormed his home in a Beijing suburb and took him away.

His wife and fellow activist Zeng Jinyan is herself now under formal house arrest. At least 10 security agents keep her under surveillance, including when she is in her garden with her two-and-half-month-old baby.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a group that defends human rights in China, issued a statement in which they say that the charges against Hu “show that the law has become an instrument which police use to do what they want. If the government wants to make the world believe in the promises it made then it really has to re-address the text of the law and specify what ‘subversion’ means. Only then will abuse of power and the violation of human rights be avoided.”

The reference is to promises made by the Foreign Minister to the International Olympics Committee during the run-up to the assigning of the 2008 Olympics in which China committed itself to improving the human rights situation in the country, reduce pollution and review its stance on Tibet. So far these promises have been simply ignored.

In order to move the authorities, some 14,000 Chinese dissidents and activists have called on the government to ask the National people’s Congress to approve before the Olympics in August the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it signed in 1998.

There is little hope though, that mainland authorities will do so. Indeed, “chances of ratification are low because the leadership wants as little trouble as possible ahead of the Olympics,” said political scientist Liu Junning, one of the signatories.

The petition said failure by China to ratify the Covenant in the past decade has tarnished its image. “A timetable should be set to abolish the death penalty,” it said, adding that “non-violent crimes should not be punishable by death.”

In their appeal the signatories want the government to end repression, scrap “re-education through labour,” which has led to many illegal arrests and detentions, and establish an independent judiciary where lawyers and judges are protected.

Lastly they call on the government to ease curbs on religious organisations and publication of books and magazines.

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