By Wen Yuqing, Radio Free Asia
As world leaders gear up to travel to Beijing for an economic summit on Monday, rights activists and democracy activists hit out at the ruling Chinese Communist Party for its continued detention of dozens of people who publicly supported the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong.
Chinese authorities are holding “scores” of people around the country for publicly supporting Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Movement,” which has been encamped on three major highways and intersections in the city in a campaign for universal suffrage in 2017 elections, Amnesty International said.
In a statement on its website, the London-based rights group called on world leaders to put pressure on China to release the Occupy supporters, who number “at least 76,” it said.
“APEC leaders must end their recent silence on the crackdown against mainland Chinese activists expressing support for Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters,” the group’s East Asia research director Roseann Rife said in a statement on the group’s website on Friday.
“Political convenience should not trump principled action,” Rife said.
“The leaders should … urge President Xi to ensure all those detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are immediately and unconditionally released,” she said.
Amnesty said it had been able to confirm the continued detentions of 76 people, mostly in Beijing, the eastern province of Jiangsu, and the southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, which border Hong Kong.
Rights lawyers previously told RFA “more than 100” people had been detained, often for posting photos online of themselves holding a banner, or with a shaved head, in support of the Occupy Central protests that have gripped Hong Kong for nearly six weeks.
Others have been detained for traveling to Hong Kong, giving interviews to the media, or held after the authorities found out they were planning such a trip, activists say.
China’s tightly controlled state media has dubbed the Occupy movement an “illegal protest,” while pro-Beijing politicians said on Friday the movement could “harm the city’s security,” although they didn’t elaborate.
The government’s army of Internet censors have deleted photos and blocked any positive comment on the protests on China’s social media platforms, as well as blocking the BBC website and Instagram since protests began.
‘Rule of law’
The detentions came as the ruling party issued a communique following its Fourth Plenum last month, announcing it would implement the “rule of law” in a bid to improve its record.
But Rife said the authorities don’t appear to have changed their approach to human rights.
“[The crackdown] makes a mockery of Xi’s recent claims that the rule of law and human rights will be fully respected in China by 2020,” Rife said.
Hong Kong-based rights groups have also called for the release of mainland-Chinese Occupy supporters.
Hong Kong’s Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, the Catholic Diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission, the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, and the Independent Chinese PEN Center marched to Beijing’s representative office in the former British colony on Wednesday, brandishing yellow umbrellas and calling for the release of the prisoners.
The groups said in a statement that the Umbrella Movement has “frightened the Chinese Communist Party,” calling on China’s leaders to improve the country’s rights record.
“The world leaders at the APEC meeting in Beijing should demand China fulfill its international obligations and respect human rights,” Alliance deputy chief Richard Choi told reporters.
Meanwhile, student leaders of the Occupy protests presented a letter to former chief executive Tung Chee-Hwa, the first leader of the city to be approved by Beijing after the 1997 handover to Chinese rule, asking him to arrange an audience with top-level officials in Beijing.
Wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Freedom Now,” the students presented the letter outside the wrought-iron gates of Tung’s private residence.
Tung, who is a vice-chairman of the parliamentary advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, has previously made a personal appeal to those occupying Hong Kong’s streets to go home.
Demand for meeting
The influential Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) wants a meeting with Beijing officials to circumvent the administration of embattled Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying, whose officials say China will never back down on the issue of electoral reform.
HKFS leader Alex Chow told reporters they are prepared to meet with Chinese officials either in Beijing or Hong Kong, after the group dropped plans to show up in Beijing during the APEC summit.
But he warned that future protests would continue to arise if China refuses to listen to the people of Hong Kong.
“In going to Beijing we would hope to send the message that the Aug. 31 decision must be knocked down, if our umbrella movement is not to be replayed over and over again,” Chow said.
“Even if the occupiers left today, they would be back again another day, but would Hong Kong be able to cope with them when they did?”
He said the students are seeking a long-term solution to the standoff.
“At the root of the problem is the fact that Hong Kong people must have a true voice under ‘one country, two systems’,” Chow said, referring to the formal promises of a high degree of autonomy and continued traditional freedoms made by Beijing under the terms of a 1984 Sino-British treaty.
He hit out at Hong Kong and Chinese officials for “misrepresenting” public opinion in the Special Administrative Region.
“This is the main cause in the weakening of ‘one country, two systems,'” he said.
Many protesters remain in tents clustered near government headquarters in Admiralty, and at major intersections in the shopping districts of Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, saying they won’t leave unless Beijing withdraws an Aug. 31 ruling by the National People’s Congress (NPC) that protesters and pan-democratic politicians have dismissed as “fake universal suffrage.”
Some protesters are calling for the resignation of Leung over the use of tear gas and pepper spray on umbrella-wielding protesters, after which the Occupy protests swelled to hundreds of thousands at their height.
Leung also raised hackles last month when he said the system must be weighted to prevent people on a low income from dominating Hong Kong politics.
The NPC announcement said that while all five million Hong Kong voters will cast a ballot in the election for Leung’s successor, they will only be allowed to choose between two or three candidates approved by a pro-Beijing committee.
The 1,200-strong election committee, which voted Leung to power in 2010 with just 689 votes, has just 7.5 percent representation of pan-democratic politicians, far less that the broad popular support those groups enjoy.
Current pan-democratic lawmakers in the territory’s Legislative Council (LegCo) were voted in with some 56 percent of the popular vote, compared with just 44 percent won by pro-Beijing politicians.
However, recent polls suggest that wider public support for the Umbrella Movement is on the wane, confirming claims from anti-Occupy protesters that they are gaining momentum.
Meanwhile, protesters face the possibility of forced eviction from their campsites, should police move to clear barricades from the highway following civil injunctions brought by the transportation industry.
A student protester surnamed Yip, who remains at the Occupy site in Admiralty, said he didn’t pay much attention to opinion surveys.
“I think that it’s mostly fake, because these media [that report the polls] are already under [China’s] influence, and they are just putting out some propaganda,” Yip told RFA on Friday.
He said the HKFS wasn’t a key factor in many of the protesters’ decision to maintain the mass civil disobedience movement.
“There’s no chance that we will leave just because the federation of students tells us to,” he said. “The only way to get us to leave is to change the NPC proposals.”
“That is what the people want now.”
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