October 01, 2005

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It's really over for Taishi

A few days back the SCMP reported that the hoped for democratic revolution in the village of Taishi was quashed. Today's SCMP fleshes out the details of how effectively and comprehensively the authorities have won in stamping out this potential change:

Authorities in Panyu, Guangdong, have officially declared an end to the three-month struggle by Taishi villagers to exercise their civil rights and unseat their village chief. Both the Guangzhou Daily and the Panyu Daily published official statements yesterday saying that the villagers had withdrawn their application to remove village chief Chen Jinsheng .

The statement said 396 of the 584 villagers who had earlier signed a removal motion had withdrawn their signatures. It said the villagers now believed Mr Chen was not corrupt and that a township government investigation had found no evidence of misconduct by him. The Panyu Daily said "some irresponsible media" had "stirred up" the dispute, and that district officials had found no truth to the allegations against Mr Chen, and made "no discovery of any officials who have harmed the interests of the public for personal gain".

Villagers in Taishi began their efforts to remove Mr Chen in July. They alleged that he had misused village funds, and that evidence was contained in account books kept in the village office. However, officials seized the account books last month during a confrontation between villagers who opposed Mr Chen and police. About 16 people, including lawyer Yang Maodong - better known as Guo Feixiong - were still in police custody, Guangzhou lawyer Tang Jingling said.
Village leaders who took part in the protests against Mr Chen were not available for comment yesterday, and the few villagers contacted either said they had no knowledge of the latest development or declined to comment.

Discussions of the Taishi incident were deleted yesterday on at least two online forums. Zhang Yaojie , a Beijing scholar who has kept a close watch on the incident, said that when vested local interests felt threatened, they would do everything they could to silence their  opponents. "It once again proves that all so-called `grass-roots democracies' are just a hoax. Villagers obey the law, and what awaits them is punishment," he said referring to the villagers still in detention. "If a village can't achieve democracy, how can a country? If public power can't be checked, what can we do? There is nothing we can do."
But Mr Zhang, who had already foreseen Taishi's failure, said the authorities could not prevent similar disputes emerging. "There will be a second and a third Taishi village and one by one they will fail. But one day they will succeed - when there is institutional change to the system," he said.

Sun Yat-sen University professor Ai Xiaoming , who has published an open letter urging Premier Wen Jiabao to intervene, said she was neither surprised, nor disappointed. "Democracy cannot be achieved in just days. And we shouldn't put all our hopes for democracy on the villagers of Taishi and expect them to do it for us. The villagers have done what they could do. Besides being respectful, we ought to show a degree of understanding about the difficulties they faced."

Calling on the authorities to release the detained villagers, Professor Ai said the villagers' efforts would not go to waste. "People will continue to think about and discuss these issues," she said.

Chalk this up as another victory for authoritarianism, corruption, business as usual, suppresion of free speech and everything that's wrong with "New China". And lest you think Hong Kong is immune, a brief example of the more subtle suppression of free speech in the Big Lychee today, also courtesy the SCMP:

A hotel's last-minute cancellation yesterday of a conference room booking for a forum on mainland politics was condemned by the event's organiser, which accused the venue of giving in to political pressure from Beijing. A spokeswoman for the Epoch Times newspaper, Amy Chu Tung-pan, said the Conrad Hotel in Admiralty refused to rent out the conference room yesterday morning, citing a water leak. "The hotel said they could not rent out the room to us lest it have a negative impact on its image," Ms Chu said. The newspaper said it made the booking a month ago. The Conrad Hotel declined to comment. Rob Anders, a member of parliament in Canada and one of the speakers at the forum, said he did not believe the hotel's explanation. He said he saw the forum was on the list of events in the hotel lobby at 7am yesterday, but it was taken down two hours later.

"By giving in to the intimidation from mainland China, the Conrad Hotel is helping to jeopardise prosperity and freedom in Hong Kong," Mr Anders said.
The newspaper switched the venue of the forum, entitled "The Future of China", to Hong Kong Park. About 50 people, many of them Falun Gong supporters, took part in the event.

Szeto Wah, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China and another of the speakers at the event, said Hong Kong's competitiveness would be hampered if the city's companies continued to succumb to political pressure. Another speaker at the forum, Ming Chu-cheng, professor of political science at the National Taiwan University, said he was interrogated by immigration officers when he arrived at Chek Lap Kok airport on Thursday evening.

I'm no fan of the Epoch Times nor the Falun Gong, but having 50 people turn up for a well-advertised chin wag only to cancel at the last minute demonstrates the power of fear in enforcing self-censorship.

The flipside is kudos should go to the SCMP, which bravely ran the Epoch Times' advertisements for two days running and dared to report on the cancellation of the meeting. Very brave indeed.

posted by Simon on 10.01.05 at 10:31 PM in the Taishi category.


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