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Sunday, January 3, 1999 Published at 23:35 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Crackdown continues on Chinese dissidents

Chinese in Hong Kong demand release of political dissidents

Two members of the outlawed China Democracy Party (CDP) are reported to have been jailed for nine months on suspicion of involvement with prostitutes.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said the families of the two - Han Lifa and Cai Guihua - had been told they would be detained until July.

Both men were taken into custody last October. Until their detention, they had held a weekly human rights study group in a Shanghai park and had been frequently warned by the police to stop.

Renewed crackdown

[ image: No questioning the dominance of the Communit Party]
No questioning the dominance of the Communit Party
The Information Centre has accused the police of making up the charges to smear democracy campaigners and deflect international criticism from a renewed crackdown on dissent.

The sentences are the latest in a series of arrrests and detentions of Chinese dissidents. Last month three founding CDP members, Xu Wenli, Qin Yongmin and, Wang Youcai were jailed for 13, 12 and 11 years respectively on charges of attempting to overthrow the state.

Shortly before, in speech marking 20 years of Chinese economic reforms, President Jiang Zemin had warned that politically subversive activities would be "nipped in the bud" and said China would never tolerate Western-style democracy.

Hopes of reform dashed

The sentences have dismayed many who had predicted signs of political liberalisation and the openning up of debate in China. In October, China signed up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - a move that many governments welcomed as an indication of a commitment to international human rights principles.

[ image: Jiang: Nip any dissent in the bud]
Jiang: Nip any dissent in the bud
But the authorities have repeatedly insisted that reform does not extend to questioning the Communist party's grip on power, and few analysts have been surprised at the authorities' response to the emergence of the CDP.

Chinese officials have labelled the party as an illegal organisation that endangers state security. This they argue is a criminal offence not just in China but anywhere in the world.

1999 will be an important year for anniversaries in China: the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the 50th of the founding of the people's republic. Both are highly symbolic and President Jiang warned at the end of last year that the preservation of stability is the government's paramount concern.

Correspondents say the decision to impose lengthy jail terms on the dissidents despite criticism from Western countries is a sign of its determination to avoid a possible upsurge of anti-government activity in the coming year.

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