Chinese Teacher in Trouble over Earthquake Photos

Here's a new article from the New York Times today:

July 31, 2008
Sichuan School Worker Punished for Quake Photos, Rights Group Says
By JAKE HOOKER

BEIJING — A school employee in Sichuan Province was ordered to a labor camp for a year for taking photographs of schools that collapsed in the powerful May 12 earthquake and posting them on the Internet, a human rights group reported Wednesday.

The worker, Liu Shaokun, 54, was detained at Guanghan Middle School on June 25, according to the group, Human Rights in China, which is based in New York. Family members informed the group that Mr. Liu had posted the photographs online; that has not been independently verified.

The order against Mr. Liu, for “reeducation through labor,” is an extrajudicial punishment that does not require a trial.

The quake killed nearly 70,000 people as it collapsed buildings and roads and sent boulders tumbling from hills and mountains. There is no official figure for the number of students who were killed, but the Chinese government reported that a staggering 7,000 classrooms and dormitories had been destroyed, raising disturbing questions about building standards in the countryside. Devastated parents — because of China’s one-child policy, many had lost their only children — held demonstrations and protests.

China had seemed to be moving into a new era of openness in the wake of the earthquake, with vigorous reporting from domestic news organizations, and in the months before the Beijing Olympic Games, which begin Aug. 8. But local government officials and law enforcement officers have been trying to quell protests, banning media coverage, blocking parents’ protests and offering them pensions in exchange for their silence.

“Instead of investigating and pursuing accountability for shoddy and dangerous school buildings, the authorities are resorting to reeducation through labor to silence and lock up concerned citizens like teacher Liu Shaokun and others,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of the rights group, in a statement.

Since June, Chinese authorities have also detained at least three people who collected and disseminated information about shoddy construction of schools.

Huang Qi, a human rights activist based in the provincial capital of Chengdu, was charged with illegal possession of state secrets earlier this month after meeting with bereaved parents and publishing articles about structural problems with schools. The police have not allowed his lawyers and family to meet with him.

Zeng Hongling, a retired teacher who wrote three essays that criticized the government’s earthquake response and blamed corruption for poor workmanship in school buildings, was detained in June on suspicion of inciting subversion, according to the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, a group based in Hong Kong.

The crackdown has raised concern among some Chinese. Four prominent intellectuals from Sichuan published a public letter earlier this month raising questions about Mr. Huang’s arrest on and characterizing it as part of a broader government effort to clamp down on civil society.

”We don’t want to see this case once again attract international attention to China’s terrible human rights record in this Olympic year,” they wrote.

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Comment by Justin Sharpe on August 3, 2008 at 16:41
I see today that a 'dissident comic' in Burma was arrested on June 3rd over public comments that he made criticising the military Junta's generals' for their sluggish response to Cyclone Nargis which left 134,000 people dead earlier this year. He has been punished with 'public order offences' on June 3rd which carry a possible jail sentences of up to two years. It really is terribly frustrating to read these sorts of news stories. However I also note that the Chinese government have unblocked a series of sites for journalists to access in China which include Amnesty International among others in order to show that they are being open...

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