On March 18th of this year a municipal court in Beijing sentenced human rights activist Hu Jia to three and a half years in prison for "subversion of state power".
The evidence against Hu included five Internet articles he wrote and two interviews he gave to foreign media, Li said. [snip]
A longtime critic of the government, Hu has been involved in civil liberties issues, from AIDS awareness to environmental rights and Tibet. In recent years, while largely under house arrest, he served as a hub linking activists across China with the outside world.
You can protest Hu's arrest via the Amnesty International website and I would encourage everyone to do so.
In the wake of the violent repression of the protests in Tibet the Chinese government seems to have decided to brook no dissent in the lead up to the Olympic Games. A number of other prominent dissidents have also been arrested and jailed including land activist Yang Chunlin and human rights defender Lu Gengsong.
Besides the crackdown on dissidents, another, less publicized crackdown is taking place in China. This time the victims are cats.
From the Daily Mail:
Thousands of pet cats in Beijing are being abandoned by their owners and sent to die in secretive government pounds as China mounts an aggressive drive to clean up the capital in preparation for the Olympic Games.
Hundreds of cats a day are being rounded and crammed into cages so small they cannot even turn around.
Then they are trucked to what animal welfare groups describe as death camps on the edges of the city.
The cull comes in the wake of a government campaign warning of the diseases cats carry and ordering residents to help clear the streets of them.
And from the HSUS:
With the approach of the 2008 Summer Olympics, China is reportedly once again taking flawed measures in an effort to exhibit the image of an environmentally conscious and hygienic capital city to athletes and spectators this August. This time, officials have announced a mandate to rid Beijing of stray cats through a massive roundup and the planned destruction of hundreds of thousands of animals.
The government is warning citizens that the street cat population represents a health risk and Beijing residents, terrified of disease, are apparently putting even their own pets onto the streets for collection and extermination.
According to news reports, the eradication is already underway, with cats being captured, crowded into cages and taken to holding facilities on the outskirts of the city. Welfare groups in China are revealing that cats are being inhumanely killed or, in some cases, being left to die slowly in cramped cages from disease, neglect, or infection.
The roundup and slaughter of cats follows a similar massacre of dogs carried out in Beijing less than a year and a half ago:
On November 7, 2006, a dog-culling campaign began in Beijing, affecting large parts of the city.
Best Friends has been receiving emails from many individuals in Beijing and throughout China asking for help in stopping the campaign of seizing dogs. These calls for help state that private homes are being entered, and that people’s dogs are being removed, taken away and presumably being killed. Street dogs are also being rounded up.
In Beijing people are permitted to own one small dog. Small is defined as less than 35 cm (14"). The dog must be licensed.
City officials have begun entering people’s homes and confiscating all "illegal" dogs, that is those that are unlicensed, or larger than 14 inches or the "extra" dogs in homes with more than one dog.
Also being picked up by city agents are street dogs who are over 35 cm in height. Based on prior round-ups of dogs in Chinese cities, including recent round-ups in which dogs were killed with extreme brutality, it is widely believed that the dogs rounded up in Beijing are being killed, both the street dogs and the "owned" dogs.
It is estimated that there are approximately one million dogs in Beijing. Having dogs as companions has become popular in recent years among Chinese people, especially city-dwellers.
Not all Chinese are buying the government's claim that the cats represent a health menace. Some courageous people have come to the animals aid at great risk and sacrifice to themselves.
Retired doctor Hu Yuan, 80, runs one of the few remaining refuges for abandoned pets in her ramshackle home in the ancient Long Tou Jing area of Beijing.
She shares her tiny home with 250 abandoned cats and has taken in 70 over the past 12 months alone.
She pays for neutering and food from her pension and donations. She said: "If I don't take them in, the government will kill them.
"People believe what the government tells them and that is why they are abandoning more and more family pets."
She said the problem could be traced back to former president Jiang Zemin for the crackdown.
"He didn't like dogs so he decided to have dogs killed. But there was a bad reaction from the foreign media and they were pressured to stop.
"Now they have stopped killing dogs but the new victims are cats. It is all connected to the Olympics."
There seems to be a widespread callousness (although by no means universal as the quotation above makes very clear) toward animals in Chinese culture, the origins of which I cannot explain. Perhaps it is rooted in overpopulation, poverty, the dehumanizing brutality with which the Chinese people have themselves been treated, and China's long history of authoritarianism. Whatever the reason it is apparent to any foreigner visiting China. In a recent article in Salon.com Ted Kerasote describes a ski trip to China in which he befriended a dog "who was a dead ringer for Lassie" near the camp for China's Olympic skiers where he and some other Americans were giving classes. Kerasote describes how he would play with the dog before setting out for the slopes in the morning and how it would faithfully be waiting for him when he returned. On the day before he was scheduled to leave, his translator hushed the room where they were having lunch to explain that in honor of their American guests tonight's meal would be special. At that point the chef entered the room holding by the tail the dog that Kerasote had befriended, "gutted from throat to groin". Later that evening when Kerasote declined to eat any of the dog meat and trying to explain "...I can't. I have too many friends at home who are dogs," his Chinese hosts stared at him in "disbelief" and "pity".
It is a fact, now well documented, that people who commit acts of violence against other people often began by harming animals. Consider this from the PAWS website:
Until recently, violence toward children, domestic violence, and elder violence were considered unrelated to violent acts toward animals. A growing body of research and evidence demonstrates that individuals who perpetrate acts of cruelty against animals rarely stop there. Animal abuse can be a warning sign of future serious violent behavior, especially among young offenders. Increasingly, child protection and social service agencies, mental health professionals and educators regard animal abuse as a significant form of aggressive and antisocial behavior, and consider it an important red flag in identifying other violent behavior.
According to anthropologist, Margaret Mead:
One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.
Will we let the Chinese government get away with it? Beijing is being "cleaned up" for the games. That means temporarily closing down factories that pollute too much, shipping homeless people out of the city, drastically lowering the fares on the subways so that the poor will disappear underground and stay off the buses, trying to teach Taxi drivers a few words of English and how to smile and slaughtering hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats while simultaneously locking up the bloggers and human rights activists in China who might protest these and other things.
I love the Olympics, the pageantry, the internationalism, the competition and the camaraderie, but these Olympics should be moved to another venue because they are a sporting Potemkin Village. The increase in the standard of living in China over the last 20 years has been impressive, but in no way should we grant the Chinese oligarchs the acceptance they so deeply crave. We should not be blind to the underlying reality that China is still a brutal dictatorship where animals and humans are merely interchangeable cogs in the machinery of state capitalism.
UPDATE: If you want to let the Chinese government know what you think of this policy you can find phone numbers and emails for the Chinese embassy and consulates here.