Civil unrest is rising in China, particularly in rural areas where people are increasingly disgruntled because of corrupt or inefficient officials. More and more protesters are demanding freedom of speech and the right to be heard. But the risks are considerable – particularly as the Chinese Government is determined to show the rest of the world a unified and happy population during August’s Olympics.
‘It’s difficult to know for sure how many political prisoners there currently are in China,’ explains Dr Yang Jianli, a labour rights activist who spent five years in a Chinese jail. ‘A lot were put in labour camps without due process so their cases are off the record, but it’s safe to say that there are thousands of them.’
Dr Yang’s experience of incarceration was brutal, and quite typical. He was kept in solitary confinement for 18 months and tortured both physically and psychologically. It was over a year before his desperate family found out what had happened to him.
Most of China’s prisoners of conscience, imprisoned, according to Dr Yang, ‘for no other reason than that they tried to exercise their basic right to speak and assemble freely’, are leaders and organizers of protests, journalists who expose government corruption, scholars whose work challenges the ruling party, and human rights lawyers.