World and Nation

China Cracks Down on Dissidents As 2008 Olympic Games Approach

When state security agents burst into his apartment on Dec. 27, Hu Jia was chatting on Skype, the Internet-based telephone system. Hu’s computer was his most potent tool. He disseminated information about human rights cases, peasant protests, and other politically touchy topics even though he often lived under de facto house arrest.

Hu, 34, and his wife, Zeng Jinyan, are human rights advocates who spent much of 2006 restricted to their apartment in a complex with the unlikely name of Bo Bo Freedom City. She blogged about life under detention, while he videotaped a documentary titled “Prisoner in Freedom City.” Their surreal existence seemed to reflect an official uncertainty about how, and whether, to shut them up.

That ended on Dec. 27. Hu was dragged away on charges of subverting state power while Zeng was bathing their newborn daughter, Qianci. Telephone and Internet connections to the apartment were severed. Mother and daughter are now under house arrest. Qianci, barely two months old, is probably the youngest political prisoner in China.

For human rights advocates and Chinese dissidents, Hu’s detention is the most telling example of what they describe as a broadening crackdown on dissent as Beijing prepares to stage the Olympic Games in August. In recent months, several dissidents have been jailed, including a former factory worker in northeastern China who collected 10,000 signatures after posting an online petition titled “We Want Human Rights, Not the Olympics.”

“This is a coordinated cleansing campaign,” said Teng Biao, a legal expert who has known Hu since 2006. “All the troublemakers — including potential troublemakers — are being silenced before the Olympic Games.”

With fewer than 200 days before the Aug. 8 opening ceremonies, Beijing is in the full throes of preparations.