China’s online anti-government campaigners refuse to back down

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Tough security measures clamping down an online campaign in China have led organisers of the effort to condemn the harsh response of the Chinese state.

The so-called “Jasmine rallies” – a reference to the “Jasmine revolution” in Tunisia that sparked unrest across the Arab world – are organised by internet users who say they have support in dozens of Chinese cities.

The new statement – posted on Facebook, Twitter and other foreign social networking sites officially blocked in China – came one day after security personnel turned out in force to thwart gatherings in Beijing and Shanghai.

“According to the feedback we received, on Feb 27, 2011, this movement spread to over 100 cities, largely exceeding our initial expectations of 27 cities,” it said, calling for people to “walk” for change again on March 6.

“We send our salutations to all Chinese citizens supporting and participating in this noble movement!”

Online protest appeals have urged citizens to gather for subtle “strolling” demonstrations each Sunday in cities across China to highlight public anger with the government.

Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police smothered Beijing’s designated rally site on the Wangfujing shopping street Sunday, aggressively pushing away foreign reporters with cameras and briefly detaining several.

Similar scenes took place at the Shanghai protest site near the city’s People’s Square.

Bloomberg News said one of its correspondents in Beijing was kicked and punched by at least five men in plainclothes — apparently security personnel — who also took his video camera. The journalist required medical treatment.

Those behind the call for Chinese “Jasmine rallies” have not urged participants to take any overt protest action, but merely to turn out in force.

Chinese authorities have reacted nervously, rounding up more than 100 known dissidents and rights advocates while blocking references to the rallies on websites and search engines, rights groups and activists have said.

“We issue our strongest condemnation of the Chinese government; the government arrests innocent people and obstructs global information flow,” said the statement from the organisers.

“We believe these deeds cannot stop the development of the Chinese Jasmine Revolution.”

Ahead of Sunday’s events, Premier Wen Jiabao promised action on top public concerns including soaring inflation, runaway economic growth, and official corruption in an online chat with internet users.

China has a history of inflation-triggered public unrest, and Wen vowed the government would ramp up supplies of affordable housing, punish property speculators, and ensure output of grains and other key goods.

“Rapid price rises have affected the lives of the people and even social stability,” the premier said.

The protest appeal — seen on overseas Chinese-language websites but blocked by censors in China — demanded government transparency and accountability to the people to prevent frequent abuses.

Following attacks on the Boxun website — where the calls for “Jasmine rallies” first appeared — organisers have set up new rally information sites on other platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Blog, they said.

Such sites are normally blocked in China, but are accessible for those with software able to circumvent China’s internet censorship system, known as the “Great Firewall“.

US embassy spokesman Richard Buangan issued a statement calling on Beijing to protect foreign reporters working in China, and to “respect internationally recognised fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression”. — AFP

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