Author who fled China recounts beatings for book critical of prime minister

Yu Jie, a dissident writer in China wrote a book recently published in Hong Kong that's sharply critical of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Many observers worry he could soon be arrested.
Yu Jie, a dissident writer in China wrote a book recently published in Hong Kong that's sharply critical of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Many observers worry he could soon be arrested. Tom Lasseter / MCT

BEIJING — When Yu Jie wrote a book in 2010 slamming Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabo as a cynical actor at the head of a heartless Communist Party, it was unknown how Beijing's authoritarian government might react.

Yu revealed the answer publicly this week: Chinese security officers dragged him from his home in December 2010 with a black hood on his head and then beat him until he convulsed with seizures.

The plainclothes men pummeled him in the head and face, Yu said in a statement released this week. They also kicked him in the chest, and a state security officer told Yu they could bury him alive and that no one would ever find out.

Chinese security continued to harass him off and on for more than a year after the beating, until earlier this month, when he fled China. He surfaced in Washington on Wednesday, where he gave a news conference and distributed his account.

Yu's story is yet another incident in China's ongoing crackdown on dissidents and rights advocates that human rights organizations describe as the worst in decades.

In the past four weeks alone, Chinese courts have sentenced three activists to between nine and 10 years in prison for subversion or inciting subversion of state power — a catchall charge that has frequently boiled down to posting essays or poems calling for more freedom in China.

In comments aired Monday, U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke told the "Charlie Rose Show" on CBS, "The human rights climate has always ebbed and flowed in China, up and down, but we seem to be in a down period and it's getting worse."

Locke attributed that trend to unease by Chinese leadership over the recent revolts and political upheavals across the Arab world. Despite virtually no response to online calls last February for protests in China, the Chinese government unleashed a campaign of arrests and detentions intended to head off any effort to mimic the Arab Spring.

Chinese officials bristle at criticism of their record.

The day after Locke's remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters that there was nothing to worry about.

"China has attached great importance to promoting and safeguarding the basic rights of the Chinese people, including the freedom of belief and speech," Liu said. "China's progress in human rights is obvious to all."

Yu's experience would seem to suggest otherwise.

An active member of China's underground Protestant community, Yu said that his December 2010 assault came the day before imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia. Liu is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for inciting subversion, a charge tied to his writing about the need for democratic reforms in China.

Yu said the state security agents were incensed that the West was giving the award to Liu. During the beatings, Yu said, an officer accused him and Liu of being "tools of imperialism" bent on undermining China. At one point the men stripped him naked, pushed him to the ground and kicked him repeatedly before taking photographs and threatening to distribute them online, he said.

Now safely in the United States, after months of negotiation with Chinese state security to allow his exit, Yu said that he's planning to publish a biography of Liu Xiaobo. He'll also be working on a companion volume to the book about Premier Wen Jiabao, this one about President Hu Jintao and equally as unflattering.

At the end of his statement, Yu emphasized that he remains a patriot of China, but not of the Chinese Communist Party.


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