For Chinese political dissidents fortunate enough to have a high profile, the Chinese government has manufactured a new way to keep them from causing communist officials any trouble: sending them off to vacations during key events dissidents would protest.
The Agence France-Presse reports that a total of eight activists told the agency they have been flown far from the capital during major government events to expensive vacation resorts. “Every time there is an important national event I’m taken on vacation,” Xu Xiangyu, a longtime activist, told the agency. Xu has protested the government for years, accusing Chinese officials of demolishing her house without giving her compensation. Another political activist, He Depu, was shipped off to the island of Hainan during a gathering of national communist party officials.
The vacations, AFP reports, include accompaniment by police officials to ensure that the dissidents remain on vacation and away from trouble. Yan Zhengxue, an artist and dissident, was “traveled” out of Beijing during the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. He noted that the vacations were enforced, and as such, even if expensive, were menacing and uncomfortable. “If you refuse to go traveling, there will be consequences… Even though you are at tourist sites, you have been forced to go, so you’re not in the mood to enjoy it,” he said.
The dissidents interviewed for the AFP article vary in interests from the personal, like Xu, to environmental activists, to artists seeking free expression. They are low-level threats, the kind of dissidents that have not yet crossed a line by which the Chinese government can have them arrested. “Traveling” them out of state when major events occur keeps the Chinese government from having to expand their already formidable prison population.
Few Chinese dissidents are so lucky. According to Amnesty International, 500,000 Chinese citizens are estimated to be prisoners of conscience, behind bars with no hope of a trial or any due process. Though China does not make its records public, it is believed to have one of the highest number of state executions in the world.
The situation for prisoners of conscience behind bars is grave. Reports are now surfacing that some prisoners of conscience are being denied food. Lawyers for dissident Uighur economics professor Ilham Tohti reported this week that Chinese officials refused to feed Tohti for up to ten days, significantly damaging his health. Attorney Li Fangping said that Tohti “wasn’t given anything to eat, just a single glass of water which he drank for 10 days, drinking a little each day… it had an effect [on his health].” Tohti was arrested in January for “separatism,” a crime which can be punishable by death in China.