The second Belt and Road Forum, to be held in Beijing from April 25 to 27, is a critical event for the Chinese regime to promote the namesake foreign-policy agenda to countries around the world.
During major political events and other such “sensitive” timing, Chinese authorities take extreme measures to stifle dissent, including by suppressing rights activists and petitioners who seek redress from the central government.
This time was no different.
Beijing-based activist Li Wei wrote on Twitter on April 23 that he’s been “under police surveillance” since April 22 and he expects to be monitored until the end of the month.
Since 2013, Li has demanded that Chinese officials publicly disclose their assets to unveil their corruption. He also has actively organized rights activities such as applying for demonstration permits, trying to rescue petitioners detained in black jails, and accepting interviews from foreign media. In April 2013, Beijing police took him away from his home, on a charge of “illegal assembly.” A year later, he was sentenced to two years in prison for “gathering people to disrupt the order in public places.”
Li told Radio Free Asia in an interview on April 23 that in March 2018, he faced police harassment during the annual “Two Sessions,” national meetings of China’s rubber-stamp legislature and its political advisory body.
He was forced by authorities to leave his home and travel to a location outside of Beijing, to prevent him from “causing trouble,” while the political meetings took place at the capital. When he arrived in Hangzhou City, in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province, local police asked him to register his fingerprints at the police station. When he refused, police broke into his hotel room in the middle of the night, beat and handcuffed him, then brought him to the police station.
He revealed to Radio Free Asia that recently, police have appeared outside his apartment and on the ground floor of his building, monitoring him 24 hours every day. If he ever tries to go out, they follow him. If he tries to meet with friends, they will intercept him and prevent him from leaving.
“They need to spend a lot of time monitoring people like me. It is an exhausting task for them,” Li said.
Li also told Radio Free Asia that Beijing-based independent journalist Gao Yu was recently forced to leave Beijing. This special treatment from Chinese authorities is often called “forced to travel.”
Gao Yu, 75, is a dissident journalist who has been repeatedly imprisoned in China for her work, including on charges of “leaking state secrets.” In 1989, Gao was first arrested for running a series of reports on the democracy protests at Tiananmen Square while serving as deputy chief editor of Economics Weekly. She was named one of the 50 World Press Freedom Heroes by the International Press Institute in 2000.
When a Radio Free Asia reporter reached Gao by phone, she confirmed that she was “forced to travel” on April 23, but that she couldn’t reveal where she was.
“They [the police] set this rule for me. No one can find me now,” Gao said. “I am forbidden to come into contact with international media. I should be able to go back home after the Belt and Road Forum ends.”
Gao added that in recent years, as long as there is an important conference in Beijing, she will have to leave the city. When the first Road and Belt forum was held in May 2017, Chinese authorities also forced her to leave. During the 19th National Congress in October 2017—a critical conclave that occurs every five years to determine the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership transition—she had to stay out of Beijing for more than 20 days.