Lu Haitao is said to be in Washington as dissidents in China face clampdown before key political meetings in Beijing
A prominent Chinese activist is now living in the United States, US officials have confirmed, amid concerns that Chinese authorities have ratcheted up pressure on dissidents to maintain social stability during two weeks of important political meetings in Beijing.
Lu Haitao, a 38-year-old writer and blogger, was repeatedly harassed, detained and interrogated by police last year for vocally supporting Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist-lawyer who escaped house arrest and sought refuge in the American embassy last spring.
The state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed that Lu was in the US but refused to give further details, including whether Lu had been granted political asylum. “We don’t confirm or deny asylum issues,” she told Voice of America.
Lu arrived in the US via Taiwan on 3 December and is currently living with his wife in Washington DC, according to Hu Jia, a prominent dissident in Beijing who spoke with Lu via phone on Thursday. “The American state department has been giving them guidance, teaching them how to enrol in school and how to study English with other new immigrants,” Hu said in a phone interview.
According to Amnesty International, Lu was evicted from his residence last year after visiting two of Chen’s family members in rural Shandong province; he faced “incessant police interrogation” after the lawyer escaped. “Sustained police harassment” may have caused his wife to have a miscarriage, according to the organisation.
This week, hundreds of high-level party members converged on Beijing for China’s annual “Two Meetings”, two weeks of rhetoric-laden work reports and political discussions. The Washington-DC-based NGO China Human Rights Defenders said that as part of a wideranging security crackdown during the meetings, Beijing’s dissidents have been detained, beaten at police stations, and forcibly removed from the capital to “travel”.
According to the organisation, police in Tiananmen Square seized thousands of petitioners – citizens attempting to air their grievances to the central government – on 5 March alone. “Officials or hired thugs from various parts of China have intercepted and forcibly returned many of these individuals to their home towns,” it said.
Hu said that although he had been closely monitored by public security agents since 2012, they began entering his apartment late last month without giving him any reason or warning. “I’ve never had pressure like this before,” he said.
Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan writer, was placed under 20 days of house arrest beginning on 1 March, she said in a phone interview on Thursday. Two public security officers escort her every time she leaves her apartment, even on simple errands. “I can still go out, but I need to tell them where and what I am going to, and I have to take their cars,” she said.
Woeser was awarded the US state department’s international women of courage award on 4 March as “the most prominent mainland activist speaking out publicly about human rights conditions for China’s Tibetan citizens”. Last May, Chinese authorities confined her to her home to prevent her from receiving a Prince Claus award at the Dutch embassy.
“The government always uses big words, like strength or rejuvenation, but actually, it is weak and autocratic,” said Woeser. “I don’t think what I’ve said about Tibet is excessive, and I am telling the truth. But the government doesn’t want the truth, and they dread to hear – and do not allow – different voices.”
On Tuesday, Chinese authorities announced plans to spend 82bn on domestic security this year, about 3bn higher than the projected defence budget.