China casts wide security net ahead of leadership show

March 3, 2011 - 0:0

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is locking down droves of people it fears could spark social unrest and tightening media controls ahead of the annual session of parliament, worried that uprisings in the Middle East could encourage dissent.

Protests that have toppled authoritarian Arab governments have reinforced Chinese leaders' vigilance about defending one-party control, a priority since the Party crushed pro-democracy protests in June 1989. Those official anxieties are sure to multiply as President Hu Jintao prepares to hand power to a successor generation from late 2012.
Some foreign reporters were assaulted over the weekend in central Beijing, where an online message from abroad had urged a pro-democracy gathering inspired by the “Jasmine Revolution” in the Arab world. Police smothered the designated area and no protest happened.
But recent directives on many Chinese government websites show the country's citizens themselves -- from dissidents to ex-soldiers and the mentally ill -- face strict controls.
“Foreign journalists are having a taste of the recent escalation of the security crackdown against anyone or anything considered potentially politically sensitive by the authorities,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group.