Wave of arrests indicts justice in China

January 31, 2021

From the January-February 2021 issue of News & Letters

Zhang Zhan is an independent journalist who traveled from Shanghai to Wuhan in early February 2020 and, until her arrest in May, documented, through videos shared to YouTube and Twitter, hospital corridors of patients on oxygen and other realities of COVID-19 in China. That exposed as a lie the official line that, under the strong, wise leadership of Xi Jinping, China had stopped the pandemic cold. She was sentenced on Dec. 28 to four years in prison on the regime’s one-size-fits-all charge against dissidents of “picking fights and provoking trouble.”

Zhang was one of several journalists detained for exposing the life-and-death reality for patients while the official line remained that the Party and government had protected the population.

She had refused cooperation with arresting authorities, and began a hunger strike shortly after arrest. She endured a forced feeding tube while she was restrained, and refused to appeal her sentence in January. That system of injustice is what impelled millions of marchers in Hong Kong to oppose extradition to China even before it imposed its National Security Law last July 1.


Once that law was imposed, arrests of demonstrators have muted the massive street protests of the last two years. The law has ensnared 53 members of the opposition charged with plotting to overthrow the government of Hong Kong for planning a “35+” campaign to try to win a majority on the Legislative Council.

That would have been an elusive goal when many legislative seats are reserved for corporate supporters of China, under the nominal autonomy that was supposed to last until 2047. But now part of the law decrees that publicly running against a government supporter is an act of sedition.

Chinese authorities have also arrested 12 people for aiding the escape attempt of prominent dissidents. Sixty years ago, Mao Zedong’s regime criminalized thousands of youth who fled famine by swimming from the mainland to Hong Kong, where they joined the working class building the wealth there.


The lame duck meddling of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is only reinforcing China’s claims of total control over territories—from Taiwan to Xinjiang and Tibet—ever influenced by the Chinese Empire that ended in 1911 or occupied by the People’s Liberation Army. The taint of Trump attaches to Pompeo’s efforts to hamstring the incoming Biden Administration. Pompeo “threw out the rule book” regulating high level meetings with Taiwan, and still could not get a meeting.

More serious, the U.S. unilateral ban on import of cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang one week before Trump is evicted from the White House could have been imposed one week after Trump took power, or any time that Trump was making a show of waging a tariff war with China. The evidence of China forcing Uyghurs in Xinjiang into labor camps or into mines and fields has long been overwhelming. Choosing to delay sanctions until now only adds to the catalog of petulant actions by which Trump is trying to narrow Biden’s foreign policy options.

—Bob McGuire

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