Interview: ‘The Authorities Fear We Will Expose the Scandal of Post-Quake Reconstruction’

Huang Qi, founder of the Chengdu-based rights website Tianwang, was detained on Feb. 18 en route to a region worst-hit by the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, alongside two fellow activists. He had plans to investigate claims of an illegal government land grab, as well as an appointment to meet three Japanese journalists writing about the post-quake reconstruction program. Huang, who has already served several stints in jail linked to his rights activism, was released on Feb. 22, and spoke to Xin Lin of RFA’s Mandarin Service about his experiences:

RFA: Can you tell us what happened to you on the night of Feb. 18?

Huang Qi: On Feb. 18, I went with three Japanese journalists to Longchi township near [quake-hit] Dujiangyan. They wanted to investigate various problems with the post-quake reconstruction program. At about 9.00 a.m. on the second day of our drip, we arrived at the home of [activist and petitioner] Yang Xiuqiong in Mianyang, to speak to some of the people protesting the government’s seizure of Yang’s land under the pretext of post-quake reconstruction, and the detention of her husband in a ‘political study class.'”

At about 10.00 p.m., five security guards burst into Yang’s home and accused us of holding an illegal assembly. As soon as I heard this, I knew they were going to frame us for something. I had expected they would use tactics like these to stop us from carrying out an in-depth expose of problems with the post-quake reconstruction process.

None of these five people would show us any ID, although they flashed their red armbands at us, and said they were in the citizens’ security brigade, and that they should count as official ID. I said that was ridiculous, and that police enforcing the law should be able to show official identification, not to mention paperwork relating to questioning and arrest. Then I proceeded to call the police and report them.

When the police picked up the phone, the security guards made as if to run outside, but Yang wouldn’t let them leave, and shut the door, barring their exit. Less than a minute later, more than 40 riot police and plainclothes officers charged into the apartment and surrounded it. They had called them up, saying that there was a fight, so they sent in the riot squad. We were taken to the Chengjiao police station in Mianyang and locked up.

[Later], three state security police came from Chengdu to take me back there, and three state security police also came from her hometown to escort her back [there]. She remains on forced vacation near the Xichang satellite base to this day.

On the way back, the Japanese journalists told us that they had also been detained on the same night by more than 20 people as they were interviewing residents in the worst-hit disaster area of Beichuan county, and also taken back to Chengdu.

RFA: Why did the state security police get involved?

Huang Qi: The Chinese government pays great attention to the post-quake reconstruction program in the wake of the May 12, 2008 earthquake. Everyone knows that, 28 days after the quake hit, the authorities sentenced me to five years’ imprisonment. They were mostly afraid that I would blow the whistle on corruption surrounding the tofu buildings scandal [which led to the widespread collapse of school buildings], but also particularly the land grabs and forced demolitions and evictions carried out by local government in the name of post-quake reconstruction, not to mention their detention and imprisonment of any farmers who complained about it.

These were the issues that the Japanese journalists wanted to cover on this trip, to do a comparison between post-quake reconstruction in Japan and in China. I think that if the figures and the stories had emerged, then people would have begun to have doubts about the post-quake reconstruction program in China, and that’s the main reason why the authorities moved in at such speed.

RFA: Will the Japanese journalists continue to investigate this issue?

Huang Qi: They won’t be continuing with this work, although the authorities here haven’t the clout to repatriate them to Japan. The government has acted against international law here. My belief is that the authorities don’t want to shout this affair to the skies, so perhaps the Japanese media will pursue the story. Since the earthquake, we at Tianwang have seen more than a dozen of our colleagues go to jail, but we won’t give up. The main issue is that the post-quake reconstruction program has created a very large group of new victims in Sichuan province.

Radio Free Asia,2016-03-04

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