Activist arrested while seeking Hubei election candidates

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 July, 2006, 12:00am

Democracy activist Yao Lifa and five other campaigners were detained by police in Hubei yesterday afternoon as they planned to mobilise people to run in people's congress elections.

The crackdown on Mr Yao's attempts to challenge the Communist Party's dominance over local elections came as authorities stepped up control of media coverage of the latest round of grass-roots elections at the county and township levels.

Mr Yao hit the headlines and was hailed as a symbol of the nascent grass-roots democracy movement when he won a seat in the Qianjiang city People's Congress in 1999.

He said he and five other independent election candidates from Wuhan , Qianjiang and Xiantao were taken away while they were eating lunch in Xiantao yesterday.

Mr Yao said they were discussing their election campaigns and how to expose electoral fraud by distributing leaflets to voters when plain-clothes police officers arrived to take them away for questioning.

'The voters are indifferent to elections because they think they are manipulated. That is why we have to expose malpractice in the elections by distributing leaflets - to encourage them to participate in the process,' Mr Yao said.

'The police came and said they had received reports that we were having an illegal gathering.'

Mr Yao said he believed authorities had the group under surveillance and used the illegal gathering accusation as an excuse to detain them. They were detained for six hours before being escorted to their homes by officials and police.

The latest round of elections for county and township elections - from July 1 to the end of next year - will involve 900 million voters from more than 35,400 towns and 2,800 counties.

But Mr Yao said these elections remained under the tight control of authorities. The Communist Party's propaganda department had restricted the media to using only Xinhua in coverage of the polls, he said.

A former primary school employee, Mr Yao ran for the Qianjiang People's Congress for 13 years before he was elected in 1999.

He lost his congress seat in 2003 in an election he has claimed was rigged.

Spurred by Mr Yao's success, 41 workers, farmers and rural cadres ran for seats in the Qianjiang People's Congress in 2003. He said more than 100 independent candidates would run in the Qianjiang elections this year.