My Take

Chinese dissenters dying in jail is a disgrace

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 4:09am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 4:09am

You break it, you own it. If mainland authorities insist on their right to arrest and jail people for merely expressing opinions, then at least they should have the decency - and the legal obligation - to ensure they stay healthy and come out alive. We are now in the 21st century, not the Maoist era.

Beijing has gone a long way in advancing the legitimacy of authoritarian governance. Surveys by the independent Pew Centre show the communist state has far higher popular support than almost all democratically elected governments in the West. Don't believe it? Check the numbers.

But letting dissenters languish in jail and die through neglect in no way furthers China's cause.

At the moment, jail for some dissidents may amount to a death sentence if they happen to have pre-existing conditions. Whether or not they get the medical treatment they need seems to be entirely random and arbitrary.

Cao Shunli , a human rights activist, appeared healthy when she was arrested at an airport on her way to Geneva to attend a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Her health worsened since her detention in September and she died early this month.

She reportedly suffered from tuberculosis, liver disease and other serious conditions. She was never given the necessary medical attention, according to her lawyer and family. Repeated requests for medical parole were either ignored or denied.

As a newsman, I am used to reading about the detention and jailing of dissenters, so I am quite jaded about them. When you live in an authoritarian state, you know the price of dissent. But the same cannot be said about Chen Kegui , whose only reason for being in jail appears to be because he is a nephew of blind lawyer and activist Chen Guangcheng ; or Liu Xia , the wife of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo . She is under house arrest. Both suffer from serious medical conditions. They didn't choose dissent; they merely have the wrong family name.

Somehow Cao's case strikes a cord in me. She was apparently arrested for "provoking quarrels and stirring trouble". That's the kind of thing we columnists and pundits - or at least some of us - do for a living.

Why did she have to die?