Yaan earthquake

Police warn dissident Huang Qi after he tries to help in quake-hit zone

Authorities fear volunteer rescuers will expose graft if they're allowed to assist, say activists

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 April, 2013, 10:21am

Dissident Huang Qi, who was jailed for three years after investigating the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, said yesterday he was turned away from rescue work in the quake zone because authorities were wary of his past activism.

Sichuan-based Huang said he and three associates were intercepted by dozens of police and unidentified men at about 6pm on Saturday as their car entered Yaan , epicentre of the quake, five hours after they set out from Chengdu.

Huang, 50, said he told police he wanted to give donations to the victims and assist with relief work but that they directed them away and said he should give the donations to a government agency. Police drove them back to Chengdu and then released them early on Sunday after issuing warnings.

Huang said police told him they knew he was coming. "I'm surprised they are so nervous."

Phone calls to Yaan Public Security Bureau went unanswered.

Huang believed he was barred from helping because of his imprisonment for "illegal possession of state secrets" after he investigated the collapse of school buildings in the 2008 quake. He and others blamed corruption for the destruction of the shoddily built structures.

Huang also campaigned on behalf of parents who wanted to sue authorities over the crushing to death of their children when the schools collapsed.

The State Council has banned unauthorised rescue efforts and private vehicles from entering the quake zone. It said an influx of rescue squads and volunteers had caused traffic congestion on roads leading to the main areas of devastation - Lushan and Baoxing counties in the city of Yaan.

Many activists believe officials are preventing individuals from helping because they fear they will expose corruption, like in 2008, and embarrass the local government. Huang said he and his associates were driving on country roads and would not have hindered other traffic. He said he wanted to give money directly to quake victims, so that it could not be embezzled.

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