Close eye on intellectual movement

SECURITY officials have stepped up surveillance of intellectuals associated with the Peace Charter movement, which has enjoyed a modest success in gaining recruits since its founding in mid-November last year.

The movement, founded by nine dissidents, advocates the peaceful promotion of democracy through ''national reconciliation'' among all political groupings.

It already has chapters in cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuhan.

Zhou Guoqiang, a Beijing-based lawyer and a founder of the movement, said in the capital this week they had received an estimated 1,000 letters expressing interest in the crusade.

And since mid-November, the Beijing chapter has held at least four meetings at the homes of intellectuals, the last one of which was attended by more than 20 adherents.

''Police have confiscated all letters sent to the movement, but they admitted there had been a steady stream of letters to us,'' said Mr Zhou, who had been a legal adviser to the now-defunct Beijing Autonomous Union of Workers.

Upon the publication of a draft form of the manifesto of the movement in mid-November, Beijing police detained two founders, Yang Zhou and Qin Yongmin.

While Yang was released later, Qin was last month sentenced to a two-year term in a re-education through labour facility.

Sources in dissident circles said security departments had allowed movement affiliates to hold meetings in order to find out more about the direction the dissident community would take.

''Police are letting the snakes come out of their holes, and they will swoop on them when the time is ripe,'' a source said.

Shanghai sources said the smaller group of Peace Charter affiliates in the East China city had also been meeting in private homes last month.

A Shanghai-based member said more intellectuals had been attracted to the movement because of its advocacy of working within the confines of the law.