China clamps down on environmental monitoring group

David Eimer – The Independent

China clamps down on environmental monitoring group
By David Eimer in Beijing
Published: 28 October 2005
In a sign of China’s growing unease over the growing influence of environmental activists, police in Hangzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province have arrested a local man who attempted to set up his own environmental monitoring group.
Tan Kai, who is thought to have helped informally organise an organisation called Green Watch, was detained along with five others on 19 October after opening a bank account to collect funds for the group.
China’s leaders are worried about the role played by environmental activists in protests about the devastation wreaked on rivers and farmland by severe air and water pollution.
Outrage over polluting industry is now one of the major causes of rural unrest and the authorities fear a repeat of what happened in eastern Europe in the 1980s, when conservation groups were allowed to operate in relative freedom an! d swiftly progressed from campaigning for environmental protection to demanding wider political reform.
“We are surmising that they [the activist group] were detained because they are not established as an organisation, but were still trying to raise funds,” said Stacy Mosher, communications director of the New York branch of Human Rights in China.
“In China, you cannot legally fundraise until you are set up as an organisation, which requires a deposit of ¥30,000 (£2,100), an enormous sum for most Chinese.
“It’s a catch-22, because unless you have very deep pockets to begin with, you have no way of reaching out to local or foreign organisations who might want to contribute.”
Mr Tan is believed to have helped found Green Watch this summer after witnessing the successful protests mounted by villagers in Huaxi, near Dongyang city in Zhejiang, against chemical plants that had polluted their water supply, rendered their land unfit for raising rice and veget! ables and caused babies to be born dead or deformed.
In April, after unsuccessfully petitioning officials in both Beijing and Dongyang, the villagers mounted one of the most audacious challenges to the government’s authority in recent years.
They set up roadblocks into Huaxi and blocked access to the chemical plants, forcing them to shut down production. When more than a thousand police attempted to remove the roadblocks, a pitched battle ensued, in which 33 police were injured.
The protests forced Dongyang to re-locate the plants, as well as inspiring protests in nearby Xinchang in July, and highlighted the collusion between local authorities and the polluting industries in many such cases.
Ms Mosher said: “Local governments and the pollution-producing companies are connected with each other on a very large scale by different kinds of interests.”

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