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China Criticized Over Arrest of Internet Dissident - 2003-09-24

Human rights advocates are blasting the apparent arrest in China of a dissident who posted his views on the Internet. The U.S. based group, Human Rights in China, says 32-year-old Li Zhi was arrested by police in Sichuan Province on September 3. The charge against him: conspiring to subvert state power.

The group says Mr. Li often chatted on-line with dissidents outside China. It quotes unidentified sources as saying the police used material from a chat-room session as evidence against Mr. Li. A trial date has yet to be announced.

Police in Sichuan have said they have no information on the case. Human rights advocates say police briefly detained Mr. Li and his wife last month and seized their personal computer.

Liu Qing in New York is the president of Human Rights in China. He spoke about the Li case on Wednesday. He says the case shows how tightly the Chinese government controls the Internet, even chat-room conversations which, Mr. Liu says, are supposed to be as private as a personal diary.

China's Public Information Network Security Bureau maintains a large surveillance apparatus that monitors Internet chat-rooms and cracks down on those whose messages are deemed subversive.

The Web sites of major foreign news organizations are routinely blocked.

News of Li Zhi's arrest came a few days after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized China for not doing enough to improve its human rights record. While not responding directly to Mr. Powell's criticism, China's government on Tuesday said it is working to protect basic individual rights.

The Human Rights in China group says it plans to report the Li Zhi case to U.S. authorities and the United Nations.

Rights advocates say they hope the United States and U.N. agencies will continue to pressure China to respect individuals' privacy and the right to free expression.