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Thursday, Jun 26, 2014

Asia

Paid holidays for Chinese dissidents - with minders

AFP | Thursday, Jun 26, 2014

This photo taken on June 23, 2014, shows activist Xu Xiangyu in her Beijing apartment, with a photo of herself posing in front of the Buddha statue at the Nanshan Temple on China's southern Hainan island, during a forced vacation in March 2011.

BEIJING - As top Communist leaders gathered in Beijing, veteran Chinese political activist He Depu was obliged to leave town - for an all-expenses-paid holiday to the tropical island of Hainan, complete with police escorts.

It is an unusual method of muzzling dissent, but He is one of dozens of campaigners who rights groups say have been forced on vacation - sometimes featuring luxurious hotels beside sun-drenched beaches, trips to tourist sites and lavish dinners - courtesy of the authorities.

It happens so often that dissidents have coined a phrase for it: "being travelled".

He, 57, had not been charged with any crime, but officers took him 2,300 kilometres (1,400 miles) to Hainan for 10 days to ensure he was not in the capital for this year's annual meeting of China's legislature, he said.

Two policemen accompanied him, his wife and another dissident for dips in the ocean and visits to a large Buddha statue, he said.

"We had a pretty good time, because a decent amount of money was spent on the trip, the local government paid for everything." Altogether eight activists told AFP they had been forced on holiday in recent years.

"Every time there is an important national event I'm taken on vacation," said Xu Xiangyu, who has long campaigned against officials she accuses of demolishing her house without any compensation.

In 2011 police and court staff announced they and her family were going on a trip to Hainan - a place of internal exile for criminals, disgraced officials and renegade poets as early as the Tang dynasty of 618-907.

She rifled through holiday snaps showing her posing at a seaside park, and with her chaperones around a table heaped with empty plates.

"The hotel was luxurious, and we ate excellent food, they paid for everything," she said of her guides. "We would spend up to 1,000 yuan (S$200) on a single meal.

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