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Sunday, February 1, 1998 Published at 12:31 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Four poets arrested in China, say monitors
image: [ Human rights watchers say authorities have given no reason for the arrests ]
Human rights watchers say authorities have given no reason for the arrests

Authorities in the south-western Guizhou province have arrested four Chinese poets known for their liberal views, a human rights group has claimed.

Wu Ruohai, Xiong Jinren, Ma Zhe and Ma Qiang were arrested on Monday and have been detained with no official notification of the reason for their arrests, the Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China reported.

One of the four, Ma Zhe, spent three years in prison for participating in student demonstrations in 1986, the Hong Kong-based group said in a statement, citing anonymous sources.

[ image: China has still to ratify United Nations conventions]
China has still to ratify United Nations conventions
According to the campaigners, the four had formed a literature "salon" for poetry reading sessions and were planning an independent journal to promote a Chinese literary "renaissance".

The police had carried out searches and confiscated writings as a result of the arrests, the report said. But officials in China have not confirmed the arrests.

The authorities in China have eased restricitons on art and expression in recent years but all publications must still be registered with the government.

Veteran dissident speaks out

Meanwhile, in an open letter to the National People's Congress, veteran dissident Xu Wenli urged the legislature to ratify United Nations conventions on civil liberties, including the right to form trade unions.

[ image: Xu Wenli: call for more civil liberties]
Xu Wenli: call for more civil liberties
Xu, who spent 12 years in prison for his involvement in the 1979-81 Democracy Wall movement, said: "The government should give workers a legal alternative to marching in the streets to resolve their troubles.

"The important thing is to find a peaceful way to maintain economic and political stability."

China signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights last October, but the National People's Congress has yet to ratify it.

China's constitution guarantees freedom of speech, assembly, religion and other civil liberties, but the government maintains that the rights of its 1.2 billion people to economic security supersede other liberties.

Under Chinese law, police can detain people without charge and may send detainees to labour camps for up to three years without trial.

American 'interference' criticised

In a separate development on Sunday, China responded to a US Government report criticising Beijing's human rights record, saying it was only an excuse to meddle in its internal affairs.

The US State Department said last week in its annual human rights report that China still abused fundamental freedoms of its people despite progress on some fronts.

But the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao saying that Washington had "made irresponsible remarks about China's human rights situation, wilfully distorted the truth and made unwarranted charges."

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