China arrests teacher who spoke out over quake-school deaths

A retired Chinese teacher who criticised building standards of schools that collapsed in last month’s earthquake has been arrested.

Police held Zeng Hongling in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, on charges of “inciting state subversion,” the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said today.

Zeng wrote three articles for an overseas website that criticised the shoddy construction of many schools that collapsed during the devastating 7.9-magnitude quake centred in Sichuan, killing hundreds of children.

The articles titled “My personal experience in the earthquake” appeared on www.ObserveChina.com, a Chinese-language website hosted in the United States. One was titled, “Earthquake relief efforts fully reveal the true face of Party officials,” which questions the role of Sichuan officials in relief efforts.

School collapses have become one of the most controversial issues in the earthquake aftermath, and one that local communist leaders seem anxious to suppress.

State-controlled media have largely ignored the issue, apparently under instructions from propaganda officials. Parents and volunteers who have questioned authorities have been detained and threatened.

Zeng, 56, used to teach at the Southwest University of Science and Technology in Mianyang. She was being held in the city after being detained on June 9 in Chengdu, the centre said.

Zeng’s apparent detention comes after Chinese dissident Huang Qi, who ran a human rights website and wrote about parents who had lost their children in the quake, was held in Chengdu last week on charges of allegedly possessing state secrets.

Meanwhile, a Red Cross official said heavy summer rain could hinder aid delivery to victims of the earthquake. Summer is the peak of China’s rainy season and severe floods in the country’s south-east this week have already killed dozens of people.

Medium to heavy rain was forecast in the next few days for areas in Sichuan, the province hit hardest by the May 12 quake, which killed almost 70,000 people and left five million homeless.

Hundreds of tent communities have sprung up everywhere – from fields to city pavements – as earthquake victims try to create a semblance of normal life. Many complain of the summer heat and cramped conditions as several families squeeze into tiny spaces.

China’s Health Minister Chen Zhu also said fighting epidemics remained a struggle in the disaster-hit areas and urged greater vigilance.

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