China Detains Critic Of Schools Collapsed By Quake

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) -- A retired Chinese schoolteacher who criticized the construction of schools that collapsed in last month's powerful earthquake has been detained, a Hong Kong-based human rights organization said Wednesday.

Police detained Zeng Hongling in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, on charges of "inciting state subversion," according to the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

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

The series of articles titled "My personal experience in the earthquake" appeared on , a Chinese-language Web site 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 heated issues in the earthquake recovery process - and one that local communist leaders seem anxious to suppress.

State-controlled media have largely ignored the topic and 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, and was being held in the city after being detained on June 9 in Chengdu, the center said.

A man who answered the telephone at the Mianyang public security bureau said officials did not know about the case. He refused to give his name. Telephones rang unanswered at the university.

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

Meanwhile, a moderate earthquake jolted China's northwest on Wednesday, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. The magnitude-5.4 temblor struck the remote Qinghai province at 1:23 p.m. local time, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Also Wednesday, a Red Cross official warned that heavy summer rain could hinder the delivery of aid to quake victims. Summer is China's peak rainy season and severe floods in the country's southeast this week have already killed dozens of people.

Medium to heavy rain is 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 5 million homeless.

"The rain will not facilitate the distribution of assistance, and it will not facilitate the reconstruction phase either," said Carl Naucler, head of the East Asia delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Hundreds of tent communities have sprung up - from fields to city sidewalks - as quake victims try to regain a semblance of normal life. Many complain of the summer heat and cramped conditions as several families squeeze into a tiny space.

"When it rains heavily we have to keep throwing out pans of water because it leaks everywhere," said 58-year-old Yan Tianxiu, who lives in a tent made of plastic sheeting north of the hard-hit city of Shifang. The government has not given her a more permanent shelter, she said.

Some of the temporary shelters do not have adequate drainage and are situated in flat plains below mountains at risk of flooding, said Naucler, whose organization is focusing on providing tents, safe drinking water and medical support to the area.

"If we don't drain out the water, life will be even more miserable for these people living in tents," he said without giving more details.

China's Minister of Health said fighting health epidemics remains an uphill battle in the disaster-hit areas and urged greater vigilance, the China Daily newspaper said Wednesday.

The threat of infectious diseases increases as summer approaches, the newspaper quoted Chen as saying at a meeting of health officials Tuesday. He said, however, that there had been no outbreaks so far.

"Simply experiencing such a huge trauma weakens people's immune systems," Chen was quoted as saying. "For those in more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and children, the risk of infection is even greater."

He also said that reconstructing health care facilities damaged by the quake should be a priority and that medical workers from other areas of China will be sent to help out.

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