China rounding up dissidents ahead of leadership change

Foreign journalists are detained by Chinese policemen in a street leading to a designated demonstration site in Shanghai on March 6. Authorities in China have shown increasing nervousness about the Internet's power to mobilise ordinary citizens in the wak

BEIJING: China has arrested another dissident on subversion charges, the third in a deepening security crackdown , his family said on Wednesday, while a Chinese-Australian writer who had disappeared in China contacted friends and said he was sick.

 Chen Wei, 42, a dogged critic of China's one-party system who lives in the southwest province of Sichuan, was arrested on charges of "inciting subversion of state power" , his wife Wang Xiaoyan said. "I received the notice yesterday afternoon, but I haven't had any other news about him, haven't been allowed to see him," she said. She did not know the precise reasons for the charge.

 Chen's arrest adds to evidence that the ruling Communist Party is determined to snuff out any risks of challenges to its power as it approaches a leadership succession in late 2012, when President Hu Jintao retires.

 In recent days, two other dissidents from Sichuan, Ran Yunfei and Ding Mao, were arrested for "inciting subversion" , a charge used to punish critics of the Party. Last week, another dissident, Liu Xianbin, was jailed for 10 years on the same charge. Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize winner, is serving an 11-year prison term.

 Chen's formal arrest makes it more likely that he could eventually stand trial. China's Party-controlled courts rarely find in favour of defendants. Chen was detained over a month ago, when police rounded up dozens of dissidents in response to online calls for rallies inspired by anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Middle East.

 Meanwhile, a Chineseborn Australian writer, Yang Hengjun, who had been missing in China since Sunday, contacted friends who had feared he was detained in the crackdown. But it was unclear whether he was free in his movements.

 "He called me to say that he's been sick in hospital. It's impossible for me to say whether Yang was really in hospital," Wu Jiaxiang said. "But the fact that he can contact the outside world suggests his situation probably isn't as serious as other cases."

 Yang did not answer calls to his phone. Messages on China's most popular microblogging site, Weibo, also said Yang had called friends to say he was "in hospital" .

 China is Australia's biggest trade partner and if Yang does not reappear, the case could cloud a visit to Beijing next month by PM Gillard. Amnesty International earlier said it feared Yang could be another target of the security drive.

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