Heat on Carr over Australian detained in China

Pressure is mounting on Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr to take an open and forthright approach to legal abuses in China, after revelations that another successful Chinese Australian entrepreneur has been quietly languishing in jail.

Jerome Cohen, recognised as the world's foremost expert on protecting the rights of detainees in China, said the government may discourage public scrutiny in these cases to prevent allegations about its own shortcomings - even though media exposure generally helps detainees.

"Governments, as you know, fear publicity, which often brings criticism for alleged ineptitude and ineffectiveness," said Professor Cohen, who advised blind activist Chen Guangcheng in securing his escape to the United States in May.

Fairfax Media reported Saturday that Du Zuying, an Australian cardiac surgeon whose lawyers and family say has been stripped of a two-thirds share of a $300 million business, had spent nearly two years in jail without public knowledge.

Dr Du had requested on October 27 last year that media be notified and his case file be made public in order to place scrutiny on Chinese officials who have allegedly taken bribes to keep him in jail.

But Australian consular officials urged his family to be "extremely cautious" in approaching the media and issued media "guidelines" that outline risks but no benefits.

Yesterday Dr Du's son, Tommy, urged Senator Carr to raise his father's case with senior Chinese officials, after Senator Carr rejected a similar request in March.

Next month Senator Carr will get an opportunity with Politburo member Liu Yandong planning a visit to Australia, according to Chinese officials.

On Friday, after Fairfax inquiries, Australia's ambassador to Beijing Frances Adamson for the first time wrote to a senior Chinese official to press the jailed doctor's case.

The opposition spokeswoman for foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, who leads a Coalition delegation to China this weekend, said she wanted a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs and an explanation from Senator Carr of his lack of personal interest.

"They can explain why they have discouraged Dr Du from raising his predicament with the media when Senator Carr has gone out of his way to publicise his role in the predicament of other Australians in trouble overseas," she said.

John Kamm, who has been negotiating and advocating for the rights of political prisoners in China for 20 years, said officials inside the Chinese system often privately acknowledge the protection that media exposure brings.

"Your readers might be surprised to know that sympathetic guards often suggest to the prisoner that the media be alerted to his/her plight," said Mr Kamm, who runs the Dui Hua organisation. He said Chinese-born foreign nationals are "obviously" more vulnerable than other foreign passport holders in China.

The number of ethnic Chinese Australians falling foul of China's often-murky legal system is rising with economic interdependency between the two nations.

Figures provided to Fairfax Media this week show 38 Australian citizens have been in Chinese jails this year on offences ranging from fraud to murder.

That figure is more than double the 18 citizens in 2007.

Professor Cohen says prisoners in China know that public scrutiny encourages officials to stick more closely to the rules.

"I have never met a released detainee who opposed publicity," he said.

"Occasionally it makes life tougher for a detainee, but much more often it adds to the pressure for release and at least helps secure prosecution for a lesser offence and punishment and/or better treatment in prison.

"It can sometimes prevent torture or limit its use," he said.

Tommy Du said he chose to "expose this outrageous and illegal detainment" of his of his father in part to warn others and "pressure the Chinese authorities to follow the laws of their land".

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