A campaigner who highlighted heavy pollution in Lake Tai, China, has been arrested and detained by the Chinese government. The New York Times has a fascinating feature on how politics comes into play in environmental issues in China, occasionally ending in a sad situation like this.
The article claims that, while the central government of China is talking of green action, local governments are under heavy pressure to sustain fast economic growth, and have a wide range of powers to do so. "They have little enthusiasm for environmentalists who appeal over their heads to higher-ups in the capital," says the piece.
Lake Tei has been subjected to a flood of waste from industrial and agricultural sources in recent years, and now toxic cyanobacteria has engulfed it.
According to the article, locals have had to stop drinking and cooking with the water. Amazingly, that group numbers some 2 million people.
Campaigner, Wu Lihong, had been battling for clean water for more than a decade when he was arrested. He claims that chemical factories in the area are the source of the problem. He has been sentenced to a three year prison term, on charges that "smacked of official retribution".
During the course of his campaign both he and his wife lost their jobs, and local chemical factories tried to bring him on the payroll with lucrative offers. Eventually, party officials offered him a pollution cleanup contract, with a healthy deal.
Apparently this sort of work saw some success, but also made him several enemies. One day he saw a banner erected, saying, "Warmly welcome the police to arrest Wu Lihong for committing blackmail in the name of environmentalism." He thought it must have been a scare tactic from a factory owner, but when he went to the police station to complain, he was arrested. The police had in fact raised the banner.