China: Jailed software entrepreneur was secretly freed last September

New York, March 6, 2000 — CPJ has confirmed the early release of Lin Hai, the Shanghai software entrepreneur who was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on subversion charges in January 1999, for providing 30,000 e-mail addresses to VIP Reference, a pro-democracy online magazine. Lin was quietly released on September 23, 1999, six months ahead of schedule, with credit for time served prior to sentencing.

Lin apparently provided the e-mail addresses to VIP Reference in the hope that he could eventually exchange e-mail addresses with the magazine to build up his own Internet business. VIP Reference used the addresses to expand its distribution of articles on human rights and democracy within mainland China.

Chinese police arrested Lin on March 25, 1998. He was tried in secret on December 4, 1998, by the Shanghai Number One Intermediate People’s Court. His wife, Xu Hong, told reporters that on the day of the trial, police seized her from a restaurant and detained her for six hours at a local police station near the courthouse to prevent her from attending the hearing or speaking to foreign correspondents.

The Shanghai Higher People’s Court rejected Lin’s appeal on March 22, 1999, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China.

According to CPJ’s sources, Lin avoided publicizing news of his early release, which was first reported in the State Department’s annual survey of human rights practices around the world, released on February 25, 2000. In recent interviews with the Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse, Lin appeared hesitant to discuss the circumstances of his release.

The AP reported that Lin has reopened a Web site that he launched before being imprisoned, and is planning more Internet business ventures.

China further tightened its restrictions on the Internet at the end of January, when the State Secrecy Bureau promulgated a set of regulations restricting the posting of ill-defined “state secrets.” The directives also prohibit the transmission of news that has not been officially sanctioned by the state, requiring people who “provide or distribute information via Internet connections [to] get secrecy examination and approval,” according to the official Xinhua news agency.

At least six people were imprisoned in 1999 for exchanging news and information over the Internet:

  • Wu Yilong, Mao Qingxiang, Zhu Yufu, and Xu Guang were reportedly detained around June 4, 1999 (the 10th anniversary of the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in and around Tiananmen Square), and later convicted on subversion charges for editing an underground pro-democracy magazine and circulating anti-establishment articles and essays over the Internet.
  • Qi Yanchen, an economist and frequent contributor to various intellectual journals, was arrested on September 2, 1999, after he posted excerpts of his unpublished book The Collapse of China online. On December 22, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China reported that Qi had been indicted on subversion charges arising from his Internet publications.
  • Zhang Ji, a university student who had allegedly been distributing news and information about the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, was charged in November 1999 with “disseminating reactionary documents via the Internet,” according to the Information Center.