Activist sentenced to 11 years for downloading articles from Internet

New York, August 6, 2002
—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the recent 11-year sentence handed down to activist Li Dawei for downloading and printing materials from the Internet. This is the longest sentence CPJ has documented for Internet-related activities in China.

On July 24, 2002, the Intermediate Court in Tianshui City, Gansu Province, sentenced Li for “subverting state power,” according to CPJ sources in China and international news reports. Li’s lawyer, Dou Peixin, is appealing the sentence.

Police in Tianshui City originally detained Li on April 14, 2001. He was formally arrested on April 22 and was tried sometime in May that same year.

The charges against Li came after he had downloaded about 500 articles from various overseas Internet sites, printed them out, and compiled them into about 10 unpublished volumes. Authorities accused Li of downloading “reactionary” materials, according to the Hong Kong­based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy. The exact content of the downloaded articles is not known.

Authorities also accused Li of using e-mail and other means to contact overseas “reactionary” organizations.

Li, a former police officer, has been targeted several times in the past for his pro-democracy activities. In May 2000, authorities accused him of “endangering national security” after confiscating an open letter he had written to government leaders.

Li’s family last saw him during his court hearing in May 2001. They have not been permitted to visit him in prison.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed, both guarantee the right to freely “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers.”

“Li Dawei’s sentence shows the Chinese government’s blatant disregard for international law,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Unfortunately, authorities have sent an ominous warning to all citizens that accessing independent information over the Internet will not be tolerated.”

Li’s sentencing comes amid an escalating crackdown on the Internet in China. On August 1, the government enacted more stringent regulations requiring all China-based Internet sites to censor their content or risk closure. [See CPJ’s news alert of July 15, 2002]

Thirteen individuals are currently in prison in China for publishing or distributing information online, according to CPJ research. Five of the 13—Huang Qi, Yang Zili, Xu Wei, Zhang Honghai, and Jin Haike—are still awaiting verdicts after being tried last year on subversion charges for online publishing. Huang was tried in August 2001, and the other four were tried in September.