CPJ condemns illegal detention of Internet publisher

February 28, 2003, New York—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the illegal detention of Internet publisher Huang Qi, who has been imprisoned for more than two and a half years without being convicted of any crime.

The Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, had originally scheduled the sentencing for today, February 28, according to Huang’s wife, Zeng Li. However, court officials told a friend of Huang’s family today that the sentencing had been delayed indefinitely, according to The Associated Press (AP). The AP reported that numerous calls made to the court went unanswered.

In 1998, Huang Qi and his wife launched the Tianwang Web site (www.6-4tianwang.com) from Chengdu as a forum for Internet users to post information about missing persons. Gradually, people began using the site to post articles about a variety of topics, including the June 4, 1989, military crackdown on peaceful demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, the independence movement in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and the banned spiritual group Falun Gong.

In December 1999, Huang published an investigative report about labor abuses committed against workers whom the Sichuan provincial government had sent abroad. While several domestic newspapers subsequently investigated and published stories on the case, authorities in Chengdu began threatening Huang and repeatedly interrogated him about his reporting, according to an open letter Huang wrote from prison in February 2001.

On June 3, 2000, public security officials came to Huang’s office and arrested him. In January 2001, he was charged with subversion. Huang’s trial was postponed several times throughout 2001 in an apparent effort to deflect international attention from China’s human rights practices during the country’s campaign to host the 2008 Olympic Games. (Two of the trial delays—on February 23 and June 27—coincided with important dates in Beijing’s Olympics bid.) Finally, on August 14, 2001, the Chengdu Intermediate Court held a closed trial, which was Huang’s last known court appearance.

Huang has been beaten in prison and has tried to commit suicide, according to his open letter. His wife and young son have not been allowed to visit or speak with him since his arrest. Huang’s supporters have posted news about his case on the Tianwang Web site, which is now hosted overseas.

“The Chinese government violated international law when it arrested Huang Qi for simply publishing independent news and opinion on his Web site,” said CPJ acting director Joel Simon. “The failure to guarantee even the most basic due process rights in this case should require Huang Qi’s immediate and unconditional release.”

Fifteen people are currently in prison in China for publishing or distributing information online, according to CPJ research.