Four Internet writers sentenced to lengthy prison terms

New York, May 28, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns today’s sentencing of Internet journalists Xu Wei, Jin Haike, Yang Zili, and Zhang Honghai.

This morning, the Beijing Intermediate Court sentenced Xu Wei and Jin Haike to ten years in prison on subversion charges, according to the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights in China. Yang Zili and Zhang Honghai were sentenced to eight years on similar charges.

“It is ridiculous that the Chinese government considers the peaceful expression of one’s views a subversive act,” said CPJ’s executive director Ann Cooper. “These four young writers have already wasted more than two years of their lives detained in legal limbo. They should be released immediately.”

Xu, a reporter for the Consumer Daily; Jin, a geologist and writer; Yang, a writer and Web site publisher; and Zhang, a free-lance writer, were imprisoned on March 13, 2001, and later charged with subversion. On September 28, 2001, the Beijing Intermediate Court initiated trial proceedings against the four, though no verdict was announced at the time. In April 2003, the court recommenced proceedings and only announced a verdict today.

The four writers, all recent college graduates, were participants in the “Xin Qingnian Xuehui” (New Youth Study Group) and met regularly to discuss topics of economic reform, social inequalities, and rural issues. They used the Internet to write and circulate relevant articles. During the trial in September 2001, prosecutors focused predominately on the group’s writings, including two essays circulated online titled, “What’s to be Done?” and “Be a new citizen, reform China.” These articles were cited as evidence of the group’s intention “to overthrow the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership and the socialist system and subvert the regime of the people’s democratic dictatorship,” according to indictment papers filed against the four.

According to the Criminal Procedure Law, a court must pronounce a judgment within “one month or one and a half months at the latest” of accepting a case. However, in this instance, the court waited 20 months after the initiation of the trial to sentence Xu, Jin, Yang and Zhang.

Thirty-eight journalists are currently imprisoned in China, 15 of whom were arrested for publishing or distributing information online.