The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the five-year sentence recently handed down to Internet publisher Huang Qi. The court has long delayed the verdict, which comes nearly three years after Huang’s arrest, compounding a case of grave injustice.
Huang, publisher of the Tianwang Web site (www.6-4tianwang.com), was arrested on June 3, 2000, and later charged with subversion. On August 14, 2001, the Chengdu Intermediate Court in Sichuan Province held a closed trial after postponing the trial date several times. Huang was the first Internet publisher to be prosecuted in China for his work, according to CPJ’s records.
In 1998, Huang Qi, 40, and his wife, Zeng Li, launched the Tianwang Web site from Chengdu as a missing-persons search service. Gradually, people began posting articles about a variety of topics on public forums hosted by the site. In sentencing papers, prosecutors listed a number of articles posted on the site as evidence against Huang, including reports about the independence movement in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, the banned spiritual group Falun Gong, and the June 4, 1989, military crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in the capital, Beijing. One essay was titled, “June 4 was not an ‘Incident’ or a ‘Disturbance,’ It Was a Massacre.”
Huang’s family was not notified of the sentencing hearing and only learned of Huang’s conviction after Zeng Li called the court. On May 18, Huang Qi filed an appeal against his sentence, in which he pointed out that China’s constitution guarantees the right to freedoms of speech and of the press. According to the text of Huang’s appeal, which was posted on the Tianwang site, he maintained that he has not broken any law and wrote that, “History will in the end prove my innocence.”
CPJ believes that journalists should never be imprisoned for their work. Moreover, CPJ is extremely concerned that Huang has been denied his most basic due process rights. In violation of China’s Criminal Procedure Law, Huang was held for more than a year before being tried. Subsequently, the court waited almost two years after his trial to announce a sentence, although Chinese law stipulates that a verdict must be handed down within one month of a court accepting a case. Furthermore, Huang’s wife and young son have not been able to visit or communicate with Huang since his arrest, although the Prison Law mandates family visits. Fan Jun, Huang’s lawyer, told journalists after the sentencing that there were “definitely problems” with the legal process and that “the verdict was unjust.”
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ condemns the use of criminal charges against Huang Qi, who has done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to free expression. On March 18, 2003, in a speech to the National People’s Congress, Your Excellency declared that “upholding the rule of law” would be one of the governing principles of your new administration. However, Huang Qi’s arrest and conviction are clear examples of how both international and domestic legal standards are routinely violated in China. Thirty-nine journalists are currently imprisoned in China, making it the world’s largest jailer of journalists for the fourth year in a row.
CPJ calls for Huang Qi’s immediate and unconditional release. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We await your response.
Ann K. Cooper