CPJ condemns arrest of Internet essayistDetention is part of continuing crackdown on online speech

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the recent arrest of Internet essayist Du Daobin and is gravely concerned that his arrest could mark an escalation in the continuing crackdown on online speech in China.

At about 4:00 p.m. on October 28, Du Daobin was arrested and brought to the public security bureau in Xiaogan District, Yingcheng, Hubei Province, according to writer Liu Xiaobo, who first published news of Du’s arrest online. Later that day, police came to Du’s house and confiscated his computer, books, and copies of his writings. When Du’s wife, Huang Chunrong, asked police why he had been arrested, the officer responded, “We have spoken to Du Daobin several times, but he did not listen. He has already crossed the line.” According to Liu, the officer also warned Huang against telling foreign journalists about the arrest. Huang has not been allowed to visit or communicate with Du in detention.

Before his arrest, Du had been a prolific writer who distributed his essays online. Many of his essays offered commentary about official policies or social issues in China. In one essay, titled “Media Discipline is Greater than the Constitution,” Du argued that the Propaganda Bureau’s stringent regulation of the media is unconstitutional. He called on Chinese citizens, especially journalists, to “exercise our innate right to disobey arbitrary power, to actively support all suppressed media, to reject the voices of the Party’s ‘mouthpieces,’ and to fight against the tyranny of the Propaganda Bureau.” His writing was published on several Chinese-language news sites, including Dajiyuan (Epoch Times, www.dajiyuan.com) and Minzhu Luntan (Democracy Forum, www.asiademo.org), both of which are based outside China.

Du was deeply affected by the arrest of fellow Internet journalist Liu Di, a 23-year-old college student, who was arrested in Beijing on November 7, 2002, and has been held incommunicado since. She had been an active contributor to several online forums, and frequently wrote articles that were critical of the Chinese government. She also expressed support for imprisoned Web master Huang Qi, and called for freedom of expression.

After Liu Di’s arrest, Du had actively called for her release and recently co-organized an online campaign to show solidarity by taking a series of actions, including spending one day in a darkened room to symbolically “accompany Liu Di in prison.” He also wrote a number of essays supporting Liu Di and calling on authorities to release her.

On October 31, the Prosecutor’s Office in Beijing returned the case against Liu Di to police investigators because of insufficient evidence, saying that further investigation was needed to prosecute her. CPJ is disturbed that due process has been completely ignored in the processing of Liu Di’s case. Her prolonged detention without trial or release is a direct violation of China’s Criminal Procedure Law. By refusing to allow her family to visit or communicate with her in prison, Chinese authorities have violated the Prison Law.

Du is one of 17 people currently imprisoned in China for writing or distributing information online. With 39 journalists now in prison, China is the world’s leading jailer of journalists. The Beijing Supreme People’s Court today heard the appeal of lawyers for four Internet writersYang Zili, Xu Wei, Jin Haike, and Zhang Honghai, according to international news reports. In the appeal, the defense noted that three key witnesses who testified for the prosecution against the four men have since retracted their original testimony. The outcome of the hearing has not been announced.

Yang, Xu, Jin and Zhang were arrested in March 2001, and later charged with subversion. On May 28, 2003, the Beijing Intermediate Court sentenced Xu and Jin to 10 years in prison, while Yang and Zhang were sentenced to eight years.

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 original trial, prosecutors cited the group’s writings as evidence of their intention to “overthrow the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership and socialist system and subvert the regime of the people’s democratic dictatorship.”

As an independent, nonpartisan organization of journalists, CPJ condemns your government’s draconian effort to silence any speech that is critical of government policy. Your Excellency has vowed to promote the rule of law in China, yet the arrests of Du Daobin, Liu Di, Yang Zili, Xu Wei, Jin Haike, and Zhang Honghai demonstrate that your administration is still willing to manipulate the law for political purposes.

CPJ is also concerned that the Chinese government’s ongoing persecution of Internet writers has not abated. Your Excellency should welcome the rapid spread of the Internet in China, as it allows citizens a forum to peacefully discuss and debate topics that are crucial to the success of China’s reform process. By cracking down on free speech online, your government is denying Chinese citizens the right to participate in a necessary dialogue about the future of their country.

Du Daobin, Liu Di, Yang Zili, Xu Wei, Jin Haike, and Zhang Honghai should all be released immediately and unconditionally.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director