CPJ condemns use of broad ‘antistate’ charges

New York, March 24, 2005—
The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged at the Chinese government’s repeated prosecution of Internet essayists on “antistate” charges. Political essayist Zhang Lin was formally arrested on suspicion of inciting subversion for his online writings, his wife told CPJ this week. Chinese state media also reported recently that Internet journalist Zheng Yichun has been in prison since December on similar allegations.

“We condemn the imprisonment of our colleagues,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “By jailing people for their writing, the Chinese government continues to flout international law and inhibit the fundamental right of journalists to voice criticism of their own government.”

China is the world’s leading jailer of journalists with more than 40 imprisoned at the end of 2004, according to CPJ’s annual analysis. More than three-quarters were being held on broad “antistate” charges.

Zhang Lin, who wrote regularly for overseas online news sites, was imprisoned on January 29. He was detained on his return to Anhui Province after traveling to Beijing to mourn the death of Zhao Ziyang, the former general secretary of the Communist Party who was under house arrest in Beijing from 1989 until he died.

Scheduled for release after 15 days of administrative detention, Zhang was instead put in “criminal detention” on suspicion of “endangering state security.” The allegations were linked to essays by Zhang that called for political reform and democracy in China. On March 19, Zhang’s wife Fang Caofang received notice that he had been formally arrested on allegations of inciting subversion.

Authorities have not specified the articles that led to Zhang’s arrest, his wife told CPJ. She has been unable to visit him since he was arrested, and Zhang has not yet seen a defense lawyer. Guo Guoting, who had planned on acting as his defense lawyer, was barred from visiting Zhang last month. In February, authorities in Shanghai suspended Guo’s license to practice law for a year, leaving Zhang without legal counsel.

Zhang is also a political activist who has spent eight years in prison and labor camp since 1989, according to Boxun News, a U.S.-based Chinese-language on-line newspaper to which Zhang was a regular contributor. He is currently detained at Bengbu Number One Detention Center, Fang told CPJ.

State media also recently reported the imprisonment since December of Zheng Yichun, a prolific Internet writer and poet. Yingkou Ribao (Yingkou Daily News) reported on February 24 that authorities in Yingkou, in Liaoning Province, had officially arrested Zheng on suspicion of inciting subversion. Zheng’s family was warned not to publicize his arrest, and was silent before state news reported it.

Zheng is a regular contributor to overseas online news sites including Dajiyuan (Epoch Times), which is connected to the Falun Gong spiritual movement. He was imprisoned in Yingkou on December 3.

Zheng has been harshly critical of the Communist Party. In one of his most recent essays on November 25, he blasted the limited news coverage available to Chinese citizens through the party-run broadcast and print media.

Despite the explosion of new magazines and newspapers in China, the media remains tied to government agencies and subject to directives issued by the Central Propaganda Bureau. Overt criticism of the Communist Party is forbidden, and heavily monitored and frequently blocked Internet sites remain the only avenue for writers to express dissent.

The chat room at Tsinghua University, Shuimu Tsinghua, was recently closed to non-students in accordance with new restrictions on Web sites issued by the Ministry of Information Industry.