Internet writer tried on anti-state charges

New York, April 26, 2005 – The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for the immediate release of Zheng Yichun, who was tried today in Yingkou Intermediate Court on charges of inciting subversion. Zheng, a prolific Internet writer and poet, has been imprisoned since December 3 after writing articles critical of the Communist Party and Chinese government policy.

Zheng’s trial lasted less than three hours and was attended by high-level authorities of northeast China’s Liaoning Province, his brother Zheng Xiaochun told CPJ. Prosecutors cited 63 articles written by the journalist, and listed the titles of several essays in which he called for political reform, increased capitalism in China, and an end to the practice of imprisoning writers.

Zheng Yichun’s defense lawyer Li Mingchang entered a guilty plea but argued that his client’s writings are protected under Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press. Li said that this constitutional protection should outweigh charges of subversion brought under Article 105 of Chinese criminal law. He asked the court to consider the light sentence given last summer to Du Daobin, another Internet journalist who was charged with inciting subversion.

“I am an independent intellectual and my freedom is protected under the Chinese constitution,” Zheng Yichun told the court, according to his brother. “If I committed a crime, I was not conscious of it. … I am a patriot. … I hope that the government will give me a chance.”

No media attended today’s trial, and it is unclear when a verdict will be reached. Judges in China are usually Party members who answer to their superiors within the government, according to legal analysts.

Members of Zheng Yichun’s family, who have been barred from visiting him since his imprisonment, attended the trial and were alarmed at a visible decline in the writer’s health. Zeng Yichun, 48, suffers from diabetes. “Today when we saw him, he had become very skinny,” the writer’s brother told CPJ.

Zheng was a regular contributor to overseas online news Web sites that are blocked in China. With more than 40 journalists imprisoned at the end of 2004, China was the leading jailer of journalists for the sixth consecutive year.

“Zheng has done nothing more than peacefully express his opinion, a right that is guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution and international law,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We are outraged at his unjust imprisonment, and call for his immediate and unconditional release.”