Internet journalist tried on subversion charges 

New York, June 21, 2005—Freelance Internet journalist and dissident Zhang Lin pleaded not guilty to charges of inciting subversion of state authority at his trial today at the Intermediate People’s Court of Bengbu in central China’s Anhui Province.

Today’s trial concluded within five hours, defense lawyer Mo Shaoping told the Committee to Protect Journalists. The court did not announce when a verdict would be delivered, but it may take two to four weeks, Mo said.

Accusations against Zhang were based on his writings for the Internet and interviews he gave for overseas radio broadcasts, according to a May 23 indictment obtained by the New York-based group, Human Rights in China (HRIC).

“The accused, Zhang Lin, used the Internet, overseas radio transmissions, and other such media to openly disseminate language that misrepresents and denigrates the national authorities and the socialist system, and which incites subversion of state power and the overthrow of the socialist system under Article 105 of China’s criminal law,” the indictment charges. Convictions on this charge typically result in prison terms of several years.

Among the articles cited by the prosecution was an essay in which Zhang quoted these lyrics by the Chinese punk band Pangu: “The Yellow River should run dry, this society should collapse, this system should be destroyed, this race should become extinct, this country should perish.”

The defense argued that the six articles and one interview cited by the prosecution were protected free expression, according to Agence France-Presse. The Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the press.

Zhang’s prolific writings were posted on several Chinese-language news sites based overseas and banned in China, including Boxun News and Epoch Times. His essays often criticized the Chinese government and called for political reform.

He is also a well-known dissident who has spent eight years in prison and labor camp since 1989, according to Boxun News.

Zhang was detained on January 29 in Bengbu on his return from Beijing. He had traveled there to mourn the death of Zhao Ziyang, the ousted former Communist Party leader who was under house arrest from 1989 until he died.

Zhang’s wife, sister and mother attended today’s trial. Family members noticed that Zhang lost a significant amount of weight while in custody, Mo told CPJ; HRIC reported that Zhang waged hunger strikes to protest his detention and physical abuse he has endured in prison. The lawyer himself had not met Zhang before this month; Zhang was denied access to a lawyer for more than four months following his detention.

He is currently being held at Bengbu Number One Detention Center.

“Criticism of the state should not be a crime,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call for the immediate and unconditional release of our colleague, who has been imprisoned for doing nothing more than exercising his fundamental right to express his opinion.”

Direct criticism of the central government is not tolerated in print or broadcast media. Journalists and other writers critical of the government have used the Internet as a means of distributing their work, but they must contend with China’s massive Internet firewall and surveillance system. Around half of the 42 journalists imprisoned in China at the end of 2004 had disseminated their work over the Internet, according to CPJ research.