New York, November 4, 2005–Journalist Shi Tao has been transferred to a high-security prison in Hunan Province that is commonly used to hold political prisoners and hard-core criminals serving lengthy sentences, according to new details emerging about his imprisonment. Shi, who is serving a 10-year sentence for distributing information online, may read only officially approved material, and he is forbidden from doing any significant writing, local sources told the Committee to Protect Journalists. He is forced to work cutting and polishing gems, they said.
Shi was transferred from Chishan Prison in the city of Yuanjiang sometime after a court rejected his appeal in June, although few details have been publicly released
The Committee to Protect Journalists will honor Shi on November 22 with its International Press Freedom Award for his courage in defending the ideals of a free press.
Details of Shi’s confinement come just days before China celebrates its sixth national Journalists’ Day on November 8. Under the administration of President Hu Jintao, a major crackdown on the media has taken effect. In September, the rights group Chinese Rights Defenders reported that Internet writer Li Jianping was officially charged with “inciting subversion” after being held since May on suspicion of defamation. In October, a court in Anhui Province rejected the appeal of Zhang Lin, who was sentenced in August to five years in prison for his online writings.
“On November 8, when China is officially celebrating its national Journalists’ Day, Shi Tao and dozens of other Chinese journalists will be spending another day in jail,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The best way for China to honor journalists would be to release Shi Tao and all of the writers and editors now imprisoned for their work.”
Officials from the Changsha security bureau detained Shi near his home in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, on November 24, 2004, several months after he e-mailed notes detailing the propaganda department’s instructions to the media about coverage of the anniversary of the crackdown at Tiananmen Square. Authorities confiscated his computer and other documents and warned his family to stay quiet about the matter.
On December 14, authorities issued a formal arrest order, charging Shi with “leaking state secrets.” On April 27, 2005, the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court found Shi guilty and sentenced him to a 10-year prison term.
On June 2, the Hunan Province High People’s Court rejected Shi’s appeal without giving the journalist a hearing. Gao Qinsheng, the journalist’s mother, has filed a request for review of the proceeding, alleging “serious procedural defects.”
A leaked copy of the verdict in Shi’s case revealed that the American Internet company Yahoo had provided Chinese authorities with e-mail account information used to imprison the journalist.
Despite the harsh conditions under which Shi is now held, Chishan Prison is an improvement from the detention center where authorities held Shi prior to the rejection of his appeal. Until recently, Shi was deprived of regular contact with his family.