Chinese court upholds prison term for Internet writer

New York, December 28, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Thursday’s court decision upholding the conviction of Internet writer Zheng Yichun on charges of “inciting subversion” for his articles criticizing the government. The Liaoning Supreme People’s Court rejected Zheng’s appeal, making it more likely that he will serve a prison term of seven years.

“Zheng has done nothing more than peacefully express his opinions online, an activity protected by the Chinese Constitution and international law,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “This writer does not deserve to be imprisoned, and we call for his immediate release.”

Zheng’s appellate lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who was recently stripped of his law license after defending journalists and other controversial clients, was not present at the hearing, the writer’s brother Zheng Xiaochun told CPJ.

Authorities detained Zheng on December 3, 2004 after he wrote articles criticizing the Communist Party and China’s political leaders in online publications that included the banned U.S.-based Chinese-language dissident news Web site Dajiyuan (Epoch Times). Negative commentary on the one-party system or national leaders is forbidden in the state-sanctioned print and broadcast news media.

Zheng was tried in the northeastern port city of Yingkou on July 21, and the Yingkou Intermediate People’s Court convicted and sentenced him on September 20. Along with the prison term, he was sentenced to three years of deprivation of political rights.

Zheng suffers from diabetes and has not received adequate treatment while in custody, his brother told CPJ. He has also been beaten by other prisoners in the detention center, his brother said. Within two weeks, Zheng will be moved from a detention center in his hometown of Yingkou to a distant prison in Liaoning province, making family visits difficult, according to his brother.

Details of Zheng’s imprisonment have been widely reported all over the world, although China’s Minister of Culture Sun Jiazheng tried to cast doubt on the nature of the case in an October interview with U.S. journalist Charlie Rose. “Is that real? Is that really true?” Sun said. “There’s no such crime as political crime in China. … You know, there are different sources of news. One can hardly identify which is true and which is false.”

China was the world’s leading jailer of journalists in 2005 for the seventh consecutive year, according to CPJ’s annual census. Fifteen of the 32 journalists imprisoned on December 1 were Internet writers, most of whom were jailed under national security legislation for criticizing the government or under China’s broad “state secrets” laws.