China: Wave of legal action leaves writers and activists behind bars

New York, October 17, 2006—A court in northern China’s Hebei province today sentenced Guo Qizhen to four years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion” for writing essays on U.S.-based Web sites that criticized the Communist Party leadership. Guo is one of a number of critics and human rights activists to be jailed recently.

“More than 100 million Chinese are online expressing their opinions about almost every topic. It is absurd that in this environment criticism of the government remains a criminal offense,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “The Chinese government’s practices, which adversely affect media across national borders, are a violation of international press freedom guarantees.”

Guo, who was previously jailed for his activism, was detained on May 12 as he prepared to join a rolling hunger strike organized by the lawyer Gao Zhisheng, now also jailed, in protest of government actions against activists, journalists, and dissidents. But the charges brought against him were strictly related to his prolific writing for U.S.-based Chinese-language Web sites Minzhu Luntan (Democracy Forum) and Epoch Times, which is affiliated with the banned Falun Gong movement. Both sites are blocked in China.

In its opinion presented to the prosecutor on June 16, the Cangzhou Public Security Bureau cited several online essays as proof of Guo’s crimes, including one titled “Letting some of the people first get rich while others cannot make a living,” in which he accused the Communist Party government of using its policies to support an “autocratic” and “despotic” regime. Guo was critical of corruption and widespread poverty in the country.

Guo was tried in Cangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on September 12. Today, the court told his lawyer, Li Jianqiang, that Guo had been convicted of the charges against him, and would receive a sentence of four years, plus an additional two years’ deprivation of political rights, according to international news reports. Guo intends to appeal.

“We believe the court did not give a just verdict,” Li told Agence France-Presse. “We believe Guo Qizhen’s criticism of the government was within his rights under the constitution.” The Chinese constitution recognizes the right to criticize the government, a guarantee that is qualified by a host of criminal laws and administrative measures.

Guo, 49, is married with a16-year-old son.

In a separate case, authorities notified the wife of writer and prominent China Democracy Party member Chen Shuqing, detained in Hangzhou on September 14, that he was formally arrested on the same charges for articles he posted online, according to Boxun. In addition, writer Zhang Jianhong, who uses the pen name Li Hong, was formally arrested on charges of “inciting subversion” on October 12, and activist Yang Maodong (known as Guo Feixiong) remains jailed on charges of economic crimes related to his independent publishing, according to the Independent Chinese PEN Center.