In China, writer sentenced to six years in prison for critical articles

New York, March 20, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is appalled that freelance writer and former Web site editor Zhang Jianhong was sentenced Monday to six years in prison by a court in Ningbo, in the eastern province of Zhejiang.

Zhang was arrested in September 2006 and charged the following month with “incitement to subvert the state’s authority” for calling for political reform in articles posted online. He founded the literary Web site Aiqinghai in August 2005 and was its editor until authorities shut it down in March 2006 for illegally publishing news.

“It is outrageous that China continues to jail its own citizens for their critical reporting and commentary, even as it gears up to host the Olympic Games in 2008,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call for this sentence to be overturned and for Zhang Jianhong to be released immediately.”

Zhang, who wrote for overseas Chinese-language Web sites under the pen name Li Hong, was accused of writing 60 articles that “slandered the government and China’s social system to vent his discontent with the government,” according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court convicted the journalist on Monday of “inciting subversion of state authority,” a crime that usually results in sentences no longer than five years. His six-year term is to be followed by one year’s deprivation of political rights. Zhang’s lawyer Li Jianqiang told reporters today that he believed Zhang’s severe sentence was retribution for a U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report, which mentioned his case, and that he is appealing the sentence.

The journalist had written commentary calling for political reform in China and had reported on allegations that the Chinese government illegally procured organs from living prisoners. Zhang’s final article prior to his September 2006 detention decried human rights abuses by the Chinese government and called Beijing’s hosting of the Olympic Games in 2008 a scandal.