In China, a jailed Internet writer is mistreated, denied access to family

New York, August 31, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by reports that imprisoned writer and activist Guo Qizhen has been mistreated in custody, may not be receiving adequate medical attention, and has been denied access to his family.

In an interview with CPJ, Guo’s wife, Zhao Changqing, said that she has been barred from visiting her husband since June 18, when she saw his body covered with bruises from beatings sustained while in custody. Guo is being held at Prison No. 4 in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province.

This was the second time that Guo has been mistreated in custody, she said. His right leg was fractured, she said, when he was first taken into custody on May 12, 2006. Zhao said that Guo did not receive proper treatment for his injuries in either case, and that he also suffers from high blood pressure, chest pains, migraines, and mental stress.  

“China may want the world to focus on the Olympic Games in the coming year but as long as it continues to hold dozens of journalists behind bars it cannot avoid critical international scrutiny,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Reports that imprisoned online writer Guo Qizhen has been mistreated are disturbing. We hold the authorities responsible for his safety and wellbeing. He should be allowed adequate medical treatment and family visits immediately.”

In “Falling Short,” a special report issued this month, CPJ outlined China’s failure to meet promises to improve press freedom in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. China now imprisons 29 journalists, at least 19 of whom are Internet writers and editors.

Guo was prosecuted on charges related to his prolific writing for U.S.-based Chinese-language Web sites Minzhu Luntan (Democracy  Forum) and Epoch Times. On October 16, the Cangzhou Intermediate People’s Court sentenced him to four years in prison, with an additional two years’ deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state authority.”

In its opinion presented to the prosecutor on June 16, 2006, the Cangzhou Public Security Bureau cited several online essays as proof of Guo’s “crimes.” One of the cited essays, titled “Letting some of the people first get rich while others cannot make a living,” 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. He was initially detained in May 2006 as he prepared to join a rolling hunger strike organized by human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who was himself later arrested and sentenced to three years in prison.

Guo’s former lawyer, the prominent press freedom advocate Li Jianqiang, had argued that his client’s criticism of the Communist Party was protected by the Chinese constitution. Li has since suffered reprisals for his defense of civil and political rights. In June 2007, the Shandong Judicial Affairs bureau rejected Li’s application to renew his legal license, according to local and international news reports.

Zhang told CPJ that she is having difficulty finding a new lawyer.