China: Internet journalist sentenced to four years in prison

New York, July 1, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the four-year prison sentence handed down to Nanjing journalist Sun Lin, who was charged with possessing illegal weapons and assembling a disorderly crowd. Sun’s sentence was delivered on Thursday in a hearing closed to his lawyers and family, according to The Associated Press.  

In his trial, Sun and his lawyers argued that the charges brought against him were spurious and intended to restrict his ability to report on sensitive topics. Witness testimony about Sun’s possession of weapons was contradictory, according to news reports. The disorderly crowd charge was based on an incident in 2004, three years prior to his arrest. Police accused Sun of disturbing the peace while aiding people evicted from their homes, but Sun claimed he broke no laws.

Sun reported for the U.S.-based Web site Boxun News, where he published articles on forced evictions, political corruption, and other issues the Chinese government deems sensitive. Sun had faced–and documented–repeated harassment by authorities as a result of his audio, video, and print reports for the banned Chinese-language news site. He was detained on May 30, 2007.

Sun’s wife, He Fang, was also sentenced on Thursday to 15 months in prison on similar charges. She was released and allowed to return home soon after the hearing, according to Boxun Editor Watson Meng. It was not immediately clear why He was released. Sun and He have a 12-year-old daughter.

The Nanjing court violated procedure by not allowing family members to be present at the hearing and by failing to inform Sun of his impending sentence three days prior to the proceeding, Sun’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said in interviews with the AP and Radio Free Asia. Mo said that Sun intends to appeal the verdict.

“We are disturbed by Sun Lin’s sentence and the fact that his family and lawyers were not present at the hearing,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Coming just over a month before the Olympics begin, this verdict illustrates the government’s continued unwillingness to allow the press freedoms it promised when it was awarded the Games in 2001. We urge authorities to overturn this conviction on appeal.”

In June, CPJ documented China’s repression of the press in the special report, Falling Short.