Critical articles lead to 3-year jail term for writer

New York, November 21, 2008–A court in China’s southwestern Sichuan province sentenced a writer critical of the government to three years in prison today on charges of inciting subversion of state power, his wife told the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

Zeng Qirong said she was present in the courtroom in the provincial capital, Chengdu, when her husband, Chen Daojun, was sentenced after 30-minute trial. Chen’s lawyer did not immediately return calls today. 

Police arrested Chen on May 9, shortly after he had been involved in a non-violent “strolling” protest against the proposed construction of a petrochemical plant in Chengdu, according to English- and Chinese-language news reports. He had published an online article objecting to that project, but it was not among the articles submitted by the prosecution in his case, according to Zhang Yu, of the Independent Chinese PEN center. Zhang said three articles on political issues, including one about the March protests in Tibet, were cited in court to demonstrate a purportedly antigovernment stance.

“Chinese writers should be allowed to publish their opinions in any forum without fear of arrest,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia Program Associate. “The Chengdu court’s sentencing of Chen Daojun for his work is unfair.”

Authorities altered the charge initially brought by the prosecution. In September, Zeng told CPJ that her husband had been charged with inciting “splittism,” an antistate crime usually reserved for ethnic groups accused of separatism. He was not allowed access to his lawyer at that time, she said. Chen wrote an article in April that portrayed antigovernment protests across Tibet the previous month in a positive light. That article was published by a Hong Kong-based political magazine, Zheng Ming, and was reposted on overseas Web sites, according to Zhang Yu. It was not immediately clear why charges were revised, but CPJ research shows that subversion is a vague, all-inclusive charge that is commonly used to imprison writers and dissidents.

In a separate case in Sichuan, Internet publisher Huang Qi is awaiting indictment in a detention center in Chengdu. Police arrested him on June 10 after his Web site 6-4tianwang had reported on the government’s response to the massive earthquake that hit Sichuan on May 12. Huang was arrested in 2000 and sentenced to a five-year jail term on antistate charges related to online articles.

Zeng described her husband as a freelance journalist but said he used to work for the local daily Sichuan Ribao.