New York, December 23, 2011 — The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns China’s harsh sentencing of online journalist and activist Chen Wei, who was handed a nine-year prison term on Friday for “inciting subversion.”
Chen, who was convicted and sentenced after a three-hour trial and deliberation, had been arrested February 20 as part of a broad crackdown on dissidents and independent journalists. The arrests followed anonymous online postings calling for the Chinese to push for more freedoms during a “Jasmine revolution” in the wake of uprisings across the Arab world.
CPJ research found that Chen’s lawyer, Zheng Jianwei, had made repeated attempts to visit him but was not allowed access until September 8. After Friday’s trial in Suining in southwestern China, Liang Xiaojun, a lawyer who represented Chen at the trial, told international media, “We presented a full defense of the case, but we were interrupted often, and none of what we said was accepted by the court.”
“Heavy-handed sentences like that handed down to Chen Wei for ‘inciting subversion’ indicate that China is still far from tolerating the expression of any ideas beyond the party line,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Chen was denied due process, and he should be freed immediately.”
The nine-year sentence appears to be the heaviest handed out to the scores of people who were arrested earlier this year. Chen, 42, a student protester during the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, has been imprisoned twice before for democracy activism.
One other writer detained following the “Jasmine Revolution,” Ran Yunfei, was also indicted on subversion charges but was released in August. As of December 1, he and several others remained under restrictive residential surveillance, according to CPJ research. Chinese Human Rights Defenders reported that at least two other activists remained in criminal detention for transmitting information online related to the protests. Chen’s case, however, was the only one linked in public reports to independent journalistic writing.
With 27 people in jail as of December 1, China ranks third-worst in the world in terms of the number of journalists jailed. The majority of those in jail in China are there because of their online writing.