Chinese writer sentenced for ‘anti-government thoughts’

New York, January 20, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the harsh sentence given to Chinese writer and activist Li Tie, whose online writings calling for political reform were cited as evidence of “subversion of state authority.” 

Li, 52, was detained by authorities on September 15, 2010, and was tried in closed proceedings on April 18, news reports said. Jian Guanghong, a lawyer hired by his family, was detained before the trial, and a government-appointed lawyer represented Li instead, the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) reported. Only Li’s mother and daughter were allowed to attend the trial, news reports said.

On Wednesday, an Intermediate People’s Court in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, sentenced Li to a 10-year prison term and three additional years of political deprivation–the right to vote, hold office, enjoy freedom of speech or assembly, or hold a position in a government organization–according to news reports citing Li’s lawyer. The sentence was not made public until Thursday.

As evidence for the conviction, the court cited 13 of Li’s online articles, including “Human beings’ heaven is human dignity,” in which he urged respect for ordinary citizens and called for democracy and political reform, international news reports said. Prosecutors argued that the articles proved Li had “anti-government thoughts,” and that it could be presumed he would also engage in “anti-government actions,” according to CHRD.

“Until Chinese writers are free to call for reform, criticize the national leadership, and voice alternate political perspectives without fear of arrest, China’s press won’t be free,” said CPJ Asia program coordinator Bob Dietz. “Li’s imprisonment is unjust and is clearly meant to send a message to Chinese journalists who fall outside accepted government guidelines.”

Prosecutors also cited Li’s membership in the small opposition group the China Social Democracy Party, his comments on “reactionary” websites, and his conversations with friends as evidence of subversion, CHRD reported.

Li’s sentence surprised Chinese activists, news reports said. “This is very surprising because this guy shouldn’t really have had a problem,” pro-democracy activist Qin Yongmin told Radio Free Asia. “He never took part in any social activism.”