Hong Kong publisher Yao Wentian jailed for 10 years

Hong Kong, May 8, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the 10-year jail sentence given on Wednesday to a Hong Kong publisher preparing to release a book critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

Yao Wentian, whose name is also spelled Yiu Mantin, was convicted of “smuggling ordinary goods” by a court in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, according to reports. He was first taken into custody on October 27 and formally arrested in November and charged with smuggling bottles of industrial chemicals in multiple incidents going back to 2010, according to The New York Times, citing Mo Shaoping, his lawyer at the time.

During his trial last month, the prosecution said the cost of the industrial chemicals Yao allegedly smuggled from Hong Kong amounted to more than 1 million yuan, which carries a maximum sentence of over 10 years, according to reports.

“CPJ condemns the 10-year jail term given to Yao Wentian. We believe he is being persecuted in relation to his publication of books that may not be flattering to Chinese politicians,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz from New York. “A Hong Kong publisher’s arrest and conviction in mainland China threaten to undermine the freedom of all authors and publishers in Hong Kong.”

Yao has been the chief editor of Morning Bell Press, a small Hong Kong publishing company, since 2006. According to Morning Bell Press, Yao has worked with dissident writers to publish multiple books that have been banned in mainland China. Before his arrest, Yao’s son, Edmond Yao, said, his father was preparing to publish a critical book called Chinese Godfather Xi Jinping by the U.S.-based exiled Chinese author Yu Jie. Yu has also written a popular book criticizing former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, which is banned in China.

Yao was first taken into police custody in Shenzhen, where he had gone, believing he was delivering paint for a friend, the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post first reported in January, citing a tip from an anonymous source. Yao’s wife and son have said they believe that is what happened. In January, his son, Edmond Yao, told the New York Times, “There is no question that they are trying to punish him for his public activities through normal criminal charges.”

Yao’s son told journalists that his father suffered from heart problems and asthma and was being held in the medical ward of a Shenzhen detention center.

Yao’s lawyer, Ding Xikui, told CPJ, “He may have been treated so harshly because of his work background.” Ding said he hadn’t met with Yao since the verdict and could not confirm whether the publisher would appeal.

The news of Yao’s arrest sent chills across the city’s media and publishing industry. Veteran Hong Kong-based journalist Ching Cheong told CPJ, “I think Chinese authorities are trying by all means to stop the publication of the book on Xi Jinping. This incident will have a very adverse effect on the publishing of books on sensitive topics in China.”

The Independent Commentators Association in Hong Kong released a statement on Wednesday saying: “The sentence has come amid a spate of incidents possibly related to the suppression of freedom of expression. These incidents include mainland-backed companies withdrawing their advertising from some Hong Kong newspapers, and editors of newspapers being assaulted. They have posed a serious threat to the press and publishing industry in Hong Kong.”   

Hong Kong residents enjoy civil liberties, including the right to freedom of speech and of the press–conditions that supported a flourishing industry for the publication of books on Chinese politics that are banned on the mainland.