New York, June 16, 2016 - Chinese authorities should release Lü Gengsong and Chen Shuqing and drop all charges against them stemming from their writing, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The two were individually sentenced to more than a decade in prison on "subversion" charges yesterday, according to press reports.
The Hangzhou Intermediate People's Court convicted Lü and Chen, both freelance writers and members of the banned China Democratic Party, of charges of "subversion of state power" in separate trials, according to press reports. The court sentenced Lü, detained in July 2014, to 11 years in prison. Chen, detained in September 2014, was given a 10-and-a-half-year prison sentence.
The convictions were related to articles Lü and Chen wrote for international, Chinese-language websites alleging government corruption and calling for democratic reform, according to news reports. Chen had written for Boxun about detained pro-democracy activists. Lü had written a series of articles on corruption and organized crime, had reported on the sentencing of rights activists, and in October 2013 co-signed an open letter and petition against China's presence on the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Chen's lawyer, Fu Yonggang, told reporters that Chen's verdict read, "Chen Shuqing published 14 articles on overseas websites Boxun and Canyu," and "through aforementioned proclamations, statements and articles, Chen Shuqing attacked and smeared the state power and the socialist system." Fu told reporters that he argued in court that writing articles should not constitute a crime, and that Chen would appeal the sentence. Lü's lead defense lawyer was unable to attend the trial because he had to be present at another client's trial.
"Lü Gengsong and Chen Shuqing have already spent years in Chinese prison merely for writing and expressing their opinions. To sentence them each to more than a decade is beyond absurd," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "We call for the immediate release of the two writers and for their sentences to be overturned on appeal."
Both Lü and Chen had been jailed before. Chen served four years in prison, from 2006 to 2010, on the charge of "inciting the subversion of state power," CPJ reported at the time. Lü was also sentenced to four years in 2008 after being convicted of the same charge, CPJ reported then. In each case, the two were found guilty of publishing "subversive essays" on foreign websites. In today's verdict, the court found them guilty of "subversion," a more serious crime than "inciting subversion."
Lü and Chen were among the 49 journalists imprisoned in China at the time of CPJ's most recent annual prison census, which showed China to be the world's worst jailer of journalists. In addition to Lü and Chen, four journalists jailed in China at the time of CPJ's 2015 prison census were serving time for the broadly defined crimes of "subversion" or "inciting subversion."
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This alert has been updated to reflect that the journalists were sentenced on June 15, 2016.]