Tan, an environmentalist and activist, had been investigating the deaths of schoolchildren killed in the May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province when he was detained in Chengdu. Tan, believing that shoddy school construction contributed to the high death toll, had intended to publish the results of his investigation ahead of the first anniversary of the earthquake, according to international news reports.
Tan’s supporters believe he was detained because of his investigation, although the formal charges did not cite his earthquake reporting. Instead, he was charged with “inciting subversion” for writings posted on overseas websites that criticized the military crackdown on demonstrators at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
In particular, authorities cited “1989: A Witness to the Final Beauty,” a firsthand account of the Tiananmen crackdown published on overseas websites in 2007, according to court documents. Several witnesses, including the prominent artist Ai Weiwei, were detained and blocked from testifying on Tan’s behalf at his August 2009 trial.
On February 9, 2010, Tan was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, according to international news reports. On June 9, 2010, the Sichuan Provincial High People’s Court rejected his appeal.
Tan’s wife, Wang Qinghua, told reporters in Hong Kong and overseas that he had contracted gout and was not receiving sufficient medical attention. Visitors to the prison were subject to strict examination before being allowed to see him, the German public news organization Deutsche Welle reported in 2012, citing Wang.
A number of prominent China and U.S.-based rights lawyers and dissidents published
an open letter calling for Tan’s release in May 2013, ahead of the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, according to news reports.
No information on his whereabouts had been disclosed in late 2013. CPJ’s emailed questions to his lawyer went unanswered.