Yang, commonly known by his penname Guo Feixiong, was a prolific writer, activist, and legal analyst for the Beijing-based Shengzhe law firm. Police detained him in September 2006 after he reported and gave advice on a number of sensitive political cases facing the local government in his home province of Guangdong.
Yang was detained for three months in 2005 for “sending news overseas” and disturbing public order after he reported on attempts by villagers in Taishi, Guangdong, to oust a village chief. He was eventually released without prosecution, but remained vocal on behalf of rights defenders, giving repeated interviews to foreign journalists. A police beating he sustained in February 2006 prompted a well-known human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, to stage a high-profile hunger strike. Police in Beijing detained Yang for two days that February after he protested several government actions, including the closing of the popular Yunnan bulletin board, where he had posted information about the Taishi village case.
Yang’s September 2006 arrest was for “illegal business activity,” international news reports said. After a 15-month pretrial detention, a court convicted him of illegally publishing a magazine in 2001, according to U.S.-based advocacy groups. One of a series of magazines he had published since the 1990s, Political Earthquake in Shenyang, exposed one of the largest official graft cases in China’s history in Shenyang, Liaoning province, according to the Dui Hua Foundation. CPJ’s 2001 International Press Freedom Awardee, Jiang Weiping, spent five years in prison for reporting on the same case for a magazine in Hong Kong.
Although police had interrogated his assistant and confiscated funds in 2001 concerning the unauthorized publication charge, the case attracted no further punitive measures until Yang became involved in activism.
Yang’s defense team from the Mo Shaoping law firm in Beijing argued that a five-year limit for prosecuting illegal publishing had expired by the time of his trial, according to the Dui Hua Foundation, which published the defense statement in 2008. But Yang was still sentenced to five years in prison.
Yang has gone on hunger strike several times to protest ill treatment by authorities in Meizhou Prison in Guangdong. He was brutally force-fed on at least one of these occasions and remained in poor health, according to the advocacy group Human Rights in China (HRIC). The group said his treatment in the detention center before his trial was so aggressive that he attempted suicide. Police subjected him to around-the-clock interrogations for 13 days, HRIC said, and administered electric shocks. The group also said that Yang’s family had been persecuted since his imprisonment: His wife was laid off and his two children were held back in school in retribution for his work.