The four members of an informal discussion group called Xin Qingnian Xuehui (New Youth Study Group) were detained and accused of “subverting state authority.” Prosecutors cited online articles and essays on political and social reform as proof of their intent to overthrow the Chinese Communist Party leadership.
Yang, Xu, Jin, and Zhang were charged with subversion on April 20, 2001. More than two years later, on May 29, 2003, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Xu and Jin to 10 years in prison each, while Yang and Zhang each received sentences of eight years. Each of the sentences was to be followed by two years’ deprivation of political rights.
The four young men were students and recent university graduates who gathered occasionally to discuss politics and reform with four others, including an informant for the Ministry of State Security. The most prominent in the group, Yang, posted his own thoughts and reports by the others on topics such as rural poverty and village elections, along with essays advocating democratic reform, on a popular Web site, Yangzi de Sixiang Jiayuan (Yangzi’s Garden of Ideas). Xu was a reporter at Xiaofei Ribao (Consumer’s Daily). Public security agents pressured the newspaper to fire him before his arrest, a friend, Wang Ying, reported online.
The court cited a handful of articles, including Jin’s “Be a New Citizen, Reform China” and Yang’s “Choose Liberalism,” in the 2003 verdict against them. Beijing Higher People’s Court rejected their appeal without hearing defense witnesses. Three of the witnesses who testified against the four men were fellow members of the group who later tried to retract their testimonies.
Yang, Xu, and Jin were imprisoned at Beijing’s No. 2 Prison. Yang’s wife, Lu Kun, who was also initially detained and questioned, was unable to visit him for four years after his imprisonment, she told reporters in 2005. Zhang, who initially suffered from ill health in detention, was jailed at Lishui Prison in Zhejiang province, where he made sweaters, his brother told CPJ.