Falling Short: Waiting For a Verdict

Waiting For a Verdict

In a July 11, 2005, letter to the chief judge of the Fuyang City Intermediate People’s Court, attorney Pu Zhiqiang rejected a proposed settlement in the civil libel case against Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, authors of Will the Boat Sink the Water? The Life of China’s Peasants. The attorney urged Judge Qian Huiguang to render a verdict that would set a precedent in the interpretation of defamation law in China. Translated excerpts are below. To this day, no verdict has been issued in the case.

“In our opinion, freedom of the press and freedom of speech are constitutional rights of the people. The normal distribution of creative works not only represents the interests of the publisher, it also represents the principal venue of realizing the intellectual property rights of the authors. The Fuyang City Intermediate People’s Court illegally prohibited the distribution of the books and violated the legal rights of the publisher, the authors, and the readers. This is an abuse of judicial power. …

“Although the publisher and the authors suffered tremendous losses in intellectual property rights, millions of pirated copies were sold, so that the work of our authors did not go to waste. The lawsuit filed by Zhang Xide gave us the opportunity to test the judicial capability of the Chinese legal system. There is no reason why the Fuyang Court, upon which the expectations of the world hang, should be so hesitant and concerned and leave behind a footnote of shame for the feeble judicial system. …

“When the government is completely unmonitored, it will be the ruin of China. When there is no freedom of speech and criticism, it would be fantasy to talk about building a harmonious society. The verdict in this case will offer the opportunity to answer the question about whether citizens have the right to criticize the party and the public policies of the government, and about whether government officials as public figures can be criticized for their professional conduct. If the case of New York Times vs. Sullivan established the grounds for libel of public figures and thus created the public space for social commentary, the case of Zhang Xide vs. Chen Guidi will also set up the foundation for the development of Chinese society. Everything depends on the judicial power in your hands. In short, we and all the principals have the opportunity to create history.

“Dear respected Chief Judge: It is the decision of you and your colleagues to write a new glorious page in history or continue the state of confusion. … You can choose the glory of defending freedom, or you can choose the shame of oppression. Countless writers, reporters, and citizens are watching you, and waiting for your verdict. We believe that no matter what the outcome of this case is, the names of those who appear in the verdict sheet will be remembered forever. You can decide whether you want to be the warrior and sage who defends freedom, or the accomplice who oppresses freedom of speech.”

» return to Chapter 7:
The Libel Card: Suits That Inhibit