China Human Rights Briefing February 1 – 28, 2007
February 28, 2007
China Human Rights Briefing
A monthly newsletter of CRD
While the Chinese took most days off in February to observe the incoming “Year of the Pig”, human rights problems failed to gain any respite.
The courts did not miss a beat in convicting independent writers and rights activists.
Trials and Sentencing
In Zhejiang, local prosecutors charged a writer/artist with subversion. On February 7, Li Jianqiang, lawyer for imprisoned Yan Zhengxue received a notice from Taizhou court that his trial would be held on February 14, and he would be charged with “subversion.” Yan was arrested on October 18, 2006, after police raided his home in Jiaojiang, Zhejiang Province and his wife’s home in Beijing, and removed computer equipment from both residences. He is being held incommunicado without access to family visits.
In Sichuan, an activist was sentenced on February 15. The activist Zeng Jianyu was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on charges of “swindling.” Neither his family nor his lawyers were notified about the trial. After the trial, authorities warned his lawyer that he should not appeal, and said that if he does not appeal, they would arrange for housing and a job for his son. Zeng Jianyu refused to make the deal. Mr. Zeng, a former elected representative to the local legislative body, had been active in rights defense work, including advocating on behalf of 50,000 petroleum workers, who had been laid—off and cheated by their company. On December 12, 2006, Zeng disappeared, which attracted local attention and six days later authorities said that he had been charged with “swindling.”
In Shanghai, the sentence was upheld on February 9 for two housing petitioners, Tian Baocheng and Du Yangming, by the Zhabei District court, which held a retrial. The two had been sentenced to two and a half years in prison on December 18 for “causing a disturbance” after they refused to pay for using a public toilet near the Xinhua News Agency office when they went to Beijing to petition the central government over their housing grievances. The hearing only lasted ten minutes before the judge announced that the original sentence would be upheld.
To the far west, a Uighur activist was tried on February 2. The accused, Husein Dzhelil, a Canadian citizen, was tried in a court in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. While authorities had earlier said he would be tried on charges related to “terrorism,” no charges were announced in court, where he was questioned about the activities of Uighurs in Canada and Central Asia. Dzhelil has claimed that he was tortured in detention, including being starved and deprived of sleep. He also said that he signed a confession only after authorities threatened to “disappear” him or “bury him alive.” Dzhelil obtained refugee status after fleeing China in the mid-1990s, and was later granted Canadian citizenship. He was arrested in Uzbekistan while visiting relatives in March 2006 and extradited to China in June of that year, where he has been held incommunicado.
Also in Urumqi, executions were carried out. On February 8, Uighur activist Ismail Semed was executed in Urumqi. Semed, 37, was sentenced to death in October 2005 on charges of “attempting to split the motherland” and other charges relating to the alleged possession of firearms and explosives, according to the Uighur American Association. Semed had testified in court that his confession had been coerced, and observers said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. Chinese authorities had accused Semed of being a founding member of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which was listed as a terrorist organization by both the US and the UN in 2002 after intensive lobbying on the part of the PRC government. However, this charge is based on secondhand testimony and RFA has reported that attendees of an ETIM meeting in Pakistan say they do not know Semed.
Release and Sentence Reduction
The Year of the Pig began on an auspicious note for some. Leniency was granted for former editors/managers of a liberal newspaper, the Southern Metropolitan News. On February 12, former director of Nanfang Dushi Bao newspaper, Li Minying, was released from prison after serving three years of a six year sentence on corruption charges. Li was arrested in January 2004 together with the newspaper’s manager, Yu Huafeng, who remains in prison. The editor of the paper, Cheng Yizhong, was also arrested that year but was later released. The arrests of the three men were widely viewed by Chinese journalists as being a targeted crackdown on one of the country’s most outspoken newspapers, which had covered a number of sensitive stories including the spread of SARS, and the death in custody of Sun Zhigang, a young college graduate. Li served his sentence at Panyu Prison in Guangdong Province. Nine days after Li’s release, Yu Huafeng’s sentence was reduced by one year, to seven years. He will now be eligible for early release in June 2007, after serving half of his sentence. No reason was given for the sentence reduction. Their lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, attributed the move to intensive lobbying by colleagues, the prisoners’ old age, and “good behavior” in jail.
Prison Visits Permitted
The family of the detained journalist Ching Cheong, Hong Kong-based Chief China correspondent for the Straits Times, says that his health seems to have improved since his transfer to a prison in Guangdong. Ching’s wife, Mary Lau Man-yee, was allowed to visit Ching for the first time after receiving a call from a Hong Kong official. Ching’s wife visited Ching together with Ching’s brother and sister. Ching is serving a five-year sentence on espionage charges.
Also, after repeated requests for prison visit were denied, Chen Guangcheng’s wife was eventually allowed to visit him for ten minutes on March, the first visit from a family member he has been allowed. Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing, said Chen was in good spirits and said his life had improved after he was moved to a prison in Shandong Province. On February 12, his older brother, Chen Guangfu tried to visit Chen Guangcheng, but guards refused to let him in, though they accepted the money he had brought for his brother. Cheng Guangfu returned on February 25, but was told that his brother had been moved, but would not say where to. Chen has been suffering from poor nutrition since his detention but prison authorities have not allowed him to buy additional food with his own money.
Residential Surveillance and NPC-related Crackdown
While tens of millions across China traveled home for the lunar New Year, the 80-year-old AIDS doctor Gao Yaojie was put under house arrest to prevent her from traveling to the US to receive a prestigious human rights award. The retired doctor was detained at her house on February 1 and prevented from traveling to Beijing to apply for a US visa. Ms. Gao had been invited to the U.S. to receive Vital Voices Global Women’s Leadership Award for Human Rights. Authorities in Zhengzhou, Henan Province warned her against traveling abroad and kept her under surveillance for weeks. Following international protest, and with the intervention of Senator Hillary Clinton, Gao was allowed to travel to Beijing, where she obtained a 14-day visa to the U.S. She left for the US on February 26.
Just as they have for the past 15 years, the “Tiananmen Mothers” – a group of surviving family members of those killed during the 1989 June 4th massacre – made an open appeal to members of the National People’s Congress, who are gathering in the next few weeks in Beijing for their annual national assembly. The Mothers demand that the NPC – China’s increasingly less rubbery stamp on legislation – open investigations of the massacre, tell the truth publicly, and bring the 18-year old killing of hundreds or even thousands to a reasonably fair conclusion: https://www.nchrd.org/Article_Show.asp?ArticleID=3555
The upcoming annual NPC assembly in Beijing also meant an intensified police crackdown on petitioners and protesters, and residential surveillance of activists in the capital. Hundreds of petitioners who had traveled to Beijing from around the country to lodge various complaints with the government were detained. About 200 petitioners were detained after they tried to approach Premier Wen Jiabao’s residence, saying they hoped to send him New Year greetings. Many of those detained fled the Majialou detention center, and the others were later released. Another 89 petitioners were detained while attempting to send New Year’s greetings to President Hu Jintao at Yuquanshan, a Central Military Commission resort. Hundreds of other petitioners were arrested at other locations around Beijing.
Beijing-based dissident intellectuals Zhang Zuhua, Jiang Qisheng, Liu Xiaobo and others were also placed under tightened residential surveillance on the eve of the Spring Festival. The timing for these actions could be due to the fact that Spring Festival falls close to the March meeting of the National People’s Congress, when authorities routinely closely monitor dissidents and activists.
Elsewhere across the country, protesters were beaten or detained.
In Fujian Province, on February 5, more than 60 villagers from Houlong Village, Jingnan County, held a sit-in demonstration at the local government offices to protest the building of a “garbage dump” and “dangerous waste dump,” but they were refused by officials. The local officials hired more than 30 thugs to use violence against the protesters and beat one protester, Bao Xiuying. On February 7, 1700 villagers again went to the government offices to protest and again were met with violence from officials. Villagers are continuing to carry out their sit-ins.
In Anhui Province, Chaohu city government sent officials, public security officers and hired “demolition teams” to force eviction of residents and lock down houses in Anqiao New Village on Feb. 14. They violently clashed with protesting villagers, many of whom were injured, including the elderly and women. Some of them were hospitalized.
In Guangdong, villagers demanding the release of their representatives were beaten by thugs hired by local authorities on Feb. 4. More than one hundred were beaten, several injured, and two were hospitalized. Villagers from the countryside outside Chaozhou began to demand audits of village leaders suspected of selling their land for personal profit and began seeking legal action last April. They didn’t get anywhere and began protesting against forced land sale to industrial developers and ecological erosion that made fishing and agriculture increasingly problematic. Several villagers have been arrested.
In Beijing, authorities detained activist Wang Guoqi. On February 8, Wang was taken into custody by the Haidian District Wanshousi Detention Center, though authorities did not follow legal procedures and notify his family. Wang Guoqi has been active for many years in the democracy movement in China, and served 9 years in prison for his involvement in the China Freedom and Democracy Party and other activities. After his release from prison in 2003, his apartment on the campus of the China University of Geology was confiscated, and police denied him a hukou or residency permit, leaving him with no way to get a job and support himself. Please see: crd-net.org/Article_Show.asp?ArticleID=3429
A Shougang Steel factory worker was detained. Zheng Huangshan was detained by police from the Fengtai District in Beijing and arrested for “causing public disorder.” Huang, 43, began receiving wages of 503 yuan per month in 1983 because of a crippled arm. However, in the 20 years since, Shougang has not raised his salary a single yuan nor given him housing. According to the Labor Law, Zheng should receive a wage increase and welfare housing. For many years, Zheng has petitioned authorities over his situation but there has been no progress. On January 26, PSB detained Zheng from the “petitioners’ village,” and held him for 12 days before putting him under criminal detention.
Free Expression and Press
Free expression and press suffered a set-back this month when the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television’s Propaganda Administration department outlined 20 forbidden topic areas that are banned in the media in the run-up to important Party conferences this fall. The restrictions cover historical events such as the anti-rightist campaign, the Cultural Revolution and the anti-corruption campaign, media freedom, and the rights protection movement. The guidelines were announced at a meeting held one day after the General Administration of Press and Publications announced a ban on eight books.
Some victims of censorship are fighting back with limited tools. A cell phone customer of China Mobile is suing the state-owned company for “violating personal correspondence freedom” by suspending her cell phone use for 9 days without advanced notice in January. The Beijing resident, Ms. Li Xin-ai, demands compensation for damages and an apology from China Mobile. The Beijing Eastern District Court, after changing the cause of lawsuit into “telecommunication contract dispute”, accepted the case. The trial is to open on March 8.
Winning a lawsuit against a government agency is still very rare. In Hubei Province, only 10% of the 4,481such administrative lawsuits (a 7% increasing from 2005) tried in the courts ended in the defeat of the officials. In 166 cases, the state was ordered to pay compensation.
Censorship in the blogosphere came into sharp focus this month when, on February 9, four lawyer-intellectual/bloggers wrote a public letter (https://www.nchrd.org/Article_Show.asp?ArticleID=3425)to Sina, the giant Chinese web portal, protesting the censorship of posts on or the deletion of their blogs. He Weifang, Pu Zhiqiang, Xiao Han, and Xu Zhiyong, who all write blogs hosted by Sina.com, demanded that Sina explain the reasons behind the deletion of several of their recent posts, including comments on the recent banning of books by author Zhang Yihe.
Blog censorship also claim victim of the Tibetan writer Woeser this month. Her blog “the Dark-Read Map” was blcoked on Feb. 6, one day after it was set up. The blog was hosted by a server outside China. She had taken her blog overseas after it was clocked three times when hosted by servers inside.
The lawyer/writer Pu Zhiqiang, tried to out-smart the blog-police. Mr. Pu, who has a blog hosted by Sohu.com, found his blog disappeared on Feb. 13. He set up a new blog, only to be blocked 3 days later. He opened a third, and then a fourth blog each time after his blog was closed down. He is now at his fourth: http://puzhiqiang4.blog.sohu.com/ and he vows to keep up pace with his censors. He told readers, when his blog is blocked, they can find a new one by going to the same address, replacing the serial number following “puzhiqiang” with the next bigger number, 5 in this case.
Keeping up the pace in the cat and mouse chasing game in China’s cyberspace and real space may be one recipe for inducing change. After years’ of advocacy by government critics and intellectuals, lawmakers plan to introduce reforms to the “re-education through labor” (laojiao) system in China, which allows police to send suspects to labor camps for up to four years without trial. The proposed reforms will be introduced at the March session of the National People’s Congress, though there is no guarantee they will be passed. Human rights activists have long called for the camps to be abolished.
That’s all for the month of February!
From the desk of CHRB editors:
Su Hui, Zhong Yan