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Heavy jail sentences for activists who wrote about plight of Sichuan earthquake victims

Heavy jail sentences for activists who wrote about plight of Sichuan earthquake victims

Published on Tuesday 9 February 2010.
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Reporters Without Borders condemns the long jail sentences that judges in Chengdu (in the southwestern province of Sichuan) have imposed on two human rights activists and netizens in the past 48 hours. A three-year sentence was upheld for Huang Qi yesterday while Tan Zuoren was given a five-year sentence at a hearing today during which police arrested and manhandled nine Hong Kong journalists.

“Bloggers and human rights defenders who dared to contradict official reports about the victims of the May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan are being treated like criminals,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We deplore the severe jail sentences that have been passed without due process and we appeal to the supreme court and justice ministry to review these two cases and to investigate the use of violence against the Hong Kong journalists who wanted to cover Tan’s hearing.”

The press freedom organisation added: “After convicting human rights activist Liu Xiaobo on Christmas Day, the authorities are now using the Chinese New Year period to announce very harsh sentences for dissidents who are well known in China and abroad.”

Tan, who was tried last August, seemed to be in good shape when he appeared in court today to hear the court’s verdict and sentence. According to one of his lawyers, he thanked those who have supported him, reaffirmed his innocence and described the proceedings as “illegal.” The court imposed the five-year sentence after finding him guilty of subverting state authority. His lawyers said they would appeal.

Tan’s wife was not allowed into the courtroom for today’s hearing, while nine journalists who had come from Hong Kong to cover the hearing were briefly detained and roughed up, and their press cards were taken. Two of the journalists were injured. The press cards were returned after the hearing.

Tan, who had urged fellow netizens to come to Sichuan to cover the plight of the families of the earthquake victims, was arrested in March 2009. Several journalists and activists were manhandled when they tried to attend his trial in August.

Yesterday’s decision by a Chengdu intermediate court to reject human rights activist Huang Qi’s appeal against his three-year sentence was taken without any hearing being held, thereby denying his defence lawyers a chance to present arguments. Huang was notified by letter that his sentence had been upheld.

His lawyers, including Mo Shaoping, have repeatedly complained of irregularities in the proceedings and submitted to a petition to the court last month listing their complaints, including the fact that they were being denied access to case documents.

Huang’s wife, mother and son were allowed to see him in prison today. They reported that he was calm but his state of health appeared to have deteriorated as a result of the stomach and chest tumours he is suffering from. He said he had not been mistreated while in detention.

The editor of the Tianwang human rights website (http://www.64tianwang.com/), Huang was arrested on 10 June 2008 for highlighting the plight of earthquake victims. The three-year sentence was imposed on 23 November 2009 on a charge of “illegal possession of state secrets.”

More information about Huang Qi: http://www.rsf.org/Cyber-dissident-accused-of-illegal.html http://www.rsf.org/Court-urged-to-show-clemency.html

A Beijing appeal court is due to issue a ruling on Liu Xiaobo’s case on 11 February. Reporters Without Borders urges the judges to demonstrate their independence by treating this leading intellectual and human rights activist humanely. Liu was given an 11-year jail sentence on 25 December on a charge of “inciting subversion of state authority.” In practice, all he did was display a commitment to free expression.

See the French text of a joint appeal by Reporters Without Borders and other organisation to the Beijing court to quash Liu’s conviction: http://www.rsf.org/Appel-commun-pour-un-non-lieu-dans.html

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