Thursday, May 21, 2009

Former June Fourth Prisoners Still Paying Heavy Price

As the 20th anniversary of the suppression of the China's pro-democracy demonstrations approaches, Dui Hua estimates that there are approximately 30 individuals still serving sentences for their participation in the 1989 protests. While remembering those imprisoned, it's worth noting that several individuals detained in connection with the protests are currently incarcerated, albeit not for the crimes they committed in 1989.

Of the eight people whose cases are summarized below, a number have spent most of the past two decades in prison and have many years remaining on their sentences. Medical parole has not been granted for several of these prisoners who are believed to be in extremely poor health. These individuals’ current prison terms—lengthier than their first sentences, in most cases—are actually in line with provisions in Chinese criminal law, whereby individuals who recidivate are liable to be sentenced more severely than first-time offenders.

Like many governmental and non-governmental bodies, Dui Hua has raised the following eight cases with the Chinese government. This list is by no means exhaustive, but Dui Hua believes it documents some of the most noteworthy cases to be kept in mind as human rights observers reflect on the tragedy of June Fourth.

Li Wangyang (李旺阳), 58, originally a worker at the Shaoyang Cement Plant in Hunan Province, was involved in organizing an independent labor union and served as chairman of the Shaoyang Workers' Autonomous Federation in 1989. After the suppression of the demonstrations in Beijing, Li publicly called on workers to go on strike and held a ceremony to mourn the victims of the crackdown. Arrested on charges of "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement," Li was sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment in October 1989 by the Shaoyang Intermediate People's Court. While imprisoned in Hunan's Chishan Prison, Li developed serious heart disease and was transferred to a prison hospital for treatment in 1996. He subsequently developed a number of other medical issues and was eventually released early in June 2000 after having served 11 years of his sentence. With no way to earn a living and facing major medical bills, Li carried out a 22-day hunger strike in February 2001 to protest the Shaoyang government's unwillingness to take responsibility for the health problems he had developed while imprisoned and to pay for his medical care. In May 2001, police took Li from his hospital bed on charges of "inciting subversion," and he was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison on September 11, 2001. In response to official inquiries, the Chinese government acknowledges that Li suffers from heart disease, hyperthyroidism, and vision and hearing deficiencies, and he has been held in a prison ward intended for the elderly and handicapped, where he is exempted from all physical labor. Despite this, prison authorities insist that his condition is "normal" and have not approved his release on medical parole. He has not received a sentence reduction since re-entering prison in 2001. In the two decades since the suppression of the pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing, Li Wangyang has spent all but 11 months behind bars. He is due for release from Chishan Prison on May 5, 2011.

Wang Miaogen (王妙根), 55, was sentenced to 2-1/2 years of re-education-through-labor in connection with his activities as chairman of the Shanghai Workers’ Autonomous Federation during the 1989 protests. After being released, Wang carried out a series of protests to demand the release of other workers who had been detained during the 1989 demonstrations. During one incident at a local police station, Wang cut off several of his fingers. He was taken into custody by police in April 1993, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and committed to the Shanghai Ankang Hospital, a police-run psychiatric detention center. After his condition was determined to have stabilized, he was released in May 1997, only to be recommitted two years later. Although the Chinese government has provided no confirmation of his whereabouts for more than five years, Wang is presumed to remain incarcerated in the Shanghai Ankang Hospital. Since his first imprisonment in 1989, Wang Miaogen has been in custody for more than 16 years. Unlike the other individuals listed here, he has no terminal date when his release can be expected.

Xu Wanping (许万平), 48, participated as a worker activist in Chongqing during the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 and was sentenced to eight years in prison for "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement" and "organizing a counterrevolutionary group" in connection with his attempt to establish the China Action Party in opposition to one-party rule. After his release from prison in July 1997, Xu immediately became involved with the national movement to organize the China Democracy Party (CDP) and was sentenced to three years of re-education-through-labor following attempts to register a branch of the opposition party in Chongqing. Upon his release in October 2001, Xu remained active in CDP activities, frequently used the Internet to publicize local cases of injustice, and made efforts to raise and distribute funds to support the families of other jailed activists. Police arrested him on subversion charges in April 2005, and he was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment. Xu is serving his sentence in Chongqing Municipality's Yuzhou Prison, where he is reported to suffer from spleen problems and general ill health attributed to his many years of incarceration. Xu has spent 15 of the past 20 years in prison and still has just under seven years left to serve. Prison authorities granted him a one-year sentence reduction in August 2008, meaning he is now scheduled to be released on April 29, 2016.

She Wanbao (佘万宝), 51, was a bank employee in his hometown of Guangyuan, Sichuan, when he became involved in the pro-democracy demonstrations in the spring of 1989. After the protests were suppressed in June, She organized a resistance movement and wrote essays that were published in Hong Kong. In November 1989, he was convicted of "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement" and sentenced to four years in prison. After being released in July 1993, She Wanbao became a private entrepreneur and remained active in dissident politics. He was a leading member of the Sichuan preparatory committee of the China Democracy Party and organized public protests calling for the release of CDP leaders and other political prisoners. Police in Guangyuan detained him on subversion charges in July 1999, and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison the following month. Chuanzhong Prison authorities placed She in solitary confinement for a period in June 2001 after he attempted to transmit a secret communication from prison. In September 2005, he was granted a six-month sentence reduction. As of today, She has been imprisoned for 14 of the past 20 years and is not scheduled to be released from prison until January 6, 2011.

Zhang Lin (张林), 45, headed the Bengbu (Anhui) Students Autonomous Federation in Anhui Province during the 1989 demonstrations. Throughout May of that year, he gave speeches, organized sit-in demonstrations, and led a hunger strike in support of students in Beijing. Police arrested him on June 8, 1989, and he was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison. In 1994, Zhang was sentenced to three years of re-education-through-labor for his role in organizing the independent Federation for the Protection of Workers' Rights. After being released in 1997, Zhang spent a period in the United States, where he had contacts with exiled political activists like Wang Bingzhang. In 1998, Zhang Lin secretly returned to China and was captured by police, who again sentenced him to three years of re-education-through-labor. Upon his release, Zhang remained under close police surveillance and supported his family by publishing articles in overseas publications, all of which were highly critical of the government. Zhang was detained in January 2005 when he attempted to travel to Beijing to pay respect to the recently deceased Zhao Ziyang, who had been deposed as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 1989 after expressing sympathy for the pro-democracy demonstrators. Zhang was subsequently charged with inciting subversion and sentenced to five years in prison in July 2005. He is scheduled to be released from Anhui's Tongling Prison on February 12, 2010. Adding together his four stints of imprisonment, Zhang has spent 12 of the past 20 years behind bars.

Zhang Jianhong (张建红), 51, was sentenced by authorities in Ningbo, Zhejiang, to 1-1/2 years of re-education-through-labor for supporting the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989. Zhang (who is also known by his pen name Lihong) is an author and editor who has published poetry, fiction, and several screenplays. He was detained for one month in 1999 in connection with the efforts to organize the China Democracy Party, and in August 2005 he founded and became editor of a popular literary and current affairs website called "Agean Sea," before police shut it down in March 2006. Zhang was arrested for inciting subversion in September 2006 after expressing support for human rights activists and lawyers such as Gao Zhisheng. In March 2007, the Ningbo Intermediate People's Court sentenced Zhang to six years in prison. Two months later, he was diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular disease, a condition that was reportedly left untreated while authorities considered whether he should be released on medical parole. Zhang's petition for medical parole was ultimately rejected, and he was transferred first to Qiaosi Prison, then to the Zhejiang Prison General Hospital, and finally to Changhu Prison in Changxing County. Despite repeated calls that Zhang be released on humanitarian grounds, prison authorities have so far refused to show clemency, insisting that Zhang is receiving adequate medical treatment for his condition and that he is otherwise healthy. He is currently scheduled for release on September 6, 2012.

Xie Changfa (谢长发), 56, had already been involved in local pro-democracy groups in his native Hunan Province for several years before becoming active in the 1989 movement. For giving a series of speeches denouncing the suppression of the protests in June, Xie was sentenced to three years of re-education-through-labor. Released after serving two years, he continued his political activism and was detained by police several times during the 1990s. In 1998, he helped to found the Hunan preparatory committee of the China Democracy Party, and for the next decade he remained an active member of the outlawed party, many of whose founding members were imprisoned. Beginning in 2002, he organized a series of annual meetings of CDP members in different cities throughout China, and in June 2008 he and other party members discussed the possibility of holding a national party congress. Shortly thereafter, police in Changsha took Xie into custody and charged him with the crime of subversion. A trial was held at the Changsha Intermediate People's Court on April 28, 2009, but the court has not yet issued a verdict.

Zhou Yongjun (周勇军), 42, was about to graduate from university in Beijing when the pro-democracy demonstrations broke out in 1989. Zhou briefly served as chairman of the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation and was one of three students who, in April 1989, knelt on the steps of the Great Hall of the People to request a meeting with then-Premier Li Peng. He participated in the May hunger strike and acted as a legal adviser to the Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation. Zhou was detained in Beijing's Qincheng Prison for more than 18 months on charges of "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement" but was later released without trial. In 1992, Zhou fled to Hong Kong and soon thereafter settled in the United States. Like many political activists living overseas, Zhou Yongjun was denied a Chinese passport and was thus unable to return home legally. When he tried entering China illegally to visit his ailing mother in December 1998, he was caught and sentenced to three years of re-education-through-labor at a facility in Mianyang, Sichuan. He was released early in March 2001 and allowed to return to the United States the following year. In September 2008, Zhou was once again taken into custody while crossing the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Held incommunicado for seven months on unspecified charges, Zhou was recently transferred from Shenzhen to a detention center in Suining, Sichuan Province, and his family was notified that he had been formally arrested on fraud charges. The case is currently under further investigation.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Commentary: "China's Battle Over the Right to Criticize" (in Far Eastern Economic Review)

An essay by Joshua Rosenzweig, Dui Hua’s senior manager of research based in Hong Kong, has been published in the May 2009 issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review. Entitled “China's Battle Over the Right to Criticize,” the essay analyzes cases of Chinese citizens charged with defamation after criticizing local government officials. It also explores broader questions about the legal provisions in such criminal cases and the current state of Chinese society and government leadership that is influencing the exercise of free speech.

Human Rights Journal post from April 30 provides a related commentary—and translation of opinion pieces by Chinese scholars—on the specific case of Wang Shuai, who was charged with libel and detained for eight days in March after posting a satirical criticism online of officials from his hometown.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

After Six Years, Innocent Man Escapes Execution

Last week, Nanning's Southland Morning News (南国早报) published the incredible story of Zhuo Fakun, a 39-year-old farmer from Liuping Village in central Guangxi (original Chinese article begins here and concludes on a second webpage). In November 2002, Zhuo was apprehended from a construction site where he was working as a laborer and charged with the brutal murder of an elderly woman back in his hometown. He was convicted and sentenced to death, but continued to maintain his innocence while his case bounced back and forth in the local court system. After Zhuo had spent 2,339 days—nearly 6-1/2 years—in detention, most of that time forced to wear the heavy leg shackles worn by death-row prisoners, judges from the Guangxi High People's Court went to the Laibin Detention Center on April 24 to tell Zhuo that he was free to go home.

As Gao Yifei, a law professor at Southwest University of Politics and Law in Chongqing, has pointed out in a commentary, the case against Zhuo Fakun was so defective that it's hard to explain why it took six years to release him. The prosecution's main evidence against Zhuo was his confession to police, but several details in that confession contradicted each other as well as the testimony of other witnesses—none of whom were eyewitnesses to the murder. For instance, Zhuo reportedly confessed six different times to committing the murder "just after 10 p.m.," but according to the testimony of another witness, Zhuo had been in another village drinking with his brother-in-law on the night of the crime and had not returned to Liuping until well after 11 p.m. Neither police nor prosecutors submitted other evidence to explain how Zhuo could have committed the crime given the time discrepancies. Another key piece of evidence was a blood-stained shirt belonging to Zhuo that had been retrieved at the time of his arrest. The blood on the shirt was determined to be of the same type as that of the victim, but Zhuo's blood type was also a match, and police investigators never provided any evidence (such as DNA tests) to establish the source of the blood on Zhuo's shirt.

Despite the many holes in the prosecution's case, the Laibin Intermediate People's Court convicted Zhuo Fakun of murder and sentenced him to death in July 2003. Zhuo appealed the conviction, and more than a year later the Guangxi High People's Court ruled that the facts in the case were unclear and the evidence was insufficient. A retrial was ordered, and four months later, in December 2004, the Laibin Intermediate People's Court once again sentenced Zhuo to death. Zhuo again appealed and, this time, benefitted from the work of a legal aid defense attorney who began to poke holes in the prosecution's case. In the end, even prosecutors had to acknowledge that their case against Zhuo was weak and the Guangxi High Court decided to acquit him.

In his remarks on the case, Prof. Gao essentially takes for granted the likelihood that Zhuo Fakun's confession was extracted through police torture, considering it the only reasonable explanation for why someone would falsely confess to a crime carrying the death penalty. But Gao's harshest criticism is of the Laibin court for failing to act independently and, twice, "accommodating itself" to police, prosecutors, and (he suspects) pressure from local party and government officials. He argues that had the case been tried in open court with full media coverage from the beginning, judges "wouldn't have issued such a foolish judgment that defies common sense." Most egregiously, Gao argues, the courts failed to exercise sufficient caution with their gravest of powers, showing "utter disregard for human life" in the process.

Unlike in the United States, where individuals awaiting execution routinely sit on death row for years while appeal motions are filed and refiled, the wheels of China's criminal justice system tend to move quickly in capital cases. With at least 5,000 executions expected to take place in China this year, the country carries out far more death sentences than the rest of the world combined. And under the banner of "striking hard," there is little support for letting convicted murderers and others awaiting execution languish in detention for too long. In this light, perhaps the most remarkable thing about Zhuo Fakun's case was how slowly the wheels of justice actually turned. Although in this instance it shouldn't have been necessary to take six years to bring justice to Zhuo, one wonders how many more innocent men and women might have been spared from execution in China had the judicial process moved more deliberately and their cases scrutinized with more care.