Thursday, October 22, 2009

Translation & Commentary: Verdict in Guo Quan Subversion Case Shows Conflict Between Free Expression & State Security

On October 16, the Suqian Intermediate People’s Court in Jiangsu Province sentenced political activist Guo Quan (郭泉) to 10 years in prison on charges of subversion. A copy of the court’s verdict against Guo (original document in PDF) began circulating on Chinese-language websites five days later, and Dui Hua has produced a full English translation of the verdict.

Guo, 41, is a former criminal-court judge and literature professor at Nanjing Normal University who became renowned online for his anti-Japanese nationalism, criticism of China’s one-party political system, and support for “rights defenders” seeking redress for various forms of social injustice. In 2007, he began posting a series of articles entitled “Herald of Democracy” and announced the formation of the opposition China New Democracy Party (CNDP). Guo penned several open letters to top Chinese leaders and was frequently detained by police, especially around “sensitive” periods. For these actions, he was fired from his university position and expelled from the China Democratic League, one of eight “approved” parties in China other than the CCP. He has been in police custody in this case for over 11 months.

As the verdict shows, the case against Guo Quan was centered on the prosecution’s claim that Guo’s actions were aimed at “subverting state power and overthrowing the socialist system.” The facts were largely not in question, though the defense was put at a serious disadvantage by the introduction into evidence of a large number of statements by prosecution witnesses (a number of whom under different circumstances might have been considered co-defendants) who were evidently not compelled to appear in court to have their accounts challenged under cross-examination.

Though Guo acknowledged writing articles and organizing the CNDP, he disputed the prosecution’s characterization of his actions as subversive. The trial boiled down to a conflict between the defense, on one side, arguing that Guo’s actions were not subversive and, in any case, should be covered by constitutional protections of rights to free speech and association, and, on the other side, the prosecution’s assertion that the interests and integrity of the state always trump the constitutional rights of citizens.

Under China’s legal system, this conflict is essentially irreconcilable. As long as the party in power and the government it controls see no distinction between their own interests and integrity and those of the nation as a whole, it will remain virtually impossible for those who attempt to challenge the system through raising criticisms or posing alternatives to defend themselves against charges of subversion.