HONG KONG—A rights activist from southwestern China has been sentenced to three years in prison after his investigation into shoddy school construction blamed for thousands of deaths during a massive 2008 earthquake.
The sentencing prompted a clash outside the courthouse between Huang Qi’s supporters, who objected to having been barred from the courtroom, and what his wife described as “people dispatched by the government.”
Huang, 46 and a resident of the Sichuan provincial capital, Chengdu, was convicted of “illegally possessing state secrets” by the Wuhou District Court.
Huang’s wife, Zeng Li, said the court handed down a severe three-year sentence because of what the court described as his “tendency to relapse into criminal activities” following his release from jail in 2005.
“The verdict said Huang illegally possessed a secret document, which belonged to a certain municipal government,” Zeng said.
‘Not a word’
“I told them that I would appeal, and then they just dragged Huang Qi away without letting him say a word. My request to see the verdict was also rejected by the judge,” she said.
Beijing rights lawyer Mo Shaoping, who represented Huang, said that under Chinese law the court must show the verdict document to Huang’s family members.
“According to the People’s Republic of China’s criminal law article 182, the court should present the verdict document to the defendant’s family members. We will appeal as soon as the first trial is finalized,” Mo said.
Anger over sentencing
The sentencing enraged Huang’s supporters, 20 of whom had gathered outside the court, and prompted a clash with people Zeng described as government-backed thugs.
Zeng said several police vehicles were deployed outside the courthouse along with several dozen police officers.
One supporter, Tang Deying, said Huang was simply trying to help “ordinary people.”
“A harmonious society should emphasize morality, ethics, and equality,” Tang said.
Another supporter surnamed Guo said she received an injury to her face during the scuffle.
“We didn’t break the law. Why weren’t we allowed to hear the trial? Why did they beat us up?” she asked.
Mo said last week that he had received a phone call and fax from the court informing him that Huang’s sentencing “would be open and that relatives could attend.”
Mo added that there had been no opportunity for Huang to defend himself throughout his three-hour trial in August.
Last week, Zeng voiced concern about her husband’s health and how more prison time might harm him.
“I am very worried now. If they send him to jail, Huang Qi won’t be able to get medical treatment in prison,” she said.
“He is in very poor health.”
Work for the vulnerable
In 1999, Huang opened a Web site called “Tianwang Xunren” to provide assistance to China’s most vulnerable citizens.
He was arrested June 3, 2000, on charges of voicing grievances for victims of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and for sympathizing with members of the banned Falun Gong religious group.
On May 9, 2003, Huang was sentenced to five years in prison for alleged subversion, but was released in 2005.
Following an earthquake in Sichuan province that left thousands dead in May last year, Huang joined other volunteers and entered the quake zone 14 times to help rescue victims.
Huang was detained by the Sichuan authorities on June 10, 2008, after he tried to help parents of children who died in the quake investigate allegations of shoddy school construction.
According to a government estimate, about 90,000 people died in the earthquake, including 5,335 schoolchildren.
He was formally arrested on July 18, 2008.
On Aug. 5, the Wuhou District Court rejected a request to grant Huang medical parole because of health concerns.
Huang was also refused permission to visit his ailing father, who died during his detention.
Some 121 U.S. members of Congress have signed a draft document calling for the release of Huang and of another Chengdu activist, Tan Zuoren.
Original reporting by Xin Yu for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Jia Yuan. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.