Postcard Campaign for Detainees

Political detainees in China are suddenly getting a lot more mail, as netizens press for their release.
2009-08-05
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A postcard sent to Guo Baofeng.
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HONG KONG—Chinese netizens have broadened a postcard campaign in support of high-profile prisoners of conscience following the release last week of Fujian-based blogger Peter Guo Baofeng, known as the micro-blogger "amoiist."

Guo, who resumed tweeting Saturday after his two-week detention came to an end, became the focus of an impromptu postcard campaign after he tweeted his detention with the words "i have been arrested by Mawei police, SOS" on July 15.

Two other bloggers, Fan Yanqiong and You Jingyou, were formally detained, their lawyers and relatives said.

Netizens from around China posted, tweeted, and e-mailed the idea, which was simply to send Guo a postcard to the Fujian No. 2 Detention Center where he was being held, addressed to "amoiist," or to Guo Baofeng, "prisoner of conscience," bearing the words "Guo Baofeng, your mother is calling you home for dinner!"

Soon, bloggers were suggesting other political detainees across China who might receive similar postcards, including detained civil rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong, environmental activist Tan Zuoren, and AIDS activist Hu Jia.

Cyber-dissident Huang Qi, Charter '08 author Liu Xiaobo, civil rights lawyer Guo Feixiong, and opposition party activist Wang Bingzhang are also being targeted by the postcard-writers.

The campaign calls for netizens to send postcards to the prisons and detention centers where the prisoners were detained, referring to the recipients as "prisoners of conscience."

Called for dinner

In keeping with the first postcards sent to Guo, many of those shown in online photographs bore a single sentence, "Your mother is calling you to come home for dinner!"

Campaigners said that even if the prisoner in question never received the postcards, the sheer number and sudden appearance would put pressure on the authorities dealing with them.

It said the use of the term "prisoners of conscience" was in itself a protest against the use of fear by the authorities, and an appeal to common sense and the rule of law.

One of the senders was Guangzhou-based blogger Beifeng.

"There was a campaign that started up to get everyone to send one postcard to political prisoners," Beifeng said.

"To begin with, it was for Peter Guo. But I thought that we should expand it much further than that."

"For example, we should send them to Tan Zuoren and Huang Qi, who were about to go on trial, and to Xu Zhiyong, who had just been detained. We should also send them immediately to Hu Jia and the others, and that it might have some interesting effects," he added.

"This is an entirely reasonable and lawful way of expressing one's opinions."

Rape claim

Several Chinese bloggers have been detained over claims that a 25-year-old woman, Yan Xiaoling, was gang-raped and murdered, and that the alleged perpetrators were connected to municipal authorities in Fujian.

Fan Yanqiong's husband Lin Hui said she had been charged with "false accusation" on July 31, the same date Guo was released.

"What sort of country do we live in?" Lin said. "The police have a lot of power, in the Constitution, in law. It's very hard to be an ordinary citizen."

"I feel quite hopeless."

Guo posted an interview with Yan's mother in which she made the claims explicit and accused local authorities of trying to cover up a crime, according to the blogging portal Global Voices Online.

Officials said Yan had suffered a hemorrhage caused by an ectopic pregnancy and began detaining anyone blogging or tweeting about the case.

Beijing-based lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said three bloggers were arrested at the same time, including his client, You Jingyou.

Charges changed

"[His] family have already received an official letter informing them of his detention," Liu said.

"The charges are changed from 'libel' to 'false accusation.' The main reason for this is that the police saw that a lot of high-profile libel cases from last year were being dropped, and in some cases judicial officials were punished or reprimanded."

"These cases involved bloggers being sued for libel, but they weren't standing up. So now the police have turned to bringing trumped-up charges against them because they can see that libel suits aren't working, because they're individual civil suits, whereas now they are using public prosecutions to charge them with false accusation."

Liu said that while some of the articles and blog posts written by bloggers may not have been entirely accurate, they didn't add up to the charge of false accusation, a deliberate action aimed at perverting the course of justice.

"The articles...were posted openly in a public place, and can't be said to be on the level of false accusation," Liu said.

Beifeng said the postcard campaign was a sign that China's 298 million Internet users were beginning to flex their muscles and to help mold public opinion.

"You can see netizens taking action online now in all sorts of ways," Beifeng said.

"They are  turning what was once a rather fictional entity, online public opinion, into a show of real effectiveness."

PC held

Meanwhile, Guo said his computer was still in the hands of government experts after being confiscated by police.

"I am planning to buy myself a laptop, because I don't know when I will get my computer back from the police," Guo tweeted Wednesday from his mobile phone.

His lawyer had told him by text message that the computer was still considered "evidence," because the case was still open, he said.

China's 47 million bloggers are frequently subjected to censorship by their Internet service providers, but politically sensitive material also routinely falls through the cracks as individual companies interpret government guidelines in their own way, experts say.

China had 298 million Web users by the end of 2008, who spend more time online than netizens in any other country with the exception of France and South Korea, according to official figures.

Chinese are also more likely to contribute to blogs, forums, chatrooms, and other social media like photo and video-sharing sites.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao, and in Cantonese by Bo Zhimoi
. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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