China Jails Activists Who Protested Zhang Anni's School Ban

2014-12-12
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Zhang Lin (L) and his daughter Zhang Anni (R) in an undated photo.
Zhang Lin (L) and his daughter Zhang Anni (R) in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of the Zhang family

A court in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui on Friday handed jail terms of between one and two years to three activists who protested the removal of a veteran dissident's daughter from school in 2013.

Li Huaping, Zhou Weilin, and Yao Cheng were found guilty of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" by the Shushan District People's Court in the Anhui's provincial capital, Hefei.

Li, who is known by his online pen-name "Norwegian Forest," was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, while Zhou was jailed for 18 months and Yao for one year and 10 months, a defense lawyer said.

"On the morning of April 8, 2013 ... Li Huaping and others gathered next to Hupo Elementary School where they unfurled banners, shot videos, gave speeches, took photos and posted them online, causing people to gather and watch," the prosecution statement, published and translated by the ChinaChange.org website, said.

"Pushing and pulling, they also engaged in a lengthy argument with the police officers on duty who had rushed to the site to persuade them to leave, and they refused to leave."

It said Li had later encouraged the others to return for a similar protest outside the school the following day.

'Unfair verdicts'

Li's defense lawyer Wu Pengbin said all three men, as well as two family members per defendant, were present when the verdict and sentencing was read out in court.

Li plans an immediate appeal, and Wu said the charges against him are unfair.

"Who can say if this sentence is heavy or light? If a person has committed no crime, then even a year's sentence is unjust," Wu said shortly after the sentencing hearing.

"All of the defense lawyers are of the opinion that they are innocent, and Li Huaping says he is not guilty as well," he said. "But he was mentally prepared, because I didn't think a not guilty verdict was likely in a case like this."

He said the outcome of the appeal would likely be decided by the Hefei Intermediate People's Court without any further days in court.

Zhou Weilin's son Zhou Feng said his father has already been held for one year and two months, meaning that he should be released in two months' time.

He said his father may not bother appealing.

"I should think we'll forget about it," Zhou Feng said. "We'll wait till he gets out first, and then see. Both my father and Yao Cheng said they'd have to think about [whether or not to appeal]."

He said his father had looked "worse than before" during his court appearance, but that he couldn't tell whether or not he was in good health.

Political asylum

Yao Cheng, a close friend of Zhang Lin's, accompanied Zhang's ex-wife and daughter Zhang Anni to a meeting with U.S. consular officials in Shanghai in September 2013, in a bid to send Anni to the U.S. to continue her studies there.

But he was met in his hotel by a large group of police officers who detained him on the spot, later charging him with the public order offense.

Anni and her elder sister Ruli left China for California after their father's arrest in August 2013 following a dispute with the authorities after police pulled Anni out of primary school earlier in the year and detained her for several hours.

They were taken in by Reggie Littlejohn, founder of the Women's Rights Without Frontiers rights group, where they are now permitted to remain indefinitely after being granted political asylum by U.S. authorities this week.

Anni was dubbed "China's youngest prisoner of conscience" after she was taken out of school and detained for several hours in February 2013; denied food, water, and a blanket; and later prevented from attending school and held under house arrest.

Li's indictment, issued by state prosecutors in July, said Zhang's daughter "did not meet the requirements for enrollment" at the Hupo Elementary School.

'Reasonable, lawful actions'

Zhang pleaded not guilty to charges of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" at his trial in Anhui's Bengbu city in December 2013, telling the court his actions had been "reasonable and lawful" at all times and were a response to the illegal actions of the authorities.

A former member of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP), Zhang was sentenced to three-and-a-half years' imprisonment by the Bengshan District People's Court.

Zhang, 51, is a veteran of the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Anhui and was jailed several times for his political activities since the banning of the CDP in 1998.

According to Littlejohn, the sisters are not the first children of veteran dissidents from China's 1989 pro-democracy movement to be targeted by the authorities, and the family has suffered economic hardship as a result of Zhang's long-term unemployment linked to his dissident past.

Many dissidents imprisoned after the 1989 military crackdown on student-led protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing married late after serving lengthy jail terms, and their children are still relatively young.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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