HONG KONG—As Chinese worldwide welcomed the Year of the Tiger, a group of activists in southwest China has called on the ruling Communist Party to free prisoners of conscience in their region and to open up debate on political change.
The activists also called for the release of Tan Zuoren, jailed recently after he launched a personal investigation into allegations of shoddy construction of the region's schools following the deaths of thousands of children during the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
“The government has made little effort to change in the past year,” wrote the Sichuan and Chongqing-based activists in an open letter to China's leaders released online during the Lunar New Year holiday.
“It continues to use oppressive measures against justice in order to protect its dictatorship,” the activists wrote, in particular with regard to the 11-year jail term handed to Liu Xiaobo, who helped draft Charter 08, a document calling for sweeping political change in China.
‘Product of a dream’
In Chongqing and Sichuan, the authorities had handed down jail terms to rights activists Tan Zuoren, Huang Qi, and Zhang Qi, and detained a number of others less formally, the letter said.
It also cited a heavy prison sentence for former Nanjing Normal University professor Guo Quan, who had claimed to set up a new political party.
“Charter 08 was the product of the dream of a constitutional government,” the letter said.
“There has been a huge increase in the number of meetings to discuss this in the past year, and yet the government has stepped up pressure on such activities to the boiling point.”
The letter was signed by 24 activists from southwest China, including freelance writer Zhang Xianchi, Chengdu-based online writer Ran Yunfei and activist Chen Yunfei, and Leshan-based freelance writer Mo Zhixu.
Chongqing-based democracy activists Deng Huanwu, He Bing, Bai Heping, and Deyang-based Li Yu also signed.
Meanwhile, a Sichuan-based member of a Taiwan-inspired opposition group is detained in Leshan detention center, his relatives said.
“His trial was supposed to open on Feb. 1,” said Huang Xiaoqin, sister of jailed China Pan-Blue Alliance activist Huang Xiaomin.
“I don't know why it was canceled. They haven't informed us of anything.”
“They haven't even told us what crime he is charged with,” she said.
“This is completely illegal. They even forged my signature on the arrest warrant in the place where the relatives have to sign.”
Zhang Qi, another Sichuan-based activist who put his name forward for local people's congress elections, was held in administrative detention in 2008 because of his association with the “China Pan-Blue Alliance.”
That political group was inspired by the Communist Party's former rivals, the Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist party.
The current KMT, based in Taiwan since losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists on the mainland in 1949, says it has no links to the group or to its founder, Sun Bu’er.
Taiwan and China have been governed separately since the KMT fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists on the mainland.
The island’s “pan-blue” camp supports eventual reunification with China, while the “pan-greens” spearheaded by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) want independent statehood for Taiwan.
Sichuan authorities sentenced activist and writer Tan Zuoren to five years’ imprisonment for subversion after he planned to release an independent report assessing the widespread collapse of schools in the devastating 2008 earthquake.
The verdict, which will also deprive him of political rights for three years, was handed down by the Intermediate People’s Court in the provincial capital Chengdu last week, and found him guilty of “inciting subversion of state power.”
Tan published several articles online about the military suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989, but he wasn't arrested until he began an inquiry into the deaths of thousands of children in the May 12, 2008 quake, which left nearly 88,000 people dead or missing.
Also in Chengdu, authorities rejected a second appeal from cyberdissident Huang Qi, who was jailed for three years last November and who had also attempted to investigate the collapse of schools in the quake.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.