China Tries Land Activist Who Opposed Olympics

2008-02-19
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My brother insisted that he was innocent and was just expressing his thoughts, arguing that thoughts could not constitute a crime.

HONG KONG—Authorities in the northeastern Chinese city of Jiamusi have begun the trial of a land rights activist for “incitement to subvert state power” after he used a slogan calling for human rights instead of the Olympics.

Yang Chunlin appeared in court Tuesday in manacles looking pale and skinny, as his lawyer’s arguments were heard in his defense. Yang was also given time to speak for himself, his sister Yang Chunping said.

“We were waiting outside of the courtroom when the police car came in with my brother. He looked like a death row prisoner, in handcuffs and leg irons with a hood over his head,” Yang Chunping told RFA’s Mandarin service.

“Police led him out of the car and then my brother yelled ‘Down with Fascism’ twice. Inside the courtroom his hood was taken off. As soon as my brother saw us he cried out. He said to the court that he was not yet sentenced, asking why they had put leg irons on him. His lawyer raised the same question. Then the police took them off,” she said.

The Jiamusi Intermediate People’s court trial lasted just under five hours, during which prosecutors read out a list of Yang’s offenses. They included advocating the slogan “Human Rights Over the Olympics,” which prosecutors said amounted to inciting subversion of state power.

They also listed articles published on overseas Web sites they said were critical of the Chinese government and of the ruling Communist Party.

Yang defended himself in a forceful speech lasting more than an hour, with no interruption from prosecutors.

“My brother insisted that he was innocent and was just expressing his thoughts, arguing that thoughts could not constitute a crime,” Yang Chunping said. “His thoughts and deeds were for defending the rights of local farmers. He said again that ‘We do want human rights but not the Olympic Games.’”

Yang also told the court that in nearby Fujin city, where he had campaigned for farmers’ rights, farmers had lost their land, had nothing to eat, and couldn’t afford to send their children to school.

“Why should we spend billions of yuan on the Olympics?” Yang asked the court. “‘Human rights over the Olympics’ is indeed an expression of my thoughts. Why am I not allowed to say that?”

No verdict was delivered during the hearing, which was originally planned as a closed-doors trial but was opened to the public in a surprise announcement by court officials a day earlier. They said the case could be tried openly because it contained no state secrets.

Yang’s lawyer Li Fangping said Yang Chunlin’s articles were focused on expressing his political views, and that most of them were academic discussions. He argued that the slogan “Human Rights Over the Olympics” was not aimed at state power, and that Yang had never written an article on the subject. He said the list of charges didn’t add up to incitement to subvert state power.

“The judges at the trial didn’t say very much. This is the first such case in Jiamusi,” Li told reporter Fang Yuan.

“The reason for Yang Chunlin’s case was because of his call for redress in the case of the farmers in Fujin whose land had been taken. The local authorities know that Fujin farmers have been petitioning in a land dispute for a while,” he added.

Yang Chunlin also told the prosecution that if charges against him were confirmed, he would hold no hope for justice in the Chinese legal system and thus wouldn’t appeal.

The trial is the first openly to link opposition to China’s hosting of the Summer Olympics in 2008 to subversion charges, although the detention of Beijing-based AIDS and civil rights activist Hu Jia on Dec. 27 for incitement to subversion has been linked in some commentaries to his references to the Olympics in online writings.

Beijing has lashed out at any linkage of its performance as Olympics host with criticism of its human rights record, although the issue made world headlines when movie director Steven Spielberg resigned as an artistic adviser for the opening ceremony.

While geographical reporting restrictions on foreign journalists have been lifted in theory, national security police and hired heavies have prevented foreign media from carrying out politically sensitive interviews with relatives of jailed dissidents and rights activists.

Authorities are also cracking down hard on evictees, especially those evicted from Olympics-related sites, petitioners against official wrongdoing, and campaigners in rural land disputes, hauling petitioners off to unofficial detention centers and sentencing local rights activists for causing a disturbance.

In a trial lasting less than 20 minutes in the eastern city of Wenzhou on Monday, the Dongtou County People’s Court handed down sentences of one year and 18 months to two land activists respectively for “assembly to cause a disturbance” and “obstruction of traffic.”

Zhuang Pengyou was sentenced to one year, while fellow villager Zhuang Gongxiu got 18 months. Around 70 villagers were present in the courtroom and protested noisily as the sentences were handed down, with shouts of “Heroes! Heroes!”

Villager Zhuang Zhiqiang said feelings were running high in the county over the sentences.

“Pretty much everyone in the court got to their feet when the sentences were read out. There was a lot of opposition. Because they said we were the ones causing trouble, when it’s the fault of the authorities.”

“They have in fact annexed our land, and no mention of this was made in this case. The officials just talk about social disturbance,” Zhuang told reporter Yan Xiu.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Fang Yuan and Yan Xiu. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Chen Ping. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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