Released Chinese Writer Vows to Finish Probe Into Child Quake Deaths

china-tan-zuoren-crop-600.jpg Tan Zuoren in an undated photo.
EyePress News

A prominent Chinese writer who spent five years in prison for trying to investigate the collapse of school buildings which killed thousands of children during the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake has vowed to continue his probe following his release at the end of last month.

Tan Zuoren was jailed in May 2009 for subversion after he tried to probe allegations of corruption linked to shoddy construction standards in school buildings in the aftermath of the 8.0 magnitude earthquake, which left more than 80,000 people dead and sparked widespread public anger.

Tan, 59, arrived back at his home in the southwestern Sichuan provincial capital Chengdu on Tuesday after striking a deal on his March 27 release with the authorities, who wanted to avoid public celebration of his return and allowed him to tend to elderly and ailing relatives before going home to his wife, Tan told RFA's Cantonese Service.

But he said he had refused to agree to any conditions police tried to impose on his future activities.

"Right now, I will get started on finishing my work," Tan said, adding that he has already compiled more than 2,000 reports and contributions from witnesses in his ongoing probe.

But he said he would use "government channels" to continue the work. "If the government thinks it can allow this, then they should pass my [request for information] to the other departments to work on," he said.

"Ultimately, I hope that this issue can be resolved through the rule of law."

Researcher role

Tan said he will confine himself to the role of researcher, and will not be appealing or lodging legal complaints about the corruption allegations surrounding the collapse of school buildings.

"I'm not a parent of a student [who was killed], and I'm not their representative, either. All I can do is carry out an independent investigation as a citizen," Tan said.

"I will continue to exercise my right to freedom of expression and opinion," he added.

Tan said he would also confine his rights campaigning to the issue of child victims of the Sichuan earthquake.

Thoughts in prison

He said he had spent much of his time in prison thinking about judicial reform for China.

"Everyone must work together to promote this, and not adopt an oppositional attitude; that's my dream," he said.

"When we have reached a constitutional consensus with the government, we can start to build a modern nation on that basis."

Tan was sentenced by a Sichuan court in February 2010 to five years' imprisonment for "incitement to subvert state power" after being formally accused of defaming the ruling Chinese Communist Party in e-mailed comments about the 1989 bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators around Tiananmen Square.

But his supporters say he was detained because he planned to issue an independent report on the collapse of school buildings during the Sichuan earthquake.

Calls for investigation

Official figures show that 5,335 children died in the quake, although unofficial sources say the number could be as high as 10,000.

Since the quake, parents have tried to keep up pressure on Beijing for a full investigation into the deaths of schoolchildren in the worst-hit areas.

The bereaved families say they want an inquiry into allegations of shoddy construction of "bean curd" school buildings, many of which collapsed while other buildings remained standing.

But lawyers have been warned off accepting cases linked to Sichuan's child quake victims, on pain of losing their license to practice.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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