HONG KONG—Police in Sichuan have sentenced a middle-school teacher who openly criticized the construction of school buildings that collapsed in large numbers during the May 12 earthquake to one year of "re-education through labor," according to his wife.
Liu Shaokun, a teacher at Guanghan Middle School in Deyang city, one of the areas worst hit by the quake, was sentenced to a year of re-education through labor for "inciting a crowd to cause trouble and disturbing social order," his wife, Huang Bangxiu, said.
"We received a notice from national security personnel last Wednesday saying Liu was sentenced to labor camp for a year," Huang said. "The charges are inciting a crowd to cause trouble and disturbing social order. We haven't been allowed to see him...We are told that he is still in the detention center," she said.
They took away so many innocent children. Who isn't in pain?"
Transfer to labor camp
"The whole legal procedure was a mess...The sentence didn't come from the court so we have no way to appeal. I have consulted a lawyer but the lawyer said he had never encountered this kind of case and didn't understand how the authorities were handling it."
"I have been petitioning the authorities since my husband's arrest but without any result. I am so tired. The local officials said they wouldn't help in this case," Huang said.
Liu was detained by Deyang municipal Public Security Bureau officers, but state security personnel notified his family of the sentence, Huang said.
He was detained on his way to school and the school principal informed the family of his arrest. Police raided the family home that night when no one was home.
Liu's lawyer told Huang he would be sent to the Xinhua Labor Camp to serve his sentence, but a date for his transfer had yet to be set.
Instead of investigating and pursuing accountability for shoddy and dangerous school buildings, the authorities are resorting to RTL [reeducation through labor] to silence and lock up concerned citizens..."
Human Rights in China
But the family plans to apply for the sentence to be served outside prison, Huang added. "We hope the sentence can be served outside jail. I took all this information to the lawyer and he says that he needs to become familiar with it, that he has never handled this sort of application before."
Appeal to city authorities
An official who answered the phone at the Huanghan Detention Center, where Liu is currently being held, declined to answer any questions about his case. "I don’t know," the official said. "Please understand."
Li Fangping, a Beijing-based rights lawyer experienced at handling this kind of case, said it was very common for such administrative sentences to be handed to people standing up for their civil rights.
"You can appeal to the municipal government to review the sentence. If turned down, you can file an administrative lawsuit to sue the labor camp committee for the sentence for violating the law," Li said.
China's national security police are responsible for cases involving political prisoners and activists around the country.
Liu was volunteering as an aid worker in the quake-hit region when he was taken into custody late June 25.
Friends of the family said he had visited many places in the areas worst affected by the 7.9 magnitude tremor, documenting the damage and the plight of victims with his camera and posting pictures on the Web.
No trial needed
In an interview with Radio Free Asia the week before his detention, Liu described the collapsed schools as "almost made out of leftover tofu."
"They took away so many innocent children. Who isn't in pain?"
Chinese police can sentence people for up to four years' "re-education through labor" without trial or judicial review. Often used as a way of dealing with low-level offenses and people the authorities find troublesome, the system is separate from regular prisons or criminal justice procedures.
Estimates from the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin put the number of detainees in "re-education through labor" camps at more than 300,000 detainees nationwide.
According to U.S. State Department reports, around half of these are members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.
The U.S.-based group Human Rights in China sharply criticized the move.
“Instead of investigating and pursuing accountability for shoddy and dangerous school buildings, the authorities are resorting to RTL [reeducation through labor] to silence and lock up concerned citizens like teacher Liu Shaokun and others,” the group's executive director, Sharon Hom, said in a statement.
“These actions further undermine human rights and the ‘peaceful Olympics’ called for by the authorities, and reflect an irresponsible callousness towards the Sichuan earthquake victims and parents of the thousands of children killed by collapsed school buildings.”
The 7.9 magnitude earthquake on May 12 killed more than 70,000 people, including thousands of children at their desks in what many parents believe were shoddily made school buildings, thrown up by contractors hired by corrupt officials who cut corners, compromising safety.
Authorities have clamped down in recent weeks on protests and memorials by angry and grief-stricken parents, who cite strong pressure to sign a compensation deal waiving their right to sue the government.
Original reporting in Cantonese by Bat Tzi-mak. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han and Luisetta Mudie.