Seven Years in Jail For a Poem

A veteran Chinese dissident is the latest in a string of political activists to receive heavy jail terms for 'subversion.'

Undated photo of Zhu Yufu.
Photo courtesy of Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Updated at 1.40 p.m. EST on 2012-2-10

A court in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou has handed down a seven-year jail term to a veteran pro-democracy activist for "incitement to subvert state power" after he penned a poem calling on the Chinese people to vote with their feet.

Zhu Yufu, 60, was handed the sentence on Friday after his Jan. 31 trial, the latest in a string of political activists to receive heavy jail terms for subversion, the China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in a statement.

The procuratorate’s indictment cited as evidence a poem, “It Is Time,” that Zhu wrote and shared during online calls for 'Jasmine' rallies inspired by protests in the Middle East in early 2011.

During his trial Zhu told the court that he had been merely exercising his freedoms as enshrined in the country's Constitution, and that nothing he had done constituted "inciting subversion."

Zhu's wife Zhu Hangli was apparently overcome at the harshness of the sentence. "Seven years," she said in a brief comment on Friday. "That is so cruel. I don't know what else to say."

His son, Zhu Ang, who attended the sentencing along with his mother, said his father appeared old and weak.

"It was very cold today and still snowing," he said. "My father was wearing very thick clothes and walked very slowly. He looked quite weak, and had to lean on two prison guards."

"As they were taking him away, he paused briefly and said in a soft voice to his lawyer that he wanted to appeal."

Zhu Ang said his father's sentence was particularly harsh given his advanced age. "My father is nearly 60 years old," he said. "I think it's inhumane to lock him up for a long time after the age of 60."

Zhu's lawyer, Li Dunyong, said the sentence was within his expectations for the charges, however.

"This is unacceptable from a legal point of view," Li said. "But this case is a political one...[Zhu] has always protested his innocence."

Fellow Hangzhou-based activists Zou Wei, Lu Gengsong, Chen Shuqing and Mao Qingxiang were all placed under police guard at their homes during the trial, Zou said.

Zou said he had been called in for questioning by two state security police officers on Friday, during the sentencing, and only taken home after it was over.

"All Zhu Yufu did was to express his opinions and aspirations," Zou said. "Legally, he has a right to freedom of expression and freedom of belief...[these things] do not constitute a crime."

"This is clearly a form of oppression," he said.

The sentence comes ahead of a crucial visit to the United States next week by China's vice president and likely presidential successor Xi Jinping.

CHRD called on Washington to raise Zhu's sentence during Xi's visit.

"This seems a strange time for the U.S. to engage in diplomatic niceties or goodwill overtures to China’s likely future president," international director Renee Xia said in an e-mailed statement.

"The U.S. should instead hold Xi and other Chinese leaders to account for the Chinese government’s escalating human rights violations at home and its heartless position towards the suffering of the Syrian people," she said.

Hundreds detained

China's veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for the resignation of Syrian President Bashir Al-Assad amid escalating violence drew widespread international criticism.

China has said it vetoed the resolution to avoid further civilian casualties.

The beginning of the Arab Spring in Tunisia last year sparked online calls for Chinese activists to begin their own Jasmine Revolution, prompting the detention and suveillance of hundreds of dissidents and rights defenders across the country.

Chinese activists say they were subjected to beatings, humiliation, and brainwashing techniques during the crackdown.

While dozens of those detained by the authorities were eventually freed, many remain under close police surveillance.

The Jasmine crackdown has also prompted a string of lengthy jail terms handed in recent weeks to prominent activists for subversion, including Guizhou-based Chen Xi, Sichuan-based Chen Wei, and Wuhan-based Li Tie.

Rights groups estimate that at least 40 activists were held under criminal detention in the two months that followed the calls for a Jasmine Revolution—proposed silent demonstrations in major Chinese cities—that, in the event, appeared to attract more police and journalists than protesters.

Veteran activist

Zhu was formally detained by Hangzhou police last March after he posted his poem, titled "It Is Time" online.

"It is time, people of China! It is time," the poem read. "The square belongs to us all; our feet are our own."

"It is time to use our feet to go to the square and to make a choice ... We should use our choices to decide the future of China," it said.

Zhu, 59, is a veteran activist who first caught the attention of the authorities during the Democracy Wall movement of 1978.

He was sentenced in 1998 to a seven-year jail term for his involvement with an unprecedented attempt to register the Zhejiang provincial branch of the China Democracy Party as a civil organization with the authorities.

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English with additional reporting by Luisetta Mudie.


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Feb 10, 2012 12:48 PM

Mr. Zhu's wife is correct. The first word that comes to mind when hearing about the latest travesty of justice by the CCP regime is cruelty. Utterly lacking in the sort of wisdom and magnanimity one would expect from genuinely legitimate political leaders, the CCP oligarchs are above all cruel and ruthless in the way they come crashing down on anything they believe presents a risk to their illegal monopoly on power in China.