Group Calls for Tan's Release

A writer's group calls for the release of a Chinese activist.

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090812-Tanzuoren-boxun.jpg Chinese writer Tan Zuoren.
Photo: Boxun

HONG KONG—An international writers' group has called on Chinese authorities to release Tan Zuoren, a writer and activist based in the southwestern province of Sichuan who was recently jailed for subversion after investigating the deaths of children in the 2008 earthquake in the region.

International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee issued a statement condemning Tan's Feb. 9 sentencing for "inciting subversion of state power".

"Tan Zuoren's conviction and continuing imprisonment are in direct violation of his right to freedom of expression and opinion," the group said in a statement on its Web site.

"[We call] for his immediate and unconditional release according to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory," it said.

Tan, 55, a freelance writer, editor, and activist, was arrested in Chengdu on March 28. While his conviction was linked to an article he wrote about the military crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, it also came after he began probing claims that shoddy construction was to blame for the deaths of thousands of schoolchildren in the May 12, 2008 earthquake.

Sweden-based writer Zhang Yu, who heads the prison committee of the writers' group Independent Chinese PEN, said the sentencing of Tan was unreasonable.

"The case of Tan Zuoren is ridiculous in a quite unprecedented way," Zhang said. "The article he wrote commemorating June 4, 1989 didn't even criticize the Chinese government, let alone attempt to subvert state power."

"It is a literary work of great merit, suddenly hauled in to stand witness in a criminal trial. Of course it's a disgrace. And to think he was sentenced to five years' imprisonment on the basis of a single article," Zhang said.

"The other piece of evidence was even more laughable. How can giving blood in memory of June 4, 1989, be considered a crime?"

Tan is currently waiting for the results of an appeal of his conviction.

"I think we can certainly all pray for him in our own way, but I don't think it's going to do much good," Tan's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said of the appeal.

"I have no faith whatsoever in Hu Jintao."

Bloggers on trial

Meanwhile, in the southeastern province of Fujian, three Chinese bloggers are still in custody over allegations that a 25-year-old woman, Yan Xiaoling, was gang-raped and murdered, and that the alleged perpetrators were connected to municipal authorities in Fujian.

Fan Yanqiong, You Jingyou, and Wu Huaying were still in detention pending a decision on their November trial for "false accusations," their lawyers said.

However, instead of making a decision within the allotted time, the Mawei District People's Court in the provincial capital Fuzhou asked the state prosecution service last month to come up with more evidence.

The case has drawn widespread support from fellow bloggers and netizens via blogs, forums, and microblogging services like Twitter, sparking a postcard campaign calling for their release.

The bloggers are on trial because they publicized accusations from Yan's relatives that people connected to Fuzhou officials perpetrated the attack on Yan, and then covered up the cause of her death.

Officials said at the time that Yan had suffered a hemorrhage caused by an ectopic pregnancy and began detaining anyone blogging or tweeting about the case.

Beijing-based lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, who is hired as a legal representative for at least one of the bloggers, said the authorities appear to be dragging their feet now that the case has attracted nationwide attention in China.

"They have been detained past the limit now. According to our understanding, the leaders sent an order, so perhaps they were putting pressure on the court," Liu said.

"A not guilty verdict would cause concern for the local leadership, but if they find them guilty, there will be a lot of attention from the media and from netizens all over China," he said.

"Perhaps they are afraid to take responsibility, so they are just letting things drag out for a time."

Liu has previously said that while some of the articles and blog posts written by bloggers may not have been entirely accurate, they didn't add up to the charges of false accusation, a deliberate action aimed at perverting the course of justice.

An official who answered the phone at the Mawei District People's Court Tuesday said they were unfamiliar with the details of the case.

Meanwhile, an official at the Mawei District People's Procuratorate, or state prosecutor, said they were unable to comment on a case that was still on trial.

China's 47 million bloggers are frequently subjected to censorship by their Internet service providers, but politically sensitive material also routinely falls through the cracks as individual companies interpret government guidelines in their own way, experts say.

China had 298 million Web users by the end of 2008, who spend more time online than netizens in any other country with the exception of France and South Korea, according to official figures.

Chinese are also more likely to contribute to blogs, forums, chatrooms, and other social media like photo and video-sharing sites.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Li Li, and in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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