Three Gorges Probe

Silencing scrutiny: Chinese government jails another activist

(February 9, 2010) Chinese activist Tan Zuoren has been sentenced to five years in jail for subversion. The environmentalist was arrested last March after he began investigating the deaths of thousands of children who were crushed when their schools collapsed on them in the May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan. The earthquake killed an estimated 88,000 people.

The charge used against him in his August 21 trial of “inciting subversion of state power” was related to his criticism of China’s handling of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, said one of his lawyers, Pu Zhiqiang.

But, “Tan thinks one of the reasons behind this case is that he was leading an investigation into the poorly built schools after the earthquake, which would have embarrassed the local government in Chengdu,” said Pu.

“There were no charges related to the quake. All of the proceedings were linked to June 4 (1989),” Pu told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Amnesty International agrees and says that Tan’s independent investigation of the deaths—he was creating an archive of children killed in collapsed schools—was likely the real reason for his detention.

A report from the Associated Press (AP) says Tan estimated at least 5,600 students were killed in the 2008 quake, while the government’s figure released last May put the count at 5,335.

Other media reports say Tan pleaded not guilty to the charge. According to the blog, China Geeks, his other lawyer, Xia Lin, said Tan wore a tranquil expression as his sentence was handed down by the presiding judge, Liu Han. Tan stated in court that he was dissatisfied, and that there was a discrepancy between his understanding of the law and the judge’s, and that he firmly demanded an appeal.

As he was led out of court by the bailiff, Tan apparently raised his voice and said, “being imprisoned for the sake of my people is my honor.”

According to the government: “the Procuratorate believes that the indicted Tan Zuoren, in order to achieve his goal of subverting state power and overthrowing the socialist system fabricated things out of whole cloth, distorted news, and spread speech that is injurious to state power and the socialist system in order to damage the image of state power and the socialist system in the eyes of the people.”

A U.S. Embassy official in Beijing says the United States government “is dismayed at the sentence and called on the Chinese government to release Tan and other jailed dissidents.”

Meanwhile, Ai Weiwei, the internationally known artist and a designer of the famed Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium expressed foreboding on the eve of the verdict: “China is going back to a very bad position where freedom of expression is absolutely forbidden and anyone who does not agree with a single policy is sentenced,” he said

Mr. Ai—who has also been working to document the names of the children who died in their schools and has been pushing for an official investigation into the school collapses—had been scheduled to appear as a witness in Mr. Tan’s defence at his trial last August, but was beaten by thugs the night before and barred from the court.

Before the verdict came down today Ai tweeted: “Tomorrow morning conscience, courage, and honesty will be teased and put on trial in China.” In keeping with his tradition, Ai then posted the names and details of the crushed Sichuan students who were born on February 9th, the day of Tan Zouren’s verdict.

Further Reading:

From Probe International: China’s secret death toll

From the East Asian Times: “For months after the May 12 temblor, China refused to provide an estimate of how many children had been killed in schools, prompting Tan to start his own investigation in December of that year. He hoped to have a figure before the first anniversary of the quake but was detained in March 2009. His initial estimate was that at least 5,600 students were among the dead.” Read the full story here.

From the Wall Street Journal: “The verdict against Mr. Tan is the latest in a string of high-profile dissident convictions in recent months that longtime human rights analysts say represent a major ratcheting up of official repression. The efforts to stifle dissent have continued well after the Beijing Olympics in August 2008 and the 60th anniversary of the founding of Communist China last October, defying hopes from many that authorities would ease limits after those politically sensitive events concluded.”

Brady Yauch, Probe International, February 9, 2010

Read the full story here.

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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