Rule of Law

Jailed China earthquake activist’s appeal declined

Amnesty International and Chinese Human Rights Defenders

(June 9, 2010) Amnesty International has condemned Wednesday’s court decision to uphold a five year sentence imposed on a Chinese activist who tried to publicize the number of children who died during the Sichuan earthquake and the corruption that led to their deaths.

The Chengdu City Intermediate People’s Court in Sichuan upheld Tan Zuoren’s sentence of five years imprisonment for “inciting subversion of state power” in a session lasting just 10 minutes.

“The entire trial and appeal process has been grossly unfair and politically motivated,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia-Pacific.

“China must free Tan Zuoren, and stop silencing social activists and anti-corruption campaigners with vague political charges and trials that do not even follow China’s own legal procedures.”

Tan Zuoren’s wife was permitted to attend the appeal, but his elder daughter waiting outside the court was taken away by two police officers in what was seen as an attempt to intimidate supporters gathered there.

Tan Zuoren, an environmental and human rights activist, was detained on 28 March 2009 after declaring his intention to release a list of names of children who died during the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, along with an independent report on the collapse of school buildings during the quake.

Tan Zuoren’s trial in August 2009 was grossly unfair, ignoring China’s criminal justice procedures. Witnesses for the defence were prevented from testifying, and lawyers prevented from presenting arguments and evidence.

One scheduled witness, the acclaimed artist Ai Weiwei, was detained by security forces until the trail had ended and was beaten until he required hospitalization.

The confirmation of sentence comes a day after China’s State Council issued a White Paper or policy document promoting the government’s “guarantee of citizens’ freedom of speech on the internet.” The White Paper also asserts the “public’s right to know, to participate, to be heard and to oversee in accordance with the law.”

“Tan Zuoren was exercising precisely these fundamental rights,” said Catherine Baber. “Continuing prosecutions of human rights defenders such as Tan Zuoren clearly demonstrates the gap between promises and practice on freedom of speech in China.”

The initial indictment made reference to Tan Zuoren’s activities relating to the Sichuan earthquake, although the ultimate verdict focused on his commemorations of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 4 June 1989 via an online diary posted on an overseas website “The Fire of Liberty” in 2007, and email contact with Wang Dan, an exiled 1989 student leader.

From Chinese Human Rights Defenders

Tan Zuoren’s Harsh Sentence Upheld by Sichuan High Court

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders- June 9, 2010) The Sichuan Provincial High People’s Court announced this morning that it had upheld the judgment of activist and environmentalist Tan Zuoren. Tan was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” in February 2010 and sentenced to five years in prison, with an additional three years’ deprivation of political rights, following a trial in August 2009.

“The Sichuan High Court squandered an opportunity to correct the lower court’s harsh and unfair verdict,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s International Director. “Mr. Tan is yet another victim of the Chinese government’s abuse of the legal system to persecute human rights activists.”

About 50 supporters gathered outside of the Sichuan Intermediate People’s Court, where the verdict was announced. At least four supporters, including Tan’s daughter Li Chang, Chengdu activist Chen Yunfei, and petitioner Li Tinghui, were taken away by the police. Representatives from the German embassy as well as a number of Hong Kong media were present outside of the courthouse. Tan’s wife was allowed to enter the court.

Shortly after the verdict was announced in February 2010, Tan appealed. On April 19, the Sichuan High Court rejected his request for an open hearing. On April 20, Tan’s lawyers Pu Zhiqiang and Xia Lin then submitted a second application for an open hearing of Tan’s appeal along with a defense statement. On June 6, the Sichuan High Court contacted Mr. Pu to inform him that a verdict had already been reached and that it would be announced on June 9.

According to Article 187 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law, courts of second instance are not required to open a court session to hear an appeal if judges believe “the criminal facts are clear.” Public hearings of appeals for politically sensitive cases, such as Tan’s, are rarely granted. Both Liu Xiaobo and Huang Qi had their sentences upheld in recent months following closed reviews of their appeals.

CHRD continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Tan Zuoren. We believe Tan has been sentenced to prison for investigating student deaths in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and for expressing his opinions regarding the Tiananmen Massacre. By prosecuting Tan for his expression and nonviolent actions, the Chinese government has violated its own Constitution, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China signed but has not yet ratified.


Tan, based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, is a local activist. After the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, Tan published a number of commentaries online that were critical of the government. In February 2009, Tan released a proposal calling on netizens to travel to Sichuan Province to compile a list of students who died in the earthquake and to investigate the quality of collapsed school buildings, as well as to assist parents of these children in their fight for justice. Tan had hoped to finish his investigation by the first anniversary of the earthquake. However, he was taken into police custody on March 28, 2009, and later arrested and tried for “inciting subversion of state power.” It is believed that Tan’s arrest was related to his earthquake investigations; however, when Tan was convicted on February 9, 2010, the court wrote that Tan’s “crime” consisted of attempting to organize commemorative activities for the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre and corresponding and conducting interviews with “hostile foreign forces.”

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