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China: Free Sichuan earthquake activists
LONDON - On the eve of the scheduled trial of Tan
Zuoren on charges of “inciting subversion of state power”, Amnesty
International urges the Chinese authorities to drop the
politically-motivated prosecution against him and fellow earthquake
activist Huang Qi, whose “state secrets” trial was conducted last week,
and to release them both immediately and unconditionally.
Tan Zuoren is accused of defaming the Chinese Communist Party and
the government with his online coverage of the authorities' handling of
the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989.
“Whether commenting on the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown or seeking
answers for the deaths during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Tan Zuoren
was doing nothing more than exercising his right to freedom of
expression guaranteed in China’s Constitution,” said Roseann Rife,
Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International. “To equate this
with subversion denies not only his rights and those of the victims he
is assisting and commemorating but also makes a mockery of criminal law
Local sources believe that Tan Zuoren's detention is linked to his
intention to publicly issue, on the first anniversary of the May 2008
Sichuan earthquake, an independent report on the collapse of school
buildings where numerous students perished. The collapse of the
buildings has been linked to alleged corruption in the construction
process. Despite public demands for an independent inquiry into such
matters, Chinese authorities have denied allegations of corruption and
shoddy construction, kept a tight lid on the death toll of students and
only announced the number – 5,335 – four days before the first
anniversary of the earthquake.
Huang Qi’s three-hour closed-door trial on 5 August ended without a
verdict. The court prohibited witnesses from testifying on Huang Qi’s
behalf on state secrets grounds. Police interrogated him for hours at a
time, sometimes depriving him of sleep, about the assistance he gave to
parents of students who died during the earthquake in bringing legal
cases against the local authorities. Tan Zuoren’s trial will likely
lack the same due process guarantees.
“The assistance that Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren provided to earthquake
survivors seeking redress and the independent information they gathered
on the earthquake only furthered the goal of reconciliation and
justice. The authorities should welcome such actions by activists
instead of hindering and persecuting these individuals” said Rife.
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