Three Chinese human rights campaigners who were handed jail sentences on Friday for publishing books on democracy and activism are the latest victims of politically motivated “national security” charges used to silence government critics, Amnesty International said.
Tang Jingling, 44, Yuan Xinting, 44, and Wang Qingying, 31, were convicted by Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court for “inciting subversion of state power”, and were sentenced to five years, three-and-a-half years and two-and-a-half years in jail respectively.
“Today’s verdict against the three activists is a gross injustice. Their peaceful and legitimate work never threatened state security, this is solely about the authorities arbitrarily silencing government critics,” said Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International. “The authorities appear to be stepping up the use of spurious ‘national security’ charges as they escalate their attack against human rights activists and peaceful critics of the government’s abuse of power.”
According to the state prosecution’s indictment, Tang Jingling, Yuan Xinting, and Wang Qingying “promoted the ideas of civil disobedience… with the goal of overthrowing the socialist system.” The three activists were not accused of having taken part themselves in any civil disobedience.
The key evidence cited by the prosecution at trial hearings in June and July 2015 was the publication of a series of books on civic activism, peaceful democratization and civil disobedience, such as From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp, Organizing: A Guide for Grassroots Leaders by Si Kahn and Breaking the Real Axis of Evil by Mark Palmer.
The authorities also accused the defendants of having participated in various “illegal activities” from 2006 onwards. These include commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, remembrance of Lin Zhao, who was executed during the Cultural Revolution, and the signing of the Charter 08 democracy manifesto, which was co-authored by imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo.
“The prosecutor’s indictment itself makes clear that nothing the men did exceeded the boundaries of the right to freedom of expression. Their convictions and sentences must be quashed, and all three men must be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Poon.
Tang Jingling, Yuan Xinting, and Wang Qingying, have long been prominent rights advocates in Southern China, gaining the nickname “The Three Gentlemen of Guangzhou” from fellow activists for their willingness to take a stand for their ideas in the face of state suppression.
The arrest and prosecution of the three activists was marred by many procedural violations. The court repeatedly blocked defense lawyers from calling witnesses. The initial trial in June 2015 was suspended after the judge rejected defense requests for Communist Party members to be prevented from adjudicating on the case. Foreign diplomats were also prevented from attending the trial.
The three men were initially detained in May 2014 on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”, when scores of activists and government critics were detained ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.
Police first denied and then arbitrarily restricted the men access to their lawyers and visits by their relatives, in contravention of international standards and China’s criminal procedure law. Tang Jingling was not allowed to meet one of his lawyers for several weeks after he was taken into custody.
Several of the men’s lawyers also alleged that their clients had been repeatedly beaten in custody and during questioning by the police.
The lawyers also faced difficulties in accessing the case court material and were denied the right to make copies of the transcript of the police interrogation, which is cited as evidence in the indictment.
Earlier this month, the authorities formally arrested 15 people on state security charges in the ongoing crackdown against human rights lawyers and activists which began last July.