The Chinese government must release and drop all charges against three human rights campaigners about to be tried on state security charges for publishing books on democracy and activism, Amnesty International said today.
Tang Jingling, Yuan Xinting, and Wang Qingying will be tried by Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court on Friday for “inciting subversion of state power,” a state security charge regularly leveled against human rights activists and peaceful critics of the Communist Party’s monopoly on power. They each face up to five years imprisonment.
“This trial is another dark day for freedom of expression in China. It has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with arbitrarily silencing critics of the government,” said William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International.
“Anything other than these men walking free will amount to a gross injustice.”
According to the state prosecution’s indictment, the three defendants are accused of having “promoted the ideas of civil disobedience… with the goal of overthrowing the socialist system.”
The three activists are not accused of having taken part in any civil disobedience.
The key evidence cited by the prosecution is 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 accuse the defendants of having participated in various “illegal activities” from 2006 onwards. These include commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, remembrance of (Mao-era victim) Lin Zhao and the signing of the Charter 08 democracy manifesto, which was co-authored by imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo.
“The indictment itself makes clear that nothing the men did exceeded the boundaries of the right to freedom of expression. They should be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Nee.
The arrest and prosecution of the three men has been marred by repeated procedural violations. They 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 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.
Tang Jingling, 44, Yuan Xinting, also 44, and Wang Qingying, 31, have long been prominent rights advocates in Southern China, gaining the nickname “The Three Gentlemen of Guangzhou” in activists’ circles for their willingness to take a stand for their ideas in the face of state suppression.
Freedom of expression and association have come under renewed attack since President Xi Jinping came to power in late 2012. Scores of academics, journalists, lawyers, and rights activists have been detained or imprisoned solely for peacefully expressing their views.