The Hong Kong Journalists Association is deeply concerned that the Chinese government has strengthened its grip on freedom of expression. We are outraged by theongoing trials, all within a week, of Huang Qi, Guo Quan and Tan Zuoren on unfounded charges in relation to national security. We are convinced that they are being punished merely for exercising their freedom of expression. We strongly urge the authorities to withdraw these unfounded charges against them.
Our understanding of the cases as well as the so-called evidence disclosed by the prosecution, Huang Qi, founder of “64 Tian Wang”, Guo Quan, former Associate Professor of Nanjing Normal University and Tan Zuron, a writer of Sichuan were charged because of their persistent, peaceful and reasonable criticism against Chinese government in relation to the Sichuan earthquakes which occurred last year and the democratisation of China. HKJA believes that these pursuits, i.e. freedom of expression, fall within Articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant of Civic and Political Rights (ICCPR). Therefore, they should not be under any threat, interfered with nor obstructed or subjected to any kind of suppression. Freedom of expression and association are also guaranteed by the Article 35 of the Constitution of China and the National Human Rights Action Plan (2009-2010).
HKJA believes that this prosecution is a shameful act that blatantly tramples on human rights enjoyed by Chinese citizens. It dishonors what had been promised by the government and thus a discreditable act. Such an act not only damages the international image of China and conscribes China’s space on the international stage but also distorts the general course of development towards the rule of law as well as push citizens towards opposing the government. As such, it is not in the interests of the harmony and stability most desired by the government.
The HKJA has also learnt that Huang Qi was charged with illegal possession of state secrets last June after he helped the families of victims of the Sichuan earthquakes to air their grievances and criticized the jerry-built projects. The Wuhou district court of Chengdu withheld judgment after a three-hour trial behind closed doors.
Huang Qi commented on the handling of the Sichuan earthquake in accordance with the information he obtained while the victims’ families queried the construction quality of the school which are within their rights of free expression. Moreover, the queries raised are reasonable and can only be cleared by the making public of government information. Regrettably, the government punished his exercise of free speech by laying unfounded charges against him.His defense counsel was denied access to prosecution information on the excuse of ‘avoiding divulgence of state secrets’, thus depriving the defendant of his rights. The reasonableness of the charge is, therefore, unconvincing.
Guo Quan publicized an open letter to Chinese leaders to promote democracy and tried to establish a political party. His actions are no more than the freedom of expression and association enshrined in ICCPR and in China’s constitution. However, he was arrested for alleged subversion of state power and was put to trial on August 7 in Intermediate Court of Su Qian city, Jiangsu province. Guo pleaded not guilty to the charge.
The third victim, Tan Zuoren, will be put on trial on August 12. He had criticized the performance of government during the Sichuan earthquakes. A charge of “inciting subversion of state power” was laid against him on 28th March, five days after he told overseas media that he was going to do research on the number of students who died in the earthquakes as well as the jerry-built projects. According to information revealed, he had compiled a list of more than two thousand children who died in the disaster. According to the ICCPR, receiving information is part of freedom of expression and research is defined as actively receiving information and thus should be respected and protected.
As far as we can see all these acts of the defendants were fully within the ambit of freedom of expression. The charges laid against them and the trials that follow are totally without grounds and are, in addition, an intrusion of their human rights. The HKJA strongly urges the withdrawal of the charges so that people can enjoy their protected rights. In doing so, China can redirect to the right course of rule of law and adopt a humanist approach.
To cure the problem from the roots, the authorities should review the charges in relation to state security. As we have stated previously, the authorities can easily abuse the law by laying such charges for acts that are guaranteed by human rights. A check and balance mechanism must be introduced to ensure that the rights of Chinese citizens which are highly fragile, cannot be easily destroyed.
11th August 2009
Hong Kong Journalists Association