China: Amnesty demands release of earthquake activist facing secret trial on Wednesday

The Chinese authorities should drop the politically-motivated prosecution against Sichuan-based human rights activist Huang Qi and release him immediately and unconditionally, said Amnesty International today. Huang Qi had been trying to help the families of those whose Children's rights were killed in the Sichuan earthquake.

After more than 13 months in detention, a court in Chengdu city will try Huang Qi behind closed doors on Wednesday, 5 August. He is charged with “unlawfully holding documents classified as highly secret” and will face a maximum of three years’ imprisonment if convicted.

The police have interrogated Huang Qi for many hours at a time, sometimes depriving him of sleep, say local sources. He was repeatedly questioned about assistance he gave to the families of five primary school pupils in bringing a legal case against the local authorities. The five pupils died when their school buildings collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008. Their families believe that corruption – involving local authorities – resulted in poor construction of some public buildings that collapsed in the earthquake.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“This man was helping parents to get justice after their Children's rights were killed in the Sichuan earthquake. Many of those parents have also been detained or harassed by the authorities when they tried to find out why local schools collapsed so easily. It’s an appalling way to treat grieving parents and those who try to help them.

“If Huang Qi is convicted, he will be yet another victim of the Chinese authorities’ use of the state secrets system to penalise the lawful defence of human rights.”

Huang Qi has said that the detention centre doctor had diagnosed him with two tumours, one in his stomach and another in his chest, which had developed since March 2009. He is also suffering from frequent headaches, an irregular heartbeat and insomnia. According to Huang Qi’s family, he suffers from hydrocephalus, a condition that causes excessive accumulation of fluid and possible harmful pressure on the brain. The authorities have turned down repeated requests made by his family to release Huang Qi on bail pending investigation and trial. They fear that he has not received adequate medical treatment in custody.

The criminal proceedings against Huang Qi have been marked with procedural irregularities. On 10 June 2008 three unidentified men abducted him and took him away in a car. Later it emerged that he was being held by police at Chengdu City Public Security Bureau. The police failed to send the detention notice to his family within the legally required 24 hours. In violation of the Lawyers’ Law, the authorities denied Huang Qi access to lawyers and to his family on state secret grounds and only allowed a first meeting with his lawyer, Ding Xikui, on 23 September 2008 after more than 100 days of incommunicado detention.

On 3 February 2009, the court did not allow Huang Qi’s lawyer, Ding Xikui, to make photocopies of the case documents to prepare his defence, again on state secrets grounds and in violation of the Law on Lawyers. On 2 February, the court only gave one day’s notice of his trial to his family and lawyers. After objections by Huang Qi’s lawyers, later the same day the court decided to postpone his trial.

Background

On 9 May 2003, Huang Qi was sentenced to five years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” in connection with materials deemed politically sensitive by the authorities which had been previously published on his website www.64tianwang.com. Those materials included an Amnesty International publication The People’s Republic of China: Tiananmen - Eleven Years on - Forgotten Prisoners. As he was detained on 3 June 2000, he completed his sentence on 4 June 2005.

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