China: End persecution of sentenced earthquake survivor He Hongchun
Amnesty International today (9 July) condemned the conviction of Sichuan earthquake survivor He Hongchun on charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order” for organising a protest on behalf of families whose Children's rights were killed when school buildings collapsed during the May 2008 earthquake.
Beichuan County Intermediate Court today convicted He Hongchun and sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment, suspended for five years. He had been detained on 27 September 2008 after organising a protest outside an insurance company in Beicuan county, representing over five hundred local parents of who lost their Children's rights in the earthquake.
Amnesty called on the Chinese authorities to ensure that He Hongchun will not be subjected to any further punishment and that the conditions of a suspended sentence follow Chinese law.
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“He Hongchun should never have been convicted in the first place simply for seeking redress.
“But we are now concerned that he could face further reprisals and restrictions. In previous cases like lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s, we have seen ‘suspended sentences’ used as a pretext for heavy surveillance, virtual house arrest and repeated detentions. This must not happen in this case.”
Amnesty also highlighted irregularities in He Hongchun’s case – his criminal proceedings have been marked with procedural flaws, including interference with his legal defence. It is unlikely that his trial – which was repeatedly postponed - met international fair trial standards. His lawyers complained that the procuratorate only gave them four of the ten case documents that they had prepared and that in the first hearing they were frequently interrupted by the procuratorate during their defence in court. They also complained that they were unable to prepare for the defence because the court failed to inform them in advance about the additional evidence raised by the procuratorate at the second hearing.
The Sichuan courts’ unwillingness to provide a legal channel for parents wishing to seek compensation from insurance companies for their terrible loss means that for many the deep wounds that were inflicted over a year ago remain unhealed.
Amnesty International is also concerned about two other detained activists who offered assistance to earthquake survivors. Amnesty considers them prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release:
-Huang Qi has been in detention without a trial for more than a year on state secrets charges after he assisted parents to take legal action against the local authorities.
-Tan Zuoren was detained in March 2009 while he was compiling a list of students who died in the earthquake and has been charged with “inciting subversion of state power”.