China: Free Sichuan earthquake activists
On the eve of the scheduled trial of Tan Zuoren on charges of “inciting subversion of state power”, Amnesty International urges the Chinese authorities to drop the politically-motivated prosecution against him and fellow earthquake activist Huang Qi, whose “state secrets” trial was conducted last week, and to release them both immediately and unconditionally.
Tan Zuoren is accused of defaming the Chinese Communist Party and the government with his online coverage of the authorities' handling of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989.
“Whether commenting on the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown or seeking answers for the deaths during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Tan Zuoren was doing nothing more than exercising his right to freedom of expression guaranteed in China’s Constitution,” said Roseann Rife, Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International. “To equate this with subversion denies not only his rights and those of the victims he is assisting and commemorating but also makes a mockery of criminal law and procedure.”
Local sources believe that Tan Zuoren's detention is linked to his intention to publicly issue, on the first anniversary of the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, an independent report on the collapse of school buildings where numerous students perished. The collapse of the buildings has been linked to alleged corruption in the construction process. Despite public demands for an independent inquiry into such matters, Chinese authorities have denied allegations of corruption and shoddy construction, kept a tight lid on the death toll of students and only announced the number – 5,335 – four days before the first anniversary of the earthquake.
Huang Qi’s three-hour closed-door trial on 5 August ended without a verdict. The court prohibited witnesses from testifying on Huang Qi’s behalf on state secrets grounds. Police interrogated him for hours at a time, sometimes depriving him of sleep, about the assistance he gave to parents of students who died during the earthquake in bringing legal cases against the local authorities. Tan Zuoren’s trial will likely lack the same due process guarantees.
“The assistance that Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren provided to earthquake survivors seeking redress and the independent information they gathered on the earthquake only furthered the goal of reconciliation and justice. The authorities should welcome such actions by activists instead of hindering and persecuting these individuals” said Rife.