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China: three people jailed for publishing books on democracy

Activists known as ‘The Three Gentlemen of Guangzhou’ were accused of ‘picking quarrels and provoking troubles’

‘This is solely about the authorities arbitrarily silencing government critics’ - Patrick Poon

Three Chinese human rights campaigners have been jailed for publishing books on democracy and activism earlier today, in what Amnesty International believes is China’s latest use of politically-motivated “national security” charges to silence government critics.

Tang Jingling, 44, Yuan Xinting, 44, and Wang Qingying, 31, were convicted by Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court for “inciting subversion of state power”, and were sentenced to five years, three-and-a-half years and two-and-a-half years in jail respectively. 

According to the state prosecution’s indictment, the three had “promoted the ideas of civil disobedience … with the goal of overthrowing the socialist system”, though they were not accused of themselves taking part in any civil disobedience. 

The key evidence cited by the prosecution at trial hearings in June and July last year was the publication of a series of books on civic activism, peaceful democratisation and civil disobedience, such as From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp, Organising: A Guide for Grassroots Leaders by Si Kahn, and Breaking the Real Axis of Evil by Mark Palmer. They were also accused of having participated in various “illegal activities” from 2006 onwards - including commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, remembrance of Lin Zhao who was executed during the Cultural Revolution, and signing the Charter 08 democracy manifesto, which was co-authored by imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo. 

The three 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 restricted the men’s access to their lawyers and visits by their relatives, in contravention of international standards and China’s own criminal procedure law. Several of the men’s lawyers also alleged that their clients had been repeatedly beaten in custody and during questioning by the police. 

The arrest and prosecution of the men was marred by multiple procedural violations. The court repeatedly blocked defence lawyers from calling witnesses, lawyers faced difficulties in accessing court materials; the initial trial was suspended after the judge rejected defence requests for Communist Party members to be prevented from adjudicating on the case; and foreign diplomats were prevented from attending the trial.   

Tang Jingling, Yuan Xinting, and Wang Qingying are prominent rights advocates in Southern China, gaining the nickname “The Three Gentlemen of Guangzhou” from fellow activists for their willingness to take a stand in the face of state suppression. Meanwhile, earlier this month the Chinese authorities formally arrested 15 people on state security charges in the ongoing crackdown against human rights lawyers and activists which began last July. 

Amnesty International China Researcher Patrick Poon said:

“Today’s verdict against the three activists is a gross injustice. 

“Their peaceful and legitimate work never threatened state security, this is solely about the authorities arbitrarily silencing government critics.

“The authorities appear to be stepping up the use of spurious ‘national security’ charges as they escalate their attack against human rights activists and peaceful critics of the government’s abuse of power.

“The prosecutor’s indictment itself makes clear that nothing the men did exceeded the boundaries of the right to freedom of expression. Their convictions and sentences must be quashed, and all three men must be immediately and unconditionally released.”

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