Activist Yang Chunlin Tried for Demanding Human Rights Prior to the Olympics

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Activist Yang Chunlin Tried for Demanding Human Rights Prior to the Olympics
CHRD protests the use of “Inciting Subversion of State Power” to Prosecute Free Speech
(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, February 19, 2008)- Yang Chunlin (杨春林), a Heilongjiang farmers’ representative detained since July 6, 2007, on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”, was tried by the Jiamusi City Intermediate People’s Court in Heilongjiang Province today.

Yang entered the court in handcuffs and leg irons. After protests by his lawyers, Li Fangping (李方平) and Zhang Jianguo (张建国), Yang was released from the leg irons but his legs were fastened to an iron seat during the trial. Yang and his lawyers insisted that he is innocent and that he is merely exercising his right to freedom of expression.

Much of the trial focused on the title of the open letter Yang collected signatures for, “We Want Human Rights, not the Olympics”. Yang’s lawyers demanded the prosecutors to provide evidence linking the title to the crime “inciting subversion of state power”. The prosecutors failed to present any concrete evidence, only stressing that the slogan has drawn the attention of international media and left a very negative international impact.

About forty people, including thirty of Yang’s family, friends and supporters, attended the trial.

Yesterday, in a meeting between Yang and Li, Yang said that he had been allowed out of his prison cell only seven or eight times since his detention in July 2007. He was also not notified about the trial until yesterday; as a result he had no time to write a defense letter.

The court is to announce Yang’s sentence at a later date. Yang is currently incarcerated at Heitong Detention Center, Heilongjiang Province.

Yang, 52, is a resident of Jiamusi City, Heilongjiang Province. Yang is a laid-off worker. He was detained four times in 2006 for helping farmers seeking compensation for lost land and participating in the hunger strike called by the Beijing lawyer Gao Zhisheng.

He was detained on July 6, 2007, and on August 13 formally arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” because he collected signatures to endorse the open letter, “We Want Human Rights, not the Olympics”. The letter was reportedly signed by more than 10,000 people, mostly Heilongjiang farmers who have been fighting forced eviction and are sympathetic with other victims of land loss in cities where officials have used the Olympics as a pretense to grab land/housing without adequate compensation.

Yang is said to have been tortured and coerced to confess while in detention. The authorities have denied his family’s repeated requests to visit him and refused to let them know about Yang’s situation. The authorities have also repeatedly harassed Yang’s family, including wire-tapping their phone to prevent them from calling attention to Yang’s situation.

CHRD calls for Yang’s immediate and unconditional release.

CHRD calls on the Chinese government to respect the UN Convention against Torture, which China ratified in 1988, to ensure that Yang is not tortured or subjected to other forms of cruel and inhuman treatment while he is in detention.

CHRD considers Yang’s arrest and trial yet another instance of the Chinese government using the crime of “inciting subversion of state power”—as stipulated in Article 105(2) of the PRC Criminal Law—to persecute those exercising their right to freedom of expression. This is illustrated by Lu Gengsong’s recent sentence on February 5 and Hu Jia’s arrest on January 29 under the same charge.

Yang’s case also point to the nervousness and political sensitivity with which the government views efforts to link the Olympics and human rights. While the government has repeatedly accused critics of its abuses of human rights of “politicizing sports,” it is the government that has made expression of views about the Olympics a political crime. This makes the arrest of Yang Chunlin particularly alarming.

For more information, please see:
Inciting Subversion of State Power”: A Legal Tool for Prosecuting Free Speech in China (January 8, 2008)
Heilongjiang Activist Yang Chunlin Arrested for Organizing Open-Letter Campaign: “We Want Human Rights, not the Olympics” (August 31, 2007)
Heilongjiang activist, Yang Chunlin, denied access to lawyer, at risk of torture and ill-treatment (September 25, 2007)

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