Yuan Xianchen Sentenced to Four Years in Prison for “Inciting Subversion of State Power”

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Yuan Xianchen Sentenced to Four Years in Prison for “Inciting Subversion of State Power”

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders- March 6, 2009) – Human rights activist and “barefoot lawyer” Yuan Xianchen (袁 显臣), of Jixi City, Heilongjiang Province, was found guilty on March 4 of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to four years in prison and five years’ deprivation of political rights. This verdict comes nearly two months after Yuan was tried by the Jixi City Intermediate People’s Court on January 12.

“This verdict is grossly unjust. The trial should have been declared invalid because the Jixi court admitted evidence extracted by torture against Yuan. The court never called for an investigation of torture alleged by the defendant, as requested by his lawyers,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s international director. Yuan told his lawyers prior to his trial that he had been severely tortured in detention and coerced to confess. For more information, please see CHRD’s press release “After Torture in Detention, Legal Activist Yuan Xianchen Goes on Trial.”

Yuan protested the verdict and vowed to appeal the decision. Yuan’s wife, Ms. Zhang, received a written verdict from the Jixi City Intermediate People’s Court on March 5.

The crime of “inciting subversion of state power” is stipulated under Article 105(2) of the Chinese Criminal Code, and since its adoption in 1997 has been a powerful tool for Chinese authorities seeking to criminalize freedom of expression in China. CHRD has documented dozens of cases of dissidents and free-speech activists persecuted under this law in recent years, including 2008 Sakharov Prize winner Hu Jia (胡佳), who is currently serving a sentence of 3 and ½ years in prison. For more information, please see CHRD’s January 2008 report, “’Inciting Subversion of State Power’: A Legal Tool for Prosecuting Free Speech in China.”

In this case, the charge of “inciting subversion of state power” against Yuan hinged on four main accusations: first, that he distributed an article entitled “Save China, Implement Constitutional Democracy” to petitioners and representatives attending the National People’s Congress in Beijing in 2005; second, that he gave interviews to the Epoch Times and other foreign media; third, that he received funds from domestic and overseas organizations; and finally, that he drafted over twenty articles “attacking” socialism. These actions provided the “evidence” necessary for authorities to punish Yuan, whose legal aid work in Jixi City since 1998 on behalf of farmers, miners, displaced persons, and other impoverished or exploited citizens earned him the ire of local government officials.

Additionally, though it was not mentioned in the charges or at his trial, it is believed that Yuan was also arrested in part for helping Yang Chunlin (杨春林), a Heilongjiang farmers’ representative, collect signatures endorsing an open letter entitled “We Want Human Rights, Not the Olympics” in early 2008, ahead of the Beijing Games. Yang was also charged with “inciting subversion of state power”, and sentenced to five years in prison on March 24, 2008. For more information, please see CHRD’s press release “’Olympics Prisoner’ Yang Chunlin Sentenced to Five Years in Prison.”

“The use of ‘inciting subversion’ to persecute a local human rights activist is a stern warning to others who work at the grassroots providing legal assistance and organize workers! While Premier Wen Jiabao talked about opening up channels for the distressed to vent on the first day of the National People’s Congress, authorities continued to suppress local activism with iron fists. This is a particularly volatile time both socially and politically, as 40-45 million migrant laborers have already lost or will lose their jobs this year and the urban unemployment rate may reach 10%,” said Renee Xia.

CHRD demands the immediate release of Yuan Xianchen.

CHRD believes not only that Yuan has been punished simply for exercising his right to freedom of speech but that he was subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment while in detention. Yuan’s right to freedom of speech is guaranteed by Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution, and his right to be protected against cruel and inhuman punishment is guaranteed by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.


Yuan, 44, self-studied law and is best known for his work as a legal advisor to workers at the Didao Mine in Jixi City. The miners have been seeking compensation from the local government and the mine management since the former state-owned business was re-structured and became a private enterprise.

Yuan was taken into police custody in Beijing on May 24, 2008 and formally arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” on June 30.

Media contacts for this press release:

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin): +852 8191 6937
Wang Songlian, Research Coordinator and English Editor (English, Mandarin and Cantonese): +85281911660

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