Sichuan Activist Detained before Earthquake Anniversary

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(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, April 1, 2009) – On March 28, Tan Zuoren (谭作人), an environmentalist and writer, was detained by Chengdu police on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”, CHRD learned today. It is believed that Tan was detained for mobilizing volunteers to conduct an independent investigation of the causes of the collapsed school buildings which killed thousands of schoolchildren during the May 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.

On the same day, Chengdu police searched Tan’s home and confiscated his DVDs, manuscripts and documents. CHRD has not been able to reach Tan’s family.

Tan, based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, is a local activist. Tan was actively involved in protests against the construction of a petrochemical plant in nearby Pengzhou City in May 2008. After the Sichuan earthquake, Tan published online a number of commentaries critical of the government. In February 2009, Tan released a proposal calling on internet volunteers to travel to Sichuan Province to compile a list of students who died in the earthquake and to investigate the quality of school buildings which collapsed and the treatment of parents whose children died in the earthquake. Tan had hoped to finish his investigation by the first anniversary of the earthquake, which is just a little over a month away.


The Chinese government has repeatedly asserted that the students died as a result of the magnitude of the natural disaster, not the shoddy quality of the school buildings. However, a number of individuals have been detained in the aftermath of the earthquake for expressing skepticism of the official line and alleging corruption as the main cause of the collapses. Huang Qi (黄琦), director of Tianwang Human Rights Center (, has been detained since June 10, 2008 for reporting and giving interviews to foreign journalists about protests staged by families of schoolchildren demanding accountability. Liu Shaokun (刘绍坤) and Zeng Hongling (曾宏玲), two netizens from Sichuan, were detained in June 2008 for posting online criticisms of the government’s handling of the quake. Although Liu and Zeng were later released, Huang is still detained without trial nine months since he was first taken into custody.

Ai Weiwei (艾未未), a prominent artist and social critic, has posted in his blog lists of schoolchildren who were killed when school buildings collapsed, compiled by volunteers. In his latest count on March 31, Ai collected the names of 3866 students who died in the disaster.

For more information, please see:

Chengdu Environmentalist and Rights Activist Tan Zuoren Detained <四川成都的环保工作者、维权人士谭作人遭拘留>, April 1, 2009,
Sichuan Authorities Strike Hard on Rights Activists to Maintain “Stability”, March 24, 2008,
Human Rights Defender Huang Qi Formally Arrested, July 19, 2008,
Human Rights Defender Huang Qi Disappear, Feared Detained by Police, June 13, 2008,

Press contact:

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin): +852 8191 6937
Wang Songlian, Research Coordinator and English Editor (English, Mandarin and Cantonese): +852 8191 1660

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