Police Bar Public from Attending Trial of Earthquake Investigator Tan Zuoren

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Police Bar Public from Attending Trial of Earthquake Investigator Tan Zuoren

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, August 12, 2009)– Tan Zuoren (谭作人), a Sichuan activist detained for “inciting subversion of state power”, was tried today by the Chengdu City Intermediate People’s Court in Sichuan Province. The trial was practically closed to the public.

The trial started at 10am and concluded at 12:15pm. Tan’s lawyers, Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) and Xia Lin (夏霖), of Beijing Huayi Law Firm, defended him. Tan pleaded not guilty and the court is yet to announce the verdict.

About five hundred activists, dissidents, victims of the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, friends and supporters arrived at the court demanding to attend the trial. However, about a hundred policemen were stationed outside the court barring access to the courtroom. Tan’s brother arrived but was whisked away by the policemen present. The crowd was told by the police that they could not attend the trial because they did not possess the required pass, even though they had asked the court days earlier and were told that such pass would not be necessary. A number of well-known activists, such as the architect Ai Weiwei (艾未未), were intercepted en route to the court or prevented from leaving their residences. Tan’s wife, daughter, and head of Chengdu Reading Club, a progressive informal group to which Tan belongs, were the only family and friend allowed to attend the trial.


Tan, based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, is a local activist. 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. However, he was taken into police custody on March 28.

It is believed that Tan is punished for his independent investigation into the earthquake deaths. According to a prosecution letter dated July 17, the Procuratorate’s evidence against Tan includes speaking with foreign journalists about the May 12 Sichuan Earthquake. Tan is also being prosecuted for organizing activities to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, posted online articles about it and corresponded and conducted interviews about the massacre with “hostile foreign forces” such as the exiled student leader Wang Dan (王丹) and the Voice of Hope.

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, in the aftermath of the earthquake a number of individuals were detained for expressing skepticism of the official line and alleging corruption as the main cause of the collapses. Two of them remain detained and have recently been tried. In addition to Tan Zuoren, Huang Qi (黄琦), director of Tianwang Human Rights Center (www.64tianwang.com), was tried behind closed door for “illegal possession of state secrets” a few days ago on August 5.

For more information, please see:

One Year after Earthquake, Silence Imposed on Schoolchildren Deaths, Activists Harassed, May 5, 2009, https://www.nchrd.org/Article/Class9/Class15/200905/20090505030514_15259.html

The unfinished results of the investigation conducted by Tan and his partner, Xie Yihui (谢贻卉), <谭作人等人就地震死难学生的调查报告>, was released in Chinese on April 27, 2009, https://www.nchrd.org/Article/Class1/200904/20090427094857_15145.html

CHRD, “Sichuan Activist Detained before Earthquake Anniversary”, April 1, 2009, https://www.nchrd.org/Article/Class9/Class10/200904/20090401142033_14615.html

CHRD, “Human Rights Defender Huang Qi Formally Arrested”, July 18, 2008, https://www.nchrd.org/Article/Class9/Class10/200807/20080719105359_9496.html

CHRD, “Human Rights Defender Huang Qi Disappear, Feared Detained by Police”, June 12, 2008, https://www.nchrd.org/Article/Class9/Class15/200806/20080613061417_9005.html

CHRD, “A Brief CV of Tan Zuoren” (in Chinese), https://www.nchrd.org/Article/Class18/tanzuoren/200905/20090501230753_15228.html

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