Activist Tan Zuoren Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for “Inciting Subversion”

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(Chinese Human Rights Defenders- February 9, 2010) Tan Zuoren (谭作人), human rights activist and environmentalist, was sentenced today to five years in prison with an additional three years’ deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state power” in Chengdu, Sichuan. According to his lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), the court convicted Tan for attempting to organize commemorative activities for the 20th anniversary of the June 4th, 1989 crackdown on the pro-democracy movement, though many believe that Tan was punished for conducting investigations into student deaths in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Tan has indicated that he will appeal.

“This punishment is both harsh and unfair,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s International Director. “Tan’s sentence is a powerful statement of intolerance from a regime which is becoming increasingly hostile towards human rights defenders.”

The Chengdu Intermediate Court announced the verdict in a hearing which lasted less than 5 minutes. Among the crowd of around one hundred outside the courthouse were supporters of Tan’s, members of the Chinese and Hong Kong media, and officials from the US embassy, along with a heavy police presence. Tan’s wife, Wang Qinghua (王庆华), was not allowed to enter the courtroom to attend the sentencing; other local activists, including Xie Yihui (谢贻卉) and Chen Yunfei (陈云飞), were prevented from traveling to the courthouse.

Pu Zhiqiang addressed the crowd following the sentencing and stated that the verdict did not mention Tan’s earthquake investigation. According to Pu, the court declared that Tan’s “crime” involved posting articles online about the 20th anniversary of the June 4th massacre, as well as corresponding and conducting interviews with “hostile foreign forces” such as the exiled student leader Wang Dan (王丹).

Tan’s arrest in March 2009 came as he was in the midst of working on his investigative report into student deaths in the earthquake, and according to a prosecution letter dated July 17, the Procuratorate’s evidence against Tan included speaking with foreign journalists about the May 12 Sichuan Earthquake. Clearly his work in Sichuan played a role in his arrest and charge. For the court to now omit this completely indicates that authorities are seeking to avoid the issue in hopes of dampening the reaction from the domestic and international community. Tan’s sentence could not have been so harsh if it were purely based on his exchanges with overseas dissidents. Regardless, Tan’s actions were well within his rights as a Chinese citizen and deserve full legal protection.

CHRD believes that Tan Zuoren has been detained, convicted, and sentenced to prison for expressing his opinions about the crackdown on the 1989 democracy movement and for investigating student deaths in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. By prosecuting Tan for his expression and nonviolent actions, the Chinese government has violated its own Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the 2009-2010 Chinese National Human Rights Action Plan, which promises to protect both citizens’ right to free expression and information as well as citizens’ right to supervise the government.

CHRD calls for the immediate release of Tan Zuoren. The Chinese government must end the suppression of efforts to investigate the deaths of thousands of children in collapsed school buildings during the Sichuan earthquake, and of parents seeking redress for the loss of their children.


Tan, based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, is a local activist. After the Sichuan earthquake, Tan published a number of commentaries online which were critical of the government. In February 2009, Tan released a proposal calling on netizens to travel to Sichuan Province to compile a list of students who died in the earthquake and to investigate the quality of collapsed school buildings, as well as to assist parents of these children in their fight for justice. Tan had hoped to finish his investigation by the first anniversary of the earthquake. However, he was taken into police custody on March 28, 2009.

Media Contacts for this Release:

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin): +852 8191 6937
Jiang Yingying, Researcher (English and Mandarin): +852 8170 0237

For more information, please see:

“Chengdu Police and Court Flout Law in ‘Truly Disgraceful’ Trial of Tan Zuoren,” August 13, 2009,

“Police Bar Public from Attending Trial of Earthquake Investigator Tan Zuoren”, August 12, 2009,

“One Year after Earthquake, Silence Imposed on Schoolchildren Deaths, Activists Harassed,” May 5, 2009,

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>, April 27, 2009,

“Sichuan Activist Detained before Earthquake Anniversary”, April 1, 2009, /Article/Class9/Class10/200904/20090401142033_14615.html

“A Brief CV of Tan Zuoren” (in Chinese), /Article/Class18/tanzuoren/200905/20090501230753_15228.html

“‘Inciting Subversion of State Power:’ A Legal Tool for Prosecuting Free Speech in China,” January 8, 2008,

“Our Children,” a documentary film about efforts to investigate student deaths in the Sichuan earthquake:

“Laoma Tihua,” a documentary film about the experience of witnesses detained during Tan Zuoren’s trial:

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