Subversion Charge against Little-Known Activist Indicates Heightened Crackdown on Dissent in China

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(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, November 22, 2010) CHRD learned last week that Li Tie (李铁), a Wuhan City, Hubei Province-based democracy activist and online freelance writer, has been arrested on charges of “subversion of state power.” The Chinese government has in recent years primarily pursued the charge of “subversion” against organizers of opposition parties and a conviction carries a likely sentence of at least ten years in jail. CHRD urges the Chinese government to immediately release Li Tie and respect freedom of expression on the internet.

“This serious charge against Li Tie is both groundless and deeply troubling,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s International Director. “The timing of Li’s arrest, and the change of the charge against him from ‘inciting subversion’ to ‘subversion,’ demonstrate the government’s toughening stance against dissent in the wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize.”

Mr. Li, 48, was originally detained by the Wuhan City Public Security Bureau on September 15, 2010, on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.” When the Wuhan City Procuratorate issued a document formally authorizing his arrest on October 22, however, the charge had been changed to “subversion of state power,” a more serious crime. Both crimes are found in Article 105 of the Chinese Criminal Law, but the latter calls for a sentence of “life imprisonment or fixed-term imprisonment of not less than 10 years” for those who “act as ringleaders or commit major crimes” to “plot or carry out the scheme of subverting the State power or overthrowing the socialist system.” In contrast, those who “incite others… to subvert the State power or overthrow the socialist system shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than five years,” unless they “commit major crimes,” which carry a sentence of “not less than five years.” Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power,” an unusually heavy sentence for the charge, though sentences of a similar length have been more common for dissidents convicted of “subversion of state power” in recent years.

Fellow activists expressed surprise and concern upon hearing the news. Li is known primarily for writing and publishing articles online about democracy and constitutional government. Since 2008, he has organized annual gatherings in Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province, to honor the memory of Lin Zhao (林昭), a poet and dissident who was imprisoned for a decade before being executed in 1968 and who has become an inspirational figure for modern activists and dissidents. On April 29, 2010, Li was forcibly returned to Wuhan from these activities in Suzhou by National Security officers and threatened by police not to write articles or gather with friends for “a period of time.”

News of his arrest was late in reaching friends and fellow activists because Li is frequently out of touch with others due to police pressure, and so his prolonged silence did not raise any concerns. When he was taken into custody, family members initially refused to hire a lawyer to represent him, saying “he simply hasn’t committed a crime, so what need is there for a lawyer?” They have since attempted to secure legal representation for Li, but have reportedly come under pressure from local police, who insist they use a government-appointed lawyer. Li is currently detained at the Wuhan City Number Two Detention Center.

Li Tie was previously employed by a state-run company, but was laid off some years ago. He is a freelance contributor to internet publications, and has published articles on such pro-democracy websites as Democratic China and the overseas independent news portal Boxun. He signed Charter 08 and has participated in politically “sensitive” activities or gatherings organized by democracy activists.

Media Contacts

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 301 547 9286
David Smalls, Researcher (English) +1 347 448 5285

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