China: Cafe Owner Sentenced Over Online Messages

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Originally published in The New York Times on November 1, 2012

BEIJING — The owner of an Internet cafe in southwest China was given an eight-year prison term for criticizing the ruling Communist Party in online messages and for seeking to establish an opposition party, his wife said Thursday.

The man, Cao Haibo, 27, of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, was accused of “subversion of state power” for trying to set up the “China Republican Party” — an entity that existed on paper, and only for one day.

His wife, Zhang Nian, 23, said he was sentenced on Wednesday but the court only notified her on Thursday. “It is a very severe punishment and long sentence,” she said, adding that the trial was held in secret.

The sentencing comes a week before a pivotal series of meetings in Beijing during which the party will ratify a new generation of leaders.

Mr. Cao’s lawyer, Ma Xiaopeng, told Reuters his client did not fully understand the risks he was taking when he sent antigovernment messages to his friends last year. “Cao Haibo does not understand politics in China,” Mr. Ma said. “We think he’s an immature child; he really did not know that the party would take it this seriously.”

Ms. Zhang said she and Mr. Cao were married three months before he was arrested last October. They have a 9-month-old child.

Renee Xia, international director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, criticized the prosecution of Mr. Cao, noting that he was detained for eight months without trial and that even his family was barred from the proceedings. “Cao’s only ‘crime’ was to chat in an online group, where members discussed such ideas as democratic reform and constitutional rights,” she said. “This case is a travesty of justice. It demonstrates, once again, that China shows only disdain for rule of law.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 1, 2012
An earlier version of this article misstated the given name of Cao Haibo’s wife. She is Zhang Nian, no Zhang Yan.

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