Chinese Police Freeze Bank Accounts of Online Free Speech Activist

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Originally published by Radio Free Asia on July 2, 2015

Authorities in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian have frozen the bank accounts of the wife of activist Wu Gan, who now faces three criminal charges over online criticism of the government and advocacy for freedom of speech.

Wu’s wife Song Kai was unable to draw money from accounts in her name at two separate banks on Wednesday, which contained donations from overseas activists to help with the couple’s daily living expenses, Wu’s lawyer told RFA.

“That’s right, that is the situation according to my knowledge,” lawyer Yan Xin said, when asked to confirm an earlier report on Twitter.

Song had hoped to received donations from online activists and supporters of Wang, who sent the couple some 200,000 yuan (U.S. $32,000) in total to help with living costs and legal fees.

Wang, known by his online nickname “The Butcher,” was initially detained by police during a performance protest he titled “selling my body to raise funds” in  Nanchang city in eastern Jiangxi province.

He was trying to help finance a legal defense for Huang Zhiqiang, Fang Chunping, Cheng Fagen, and Cheng Lihe, who were jailed in Jiangxi’s Leping city for robbery, rape, and dismembering a corpse.

The four received suspended death sentences in 2000 that were later commuted to jail terms, but their lawyers and rights activists say their confessions were obtained through torture, and that the men are victims of a miscarriage of justice.

Calls have been growing among China’s embattled legal profession for a retrial, but Jiangxi provincial high court president Zhang Xianhou has so far refused permission for any lawyers to review the evidence files held in the provincial court archives.

Wu, 42, was handed a 10-day administrative sentence by police, which can be handed down to perceived troublemakers without the need for a trial, but was then immediately placed under criminal detention on more serious charges.

Now, police in Wu’s home province of Fujian have recommended state prosecutors formally arrest activist Wu, while critical articles about him have appeared in China’s tightly-controlled state media.

Wu now faces charges of “libel,” “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” and the more serious “incitement to subvert state power.”

“Both the official media attack against Wu and the new ‘inciting subversion’ charge point to the aggressive campaign of President Xi Jinping’s administration to stifle China’s civil society,” the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network said in a statement on Thursday.

“Wu’s unconventional advocacy campaigns … combine spirited online speech, humor, and street performances,” the group, which translates and collates reports from rights groups inside China, said.

Targeting accounts

A May 28 article in the state-run news agency Xinhua repeated the claims of slander against Wu, hitting out at him for his criticism of the police shooting of a man at a railway station in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang in May.

Wu likely drew the ire of authorities by expressing doubts online over the credibility of the government’s investigation of the killing, CHRD said.

The group said Wu has been “subjected to lengthy interrogations for days in a row” since his detention, and his lawyer Yan Xin has repeatedly been denied permission to meet with him, citing “state security” linked to the subversion charge.

Anhui activist Shen Liangqing said the authorities habitually freeze the bank accounts of activists who receive donations from supporters.

“This happened before, when [detained Guangzhou rights lawyer] Tang Jingling was sick and needed money for surgery, and to other people as well,” Shen said in an interview on Thursday.

“The police get directly in touch with the bank, and issue a police notice, which freezes the person’s account,” he said.

Shen said he had seen on Facebook, which is blocked in China without the use of circumvention technology, that the wife of ethnic Mongolian dissident Hada had run into the same problem.

“They want to cut off any sources of economic support, so as to isolate you with no more options,” he said.

Democracy activist

In a related development, authorities in the eastern province of Zhejiang are moving ahead with the trial of veteran democracy activist Lu Gengsong for “incitement to subvert state power,” his lawyer said.

At a pre-trial hearing, lawyer Ding Xikui said the defense had requested that the judge be recused in the case on the grounds that he had been involved with a previous case against Lu.

“They refused all of our requests,” Ding said, adding that there appear to be “powerful connections” linked to the case.

“We are going to plead not guilty … because we think that there are some powerful connections at work in this case that have nothing to do with the law,” he said.

The court had also turned down requests for the defense to cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution, Ding added.

Lu, 59, is in poor health, and Ding said the defense had also applied for medical parole.

“He has chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes for which he needs to take medication,” Ding said. “We made an application for medical parole, but we still haven’t had a response.”

In an earlier interview, Ding said Lu had received slightly better treatment in detention than previously, however.

“This time around, they are treating him reasonably well, and I don’t think he has been mistreated in any way,” he said.

Advocacy work

Lu, a prominent member of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) was criminally detained by Hangzhou police on July 10, 2014 on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.”

But his wife said the move was likely a form of retaliation for Lu’s advocacy work on behalf of ordinary people with grievances against the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Lu, who is currently being held at a police-run detention center in Hangzhou city, had recently begun advocacy work on behalf of disadvantaged people in the city, his fellow activists said.

Lu was sentenced by a Hangzhou court to four years’ imprisonment for “incitement to subvert state power” in February 2008, in a trial that took about 15 minutes.

A history graduate from eastern China’s Zhejiang University, Lu taught at a police college before being expelled in 1993 because of his pro-democracy activities.

Since then, he has published several books, and is best known for “A History of Chinese Communist Party Corrupt Officials,” published in Hong Kong in 2000.

The CDP was banned in 1998 and several of its founder members sentenced to lengthy jail terms for subversion the same year.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by  Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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