China: Shedding Light on Last Year’s Protests and Arrests
Last Monday, February 6, 2012 marked the day of the Chinese Lantern Festival, the end of the lunar year, and the start of this Year of the Dragon. However, not everyone behind the great wall was celebrating last week. As the new year commenced journalists and activists in China continued to be threatened and imprisoned for their words and work.
On January 18 Chinese writer Li Tie was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “subversion” after publishing articles critical of the Chinese government online. On February 10 Chinese poet Zhu Yufu was charged with “inciting subversion” for his poem “It’s Time,” which calls for protest of the Chinese government. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. Zhu’s lawyer says he plans to appeal the verdict.
This February also marks the one year anniversary of China’s “Jasmine Revolution,” a series of protests sparked by the Arab Spring that incited punishment and further crackdown from the Chinese government, both on- and off-line.
In light of the new year, Sampsonia Way reflects on the condition of human rights and freedom of expression in China by thinking of the voices who were silenced last year. Although, because of inconsistencies in the information that leaves China’s borders, it is nearly impossible to have a comprehensive list of imprisoned or detained dissidents, the timeline below is simplified to show confirmed information regarding the activists, lawyers, protesters, netizens, journalists, artists, and writers who were harassed or arrested in 2011.
Notwithstanding the severity to which China has made an example of its dissidents, there were also some high points in 2011—notably, with the release of professor and freelance journalist Zheng Yichun, and the lifting of the travel ban on writer Liao Yiwu, who read in New York for the first time last September.
Statistics for 2011
For the first time in 10 years China loses its record for country with the most jailed journalists after being surpassed by Iran. This was not due to a drop in arrests for China, but by an increase of arrests in Iran. China ranks at 174 out of 178 on the press freedom index. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), China also held 15%of the world’s imprisoned journalists (27 out of 179) and 55% of the world’s cyber dissidents (68 out of 123) in 2011. RSF considers China to be “the world’s biggest prison for journalists, bloggers, and cyber dissidents.”
December 29 – Activist and lawyer Ni Yulan and her husband Dong Jiqin stand trial for charges of disturbing public order and for fraud, but a verdict is not reached and they remain detained. This December Ni Yulan also wins the Dutch government’s 2011 Human Rights Defenders Tulip prize for her work defending people whose homes were destroyed for the construction work preceding the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
December 26 – Dissident writer Chen Youcai, also known by his pen-name of Chen Xi, is sentenced to 11 years in prison for subversion because of his 36 essays that were published online.
December 23 – Human rights activist and writer Chen Wei is sentenced to nine years in prison for his essays criticizing the government.
December 20 – Wang Lihong is released after completing a nine month sentence for disturbing public order by taking part in a 2010 protest. Wang demonstrated outside a court in eastern China’s Fujian province in support of three people who stood trial for maligning an official.
December 19 – Professor and freelance journalist Zheng Yichun is released after completing a seven year sentence for subversion and a three year withholding of his political rights. In December 2006 he won the Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt medal for outstanding achievement in human rights but was unable to receive his award.
December 16 – Human rights lawyer Gao Zhiseng is detained, according to an announcement from a state news outlet. On January 1, 2012 his brother is finally informed which jail Gao is being held in: Shaya prison in Xinjiang—notorious as China’s “gulag”.
November 9 – Under police surveillance activist Chen Jianping is released from a year-long sentence in a labor camp for retweeting a satirical comment about tensions between China and Japan.
October 17 – Tenzin Wangmo becomes the first Tibetan nun to commit self-immolation in an effort to call for religious freedom in Tibet. She was the ninth Tibetan monastic since March to set herself ablaze, and the fifth to die from the act.
July 6 – Author Liao Yiwu arrives in Germany and declares himself in exile. Liao is best known for The Corpsewalker a collection of interviews he conducted while in prison. First imprisoned in 1989 for a poem about the Tiennamen Square massacre, Liao’s critical stance toward the Chinese government and his writing about China’s downtrodden people has earned him bans on publishing, travel, and repeated harassment.
June 26 – Social activist Hu Jia is released from prison after completing a 42-month sentence for subversion. He has spoken of the problems for human rights in China before the European Parliament, which awarded him with the Sarkharov prize for Freedom of Thought in 2008. Hu also published an essay online criticizing China’s Communist Party and has advocated for other causes such as environmental issues and HIV/AIDS.
June 2 – Tibetan activist, writer and editor Tashi Rabten is tried and convicted of co-editing a banned Tibetan-language literary magazine and publishing a collection of articles on the March 2008 Tibetan protests in Lhasa. He was arrested April 6, 2010.
June 8 – Following an idea conceivevd in India and reported on in China, citizens launch anti-corruption websites to report instances of bribery in the government. Official corruption is a problem that is acknowledged by the Chinese government itself, but the anti-corruption sites are considered illegal the following week.
April 3 – June 22 – Renowned artist and human rights activist Ai WeiWei is detained at an airport, and then held at an undisclosed location for 81 days. He is released on bail, with a gag order barring him from Twitter and interviews. He is forbidden to leave Beijing until June 2012. A case against him for tax evasion is still pending.
March 3, 2011 – PEN American Center and Committee to Protect Journalists release joint statement regarding reports of acts of violence against foreign journalists investigating the Jasmine Revolution protests: “When they attack, harass, intimidate, or otherwise obstruct members of the international press from serving as the eyes and ears of the world in China, they are expanding the sphere of their violations and breaching the rights of people beyond their own borders.”
February 19 – Beginning of the Jasmine Revolution:
From approximately February 19 to March 20, users on Twitter and Chinese websites like Boxun.com call for protests constituting China’s own “Jasmine Revolution,” such as a “strolling” protest on February 27. Reportedly, only “handfuls” of Chinese actually protested, but the Chinese government cracked down on these demonstrations and online dissent. Hundreds of activists were detained or placed under house arrest by a police response that outweighed the number of citizens who arrived for the Sunday protests. Internet access was further restricted – the word “jasmine” became blocked, and netizens Ran Yunfei, Chen Wei, and Ding Mao were detained in the wake of the call for protests (Ran Yunfei was released in August, Ding Mao was released in December, and both were placed under 6 month surveillance.) Human Rights in China published a list of 29 cases of house arrest and detainment in the immediate wake of the call for protests.
December 10, 2010 – Writer and activist Liu Xiaobo wins the Nobel Peace Prize: “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” Liu is currently serving an 11 year sentence he received on December 25, 2009.
Statistics for 2010
China ranks at 171 out of 178 on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index. This position is lower than its place in 2009 (previously 168), and higher than its place in 2011. In 2010 China held 23% of the world’s imprisoned journalists (34 out of 145) and 63% of the world’s imprisoned netizens (66 out of 105).