A Grim Harbinger for the Democratic Movement
Classic charges, plus new offenses, facilitate a wave of arrests designed to smother free speech in China.
“Inciting subversion of state power” is the most frequently used charge against dissidents in China. Liu Xiaobo, Li Bifeng, Chen Wei, Yang Tongyan, and many others, have all been sentenced to 10 or more years in prison for this crime, and the verdict is always the same. The revised criminal law of 1997 changed the notorious “counter-revolutionary crime” into this new term and embedded it in Article 105, Paragraph 2. Under this paragraph it reads:
“A person who incites to subvert the state’s political power or to overthrow the socialist system by starting a rumor, slander or any other means shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than five years, criminal detention, public surveillance, or deprivation of political rights; ringleaders or the persons whose crimes are severe shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than five years.”
- During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison till 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
- Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.
Since its implementation, the authority has used this accusation to suppress freedom of speech. Anyone who has written critical articles, satirical political texts, or even subtle poems can be persecuted under this law. Journalists, writers, and artists are especially endangered.
Other accusations, like “endangering national security” (Hailaite Niyazi, 15 years) or “inciting separatism” are often used against Uyghurs (Nurmuhemmet Yasin,10 years) and “splitting the country, leaking state secrets” is only applied to minorities (Memetjan Abdulla, life). For his part, the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng received a peculiar accusation: “Intentional destruction of property and mob to disturb traffic order.” Everyone knows that Chen displeased local officials when he criticized their implementation of forced abortions and sterilization of women in a nearby village. However, in the eyes of the villagers and the western world Chen is a hero and a courageous human rights defender.
“Economic crime ” or tax fraud, is also used to accuse dissident intellectuals, such as the artist Ai Weiwei, or religious people, who print and disseminate bibles.
Recently another trend has emerged. Now leaders of critical opinion can be accused under other charges: Prostitution, gambling, drug trafficking, tax evasion, disturbing public order, disinformation, and being part of a triad network. Charles Xue, an American-Chinese businessman and blogger, famous for his criticism of corruption and advocacy of political reform, was arrested in Beijing this August. Xue supposedly solicited prostitutes and publicly confessed to this crime on state TV. Consequently, his career has been ruined.
But people know that shortly before this disgrace Xue wrote an article on his blog criticizing several Shanghai judges who went to a brothel together. To some, the official action against Xue could be seen as the government’s swift revenge.
In another story, Bian Min, a Yunnan-based blogger, was arrested on Sept 10. In addition to taking him in, the police also confiscated his desktop computer, laptop, and files. Formally, he was accused of using incorrect information to register his company. But Bian was a popular writer who exposed the wrong-doings of the Yunnan Police Department. He also hit local bureaucrats hard when he revealed their plan to build a petro-chemical factory in Anning city. According to Bian’s research, this environment-destroying project would have made Anning into a cancer village. His article infuriated the Kunming government, which had supported the project for its enormous economic profit. Not surprisingly, Bian’s future looks bleak.
Still, the most recent arrest happened on September 13, a “black Friday” for the democratic circle as some sadly said, when Beijing police arrested the civil rights movement activist and industrial businessman Wang Gongquan. The charge against him was as random and ridiculous as it could be: “Gathering a crowd and disturbing public order.” As a result, two Fridays ago over 20 policemen surrounded Wang’s house and took him away in front of his wife. Wang is a successful investor and good friends with Xu Zhiyong, founder of the New Citizen Movement. (At this point Xu has already been detained for weeks.) Yet Wang is very popular and it only took a few days to collect hundreds of signatures to appeal for his release. For Wang, people chose to show their sympathy and support instead of remaining silent.
Could this series of arrests be a harbinger of an intentional crackdown on social media opinion leaders and dissenters? The official reasons for these arrests are only excuses; the real purpose of the government’s actions is to demonstrate the absolute power of the new Zhongnanhai-ruler. It is an unbalanced power struggle. While Xi Jinping does have three in one—the party, the government, and the army—he’s lacking one thing: The people’s trust and support. If a statesman doesn’t have the people on his side he cannot keep his power for long.