Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay at the sentence of two years in prison and two years loss of civil rights handed down today by a court in Bijie in the southwestern province of Guizhou on journalist Li Yuanlong of the Bijie Ribao daily newspaper for “inciting subversion of the state” in articles he posted on the Internet.
The organisation also condemned the way the authorities took Li’s family hostage to make him write a “confession” for the trial, which was held in May although the verdict was not issued until today.
“Li just did his job as a journalist by reporting on the hardships experienced by the poorest sectors of the population in the Chinese countryside,” Reporters Without Borders said. “He even raised funds to enable children to go back to school. It is an outrage that a person of such courage and integrity is being sent to prison.”
Li’s lawyer, Li Jianqiang, said today on 64Tianwang : “The verdict and the entire judicial procedure are completely senseless. The Bijie court was accountable to higher authorities, which is the reason they took so long to issue a verdict.” He added that, despite everything, “this sentence is relatively light compared with other similar cases” and that he would discuss the possibility of an appeal with the family.
Li’s family spent several months without any news of him following his arrest on 29 September 2005. He was finally formally charged on 9 February, but then his trial was postponed three times. According to a journalist writing for Boxun, the Guizhou Public Security Bureau needed all this time to prepare a case against him.
In the end, the bureau reportedly kidnapped his wife and held her in a hotel room for 10 days and detained his 16-year-old son for a week in order to force him to write his “confession,” a 20,000-word document in which he admitted to “defaming the socialist system.” It was cited by the prosecution during the trial.
Li posted many essays on the Internet in which he criticised the shortcomings of contemporary Chinese society and called for more freedom and democracy. Two of his essays, entitled “Becoming American in Spirit” and “The Banal Nature of Life and the Lamentable Nature of Death,” were considered particularly “serious” by the Communist Party of China.
The party also criticised his reporting. “Li Yuanlong interviewed many poor children who were not getting any schooling,” his wife said last January. “The publication of his reports had a big impact and helped collect fund to pay for them to go back to school (...) The local party nonetheless banned him from publishing his interviews, accusing him of showing society in a negative light.”
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