Reporters Without Borders today called for the immediate release of human rights activist Yang Chunlin, the leader of the “We want human rights not Olympic Games” campaign, who was sentenced to five years in prison followed by two years without civic rights by an intermediate court in the northeastern city of Jiamusi on 24 March on a charge of inciting subversion of state authority.
“By sentencing a human rights activist to a long jail term on the same day as the Olympic torch lighting ceremony, the Chinese authorities have again reminded the world of their intransigence towards free expression,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The international community can no longer be satisfied with the promises recently reiterated by China of possible progress in this regard.”
The press freedom organisation added: “For this reason, we reiterate our call for a boycott of the Olympic Games opening ceremony on 8 August and we will continue to stage protests until that date.”
Guards manhandled Yang, 52, during the trial, which lasted only 20 minutes, and gave him electric shocks with batons when he tried to talk to the 10 relatives and friends who were in the courtroom. His brother spoke out in court, publicly questioning his ability to appeal.
Yang’s wife, Sun Liwei, said he pleaded not guilty and refused to sign the court document recording the sentence, an act of resistance that was supported by his mother and all the other relatives and friends present. “Yang Chunlin is someone of the people [...] his only crime is to have said the truth,” Sun said. His sister, Meng Lie, openly accused the court of “circumventing the law to harass the people.”
Yang has 10 days to appeal but his lawyer, Li Fangping, said: “Yang Chunlin no longer has any confidence in the Chinese judicial system and is not sure if he will file an appeal.”
A defender of the rights of peasant farmers in the northeast whose land has been taken for development, Yang has been held since 6 July 2007. Li and his other lawyer, Zhang Jianguo, who were unable to see him during the preparation for the trial, said police subjected him to various forms of mistreatment during pretrial detention. This included manacling him by the hands and legs to the four corners of a bench. It is feared he will continue to be mistreated while serving his sentence.
Other human rights activists have been detained for expressing their views about the holding of the Olympic Games in China.
Wang Guilin and Yu Changwu were arrested for taking part in Yang’s “We want human rights not Olympic Games” campaign. Wang was sentenced to 18 months of reeducation through work on 28 January. Yu is being held incommunicado.
Hu Jia, who campaigns on the environment, the rights of AIDS sufferers and human rights in general, was arrested on 27 December. He was tried on 18 March on a charge of inciting subversion of state authority. The court has not yet issued its verdict.
Zheng Mingfang, a Tianjin-based human rights activist who has been in trouble with the police in the past for organising petitions, has been held incommunicado since 3 March after writing an open letter in support of Hu Jia that was published on 6 February. From 2004 to 2006, she was imprisoned for launching a movement in support of the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Pro-democracy activist Zhang Wenhe has been forcibly confined to a psychiatric hospital after brandishing a banner on the streets of Beijing last October saying: “We want human rights and democracy, not fascist Olympic Games.”
Yang Chunlin with his son