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China 3 April 2008

Three-and-a-half-year jail term for Hu Jia called “provocation” just four months before Olympics

Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the sentence of three and a half years in prison that a Beijing court passed today on leading activist Hu Jia for “inciting subversion of state power.” The organisation expresses its support for his wife, Zeng Jinyan, who is under house arrest with her four-month-old-daughter, his lawyers and all those who showed solidarity with him despite the threats from Chinese state security.

“The Chinese justice system has, at the behest of the authorities, thrown oil on the flames just four months ahead of the Olympic Games by imposing this sentence of Hu Jia, a figurehead of the peaceful struggle to improve respect for human rights in China,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“In jailing this resolute individual, the government is silencing a spokesman for the victims of repression, one who would have had the courage to talk to the thousands of foreign journalists coming to Beijing to cover the Olympics. The list of Olympic Games prisoners is getting longer while the International Olympic Committee remains desperately silent.

“How can the European Union, which has publicly called for Hu’s release, agree to continue being humiliated in this manner by the Chinese authorities?” Reporters Without Borders added. “In a sign of protest, we urge the European governments to immediately freeze the constructive dialogue on human rights that has been conducted with China for the past few years.”

Hu’s sentence was announced this morning by the Beijing intermediate people’s court that took just a few hours to try him on 18 March without the defence being allowed to present witnesses. Foreign diplomats and journalists were prevented from attending the 18 March trial on the grounds that the courtroom was too small.

(JPEG)
Zeng Jinyan (AFP)

“He has been found guilty,” one of his lawyers, Li Fangping, said as he left the court. His wife, Zeng Jinyan, was very distressed. “This is unfair,” she said. “Their evidence is that he posted five articles on the Internet that he wrote and that he gave two interviews to the foreign press. This is not fair.”

Reporting the sentence, the official news agency Xinhua referred to a “crime” by a dissident. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying: “China is a country of laws. Everyone is equal before the law and it is not possible for us to stop the enforcement of the law because of the Olympic Games.”

Hu’s mother defended her son’s innocence to Agence France-Presse. “I am proud of what my son has done,” she said. “This case is all about freedom of expression.”

Members of the European parliament immediately condemned the conviction of Hu, who was nominated for the parliament’s Sakharov prize in 2007. Liberal MEP Dirk Sterckx, the president of the parliamentary delegation for relations with China, and Hélène Flautre, the president of the human rights subcommittee, voiced their “disappointment” and “outrage” in a joint statement.

The parliament’s president, Hans-Gert Pöttering, said he regarded the verdict as an “absolute provocation” and described the crackdown being carried out by the Chinese authorities as “alarming.” Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the head of the parliament’s Green group, said “the sentence passed on Hu Jia is unjustified and unacceptable and completely contradicts the principles of the Olympic Charter.” A spokesman at the European Commission’s office in Beijing also called for Hu’s immediate release. But the IOC refused to make any comment.

Hu and a friend, Teng Biao, wrote a joint open letter to foreign journalists. “You may not know that this enthusiasm, these smiles, this harmony and this prosperity are based on tears, imprisonment, torture and blood,” the letter said.

Aged 34 and suffering from hepatitis, Hu was found guilty of writing articles about the human rights situation in the run-up to the Olympics that were posted on overseas Chinese websites such as Boxun. A well-known activist on behalf of people with HIV and AIDS, he also gave interviews to many foreign news media and embassies.

Hu was at his Beijing home with his wife Zeng and their then six-week-old daughter on 27 December when about 20 policemen burst in, disconnected their phone lines and Internet connection, and left with Hu. He has been detained ever since.

Three weeks before that, Reporters Without Borders and Fondation de France awarded Hu and Zeng a special prize for their commitment to free speech in the approach to the Olympic Games.




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