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China: Cancel Trials of Quake Victim Advocates

August 6, 2009

Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren Face Politicized State-Secrets, Subversion Charges
For Immediate Release
Human Rights Watch
August 4, 2009

New York, Aug 4 -- The Chinese government should
cancel the impending criminal trials of Huang Qi
and Tan Zuoren and release them in the absence of
any credible allegation they endangered state
security through their investigation into the
collapse of schools in the May 2008 Sichuan
earthquake, Human Rights Watch said today.

Huang is scheduled for trial August 5, and Tan on
August 12, on respective charges of revealing
state "secrets" and "subversion." The Chinese
government has long relied on state-secrets and
subversion laws to silence critics who exercise
their constitutionally guaranteed rights of expression.

"These trials are not about a reasonable
application of the law, but about silencing
government critics whose work has considerable
public benefit and sympathy," said Sophie
Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human
Rights Watch. "The government is likely seeking
to squelch those who cause it embarrassment, but
in the process it is undermining domestic and
international confidence in its ability to cope
in a transparent way with natural disasters."

Huang Qi is a veteran activist and founder of, a website dedicated to
publicizing human rights abuses across China.
Police detained Huang Qi on June 10, 2008, in the
Sichuan city of Chengdu and formally charged him
with "possession of state secrets" on July 18,
2008. Those charges stem from Huang’s
investigation into allegations that shoddy
construction contributed to the collapse of
schools in the Sichuan earthquake zone. Human
Rights Watch said that China’s state-secrets laws
defy international standards by employing overly
broad definitions of "secrets,' requiring
official approval for suspects’ access to their
lawyers during the investigation phase, and
barring public access to state-secrets trials.
Penalties for state-secrets convictions range
from a minimum five-year prison term to the death penalty.

Tan Zuoren is a literary editor and environmental
activist. Police detained Tan on March 28, 2009,
and officially lodged subversion charges on April
28, 2009. The charges against Tan relate to his
compilation of a list of children killed in the
Sichuan earthquake and to his alleged efforts to
organize a public commemoration of the 20th
anniversary of the June 1989 killing of unarmed
civilians in Beijing and other cities, an
officially taboo topic in China. "Incitement to
subvert state power" is a charge at odds with
freedom of expression as protected under
international law because it criminalizes
peaceful dissent. Tan faces a prison sentence of up to five years if convicted.

"The Chinese government has a shameful track
record of abusing state-secrets and subversion
laws to cut off the right to free expression," said Richardson.

The prosecution of Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren
appears to be part of a wider pattern of state
repression of individuals who challenge the
government’s Sichuan quake death toll and who
seek answers for why more than 7,000 classrooms
collapsed in the disaster. These prosecutions
violate Chinese citizens’ rights to freedom of
expression and information, guaranteed under
international law as well as China’s
constitution. The action against critics is also
in direct contravention of China’s first-ever
national human rights action plan, issued on
April 13, 2009, which commits the government to:
"Respecting earthquake victims (and) registering
the names of people who died or disappeared in
the earthquake and make them known to the public."

Instead, the Chinese government has demonstrated
intolerance for public demands for an independent
inquiry into the reasons for the high numbers of
schoolchildren who died in the Sichuan
earthquake. The Chinese government has announced
that of the estimated 86,000 people killed or
missing in the Sichuan earthquake, only 5,335
were schoolchildren. However, some of the
victims’ parents believe that shoddy construction
of public schools likely caused a higher death
toll. Renowned Chinese architect Ai Weiwei -- the
designer of Beijing’s iconic Olympic “Bird’s
Nest" stadium -- has initiated an independent
survey of the student deaths; he announced in May
that he expected his research will suggest a death toll of more than 6,000.

Chinese courts have refused to accept lawsuits
alleging faulty school construction in the
earthquake zone, while many parents of those
victims have come under pressure from Sichuan
officials to accept one-time compensation
payments in exchange for dropping their lawsuits.
Outspoken parents of student earthquake victims,
along with foreign journalists who have tried to
interview them, have been harassed, detained, and
in some cases kicked or punched by officials and
security forces. Ai Weiwei has been harassed by
officials for his efforts to collect and publish
the names of the students killed in the Sichuan
earthquake. Officials have temporarily detained
some of his more than 50 volunteers, confiscated
interviews with bereaved parents, and shut down
in May 2009 the blog on which Ai listed Sichuan earthquake student victims.

"There is no evidence to suggest that Huang and
Tan did anything more than embarrass the Chinese
government," said Richardson. "And that is no crime."

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on abuses
against Huang Qi, Tan Zuoren, and other rights advocates in China, please see:

· "China: End Quake Zone Abuses," May 2009 news

· "China: Olympics Harm Key Human Rights," August
2008 news release:

· "Profiles in Courage: Chinese Human Rights
Advocates in Jail, Under House Arrest, or Under
Police Surveillance," special focus page:

For more information, please contact:
In Hong Kong, Phelim Kine (English, Mandarin): +852-9074-3179 (mobile)
In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson (English,
Mandarin): +1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)
In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-20-7713-2767; or +44-790-872-8333 (mobile)
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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