Authorities Sentence Rights Activist Huang Qi to Three Years in Prison

December 18, 2009

In late November 2009, a court in Chengdu city, Sichuan province, sentenced rights activist Huang Qi to three years in prison for illegal possession of state secrets. Huang had used his Web site to advocate on behalf of parents who lost children in school collapses during the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

The Wuhou District People's Court in Chengdu city, Sichuan province, sentenced rights activist Huang Qi on November 23, 2009, to three years in prison for illegal possession of state secrets, according to a New York Times (NYT) article of the same date. Authorities detained Huang in June 2008 after he used his human rights Web site to advocate for parents who lost children in school collapses during the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Boxun, a U.S.-based Chinese news Web site, posted a copy of the court's judgment on December 1. The court gave Huang the maximum sentence for violating Article 182, Paragraph 2, of the Criminal Law. The judgment said the "confidential" documents Huang was found to have possessed were two city-level documents and a document from the Central Political-Legal Committee of the Communist Party. One of Huang's lawyers said the documents were publicly available and that the charges were fabricated.


Huang's detention in June 2008 came as Huang was using his Web site, Tianwang Human Rights Center (64Tianwang), to raise awareness about parent demands following the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake. According to NYT, Huang had posted an article about five grieving parents who were seeking compensation for their children's deaths in the collapse of a middle school in Hanwang township, Sichuan province. The article also noted that the parents wanted officials to investigate the school's construction. A July 21, 2008, Reporters Without Borders article said that Huang posted articles on his site "criticising the way the relief was being organized." Following the earthquake, which officially left 68,712 dead, including 5,335 schoolchildren, and 17,921 missing, parents of the children grew frustrated with officials' unwillingness to investigate fully the role that shoddy construction and corruption may have played in the school collapses, many of which occurred while other nearby buildings remained standing. Officials responded by forcefully breaking up protests, offering parents money in exchange for silence, ordering some parents to serve reeducation through labor, refusing to hear lawsuits filed by parents, and preventing parents from traveling to Beijing to petition the central government (see previous CECC analysis). In a November 23, 2009, report, the human rights organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders said it believed that Huang's imprisonment also was related to interviews he gave to foreign reporters about protests by the parents.

"State Secrets" in Question

The court's judgment said police discovered in September 2007 that two "confidential documents" ("jimi wenjian") from a city in Jiangsu province had been posted on Huang's Web site. Police later searched Huang's home and found a portable hard drive that contained both of the city documents as well as a document marked "confidential" ("jimi") from the Central Political-Legal Committee of the Communist Party. The Washington Post reported on November 23 that both Huang's wife and one of his lawyers called the charges a fabrication. The lawyer, well-known defense attorney Mo Shaoping, described the documents as rules for government agencies on dealing with citizen petitions and said they were available to the public because newspapers had published them and they were easily accessible on the Internet. The Chinese government has considerable discretion to declare almost any matter of public concern a "state secret." In recent months the government has considered revising the State Secrets Law and Chinese media have urged the government to narrow the scope of its power in this area. A June 23, 2009, China Daily editorial said "[t]he 1989 State Secrets Law is obsolete and deserves to be transformed. It is a one-sided legislation under which citizens have only obligations. In theory, government institutions, should they choose to do so, have the authority to label everything as State secrets. And, citizens, once prosecuted on the ground of violating State secrets, can expect no legal relief."

Court Refuses To Provide Copy of Judgment to Huang's Family; Obstructs Appeal

Human Rights in China (HRIC) reported that court officials made it difficult for Huang's family and lawyers to obtain a copy of the court's judgment and for Huang to file his appeal. HRIC reported on November 25 that Huang's lawyers sent a letter to the court requesting that the court mail them a copy of the judgment. The court had refused to do so and told the lawyers they had to pick up a copy in person, which would require the lawyers to travel from Beijing at great expense. HRIC reported on December 1, that the presiding judge "berated" Huang's mother and refused to give her and Huang's wife, Zeng Li, a copy of the verdict on November 23. On December 1, one of Huang's lawyers was able to obtain a copy of the verdict in person from the court, but family members were still refused a copy. As noted in a letter from Huang's lawyers to the court (posted by HRIC), Article 182 of the Supreme People's Court Interpretation of Questions Regarding Implementation of China's Criminal Procedure Law requires that once a judgment has been announced, a copy shall be immediately delivered to the defendant's lawyers and family, among other parties. HRIC also reported on December 1 that authorities were obstructing Huang's attempts to file an appeal. The report, citing Zeng Li, said officials were refusing to allow Huang to mail out his appeal or to allow one of Huang's lawyers to carry the appeal out of the Chengdu Detention Center during a visit with Huang. One of Huang's lawyers, Ding Xikui, reportedly relayed these difficulties to the court, noting that the 10-day period to file an appeal was about to expire in two days. Article 180 of the Criminal Procedure Law provides that a "defendent shall not be deprived on any pretext of his right to appeal." Radio Free Asia reported on December 4, that Huang's appeal apparently had been delivered to the court, but that Zeng Li had not received any confirmation from the court. The report said Zeng and Ding Xikui were having difficulty making phone contact with anyone at the court. Ming Pao reported on December 2 (via that Zeng also had requested that authorities release Huang on bail for medical treatment. Huang reportedly suffers from two tumors in his abdomen, hepatitis B, an irregular heartbeat, and two lumps in his left breast.

The maximum sentence for violating Article 282, Paragraph 2, of the Criminal Law for "illegally possessing" state secrets is three years. In handing down the maximum sentence in Huang's case, the court cited the legal provision providing for a heavier sentence in cases where the person has committed a crime punishable by fixed-term imprisonment within five years of completing his sentence for another crime punishable by fixed-term imprisonment (as provided for in Article 65 of the Criminal Law, one of the provisions governing "recidivists"). Huang previously served a five-year sentence from 2000 to 2005 for "inciting subversion of state power." The court in that case cited articles Huang posted on his Web site, Tianwang Human Rights Center, dealing with topics such as "democracy," "June 4," and "Falun Gong."

For more information about official efforts to suppress public criticism of the collapse of schools and schoolchildren deaths following the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, see p. 47 in Section II—Freedom of Expression in the CECC 2009 Annual Report, as well as a previous analysis on Huang's August 5 trial and the trial of another earthquake activist, Tan Zuoren, who called for an independent investigation into the school collapses and was charged with inciting subversion.