Environmental Activist Wu Lihong Released, Alleges Abuse

June 4, 2010

Wu Lihong, a long-time environmental activist, was released from prison in Jiangsu province in April 2010 after serving a three-year sentence for fraud and extortion. Prior to his incarceration, Wu had spent years documenting pollution in the Lake Tai area of Jiangsu province. His environmental activism had made him the target of harassment over many years, but also reportedly resulted in heightened regulatory scrutiny of polluting enterprises. Wu claims that he is innocent of all charges, maintains that his confession was coerced, and has alleged mistreatment in prison. Wu's two appeals in Jiangsu courts were unsuccessful but he plans to file another appeal with the Supreme People's Court in order to challenge the original verdict in his case, to obtain compensation, and to set in motion an investigation into his allegations of mistreatment.

Authorities in Yixing city, Jiangsu province, released environmental activist Wu Lihong from the Dingshan Prison on April 12, 2010, after Wu completed a three-year sentence for alleged fraud and extortion, according to an April 12 Radio Free Asia (RFA) article (in Chinese). Prior to his detention, Wu had spent years documenting pollution in the Lake Tai area in Jiangsu province. After his release, Wu repeated allegations that he was forced to confess to the crimes, and alleged that prison officials had subjected him to abuse during his detention and imprisonment from 2007 to 2010, according to a May 11 Agence France-Presse (AFP) article and a May 11 RFA article (in Chinese). Specifically, Wu told AFP that officials subjected him to repeated beatings in prison, kept him in solitary confinement in a windowless cell, denied him visitors and phone calls to family and friends, and made him run for long periods throughout the day. In addition, Wu told RFA that he was kept under "strict control" (yanguan)―which meant that other prisoners were not allowed to talk to him, and that he was given a little more than a minute to eat his meals while "lying prostrate like a dog." Wu also told RFA that during his interrogation in detention in 2007, domestic security personnel (guobao) whipped him with willow branches, burned him with cigarettes, kicked him, and verbally threatened him when he refused to confess. His lawyer was not allowed to see him for a period of time and also claims he was tortured, according to an August 3, 2007, Financial Times article (via Pacific Environment).

Article 247 of the PRC Criminal Law and provisions issued by the Supreme People's Procuratorate in 2005 prohibit and provide for the punishment of the use of torture to coerce a confession. Article 248 of the PRC Criminal Law provides for criminal punishment of prison, jail, and detention center officials found to have beaten inmates or detainees or subjected them to corporal punishment or abuse, or found to have ordered other inmates or detainees to do so. In addition, the Ministry of Justice issued prohibitions in February 2006 that strictly prohibit beating or subjecting inmates serving a prison (or reeducation through labor (RTL)) sentence to corporal punishment, or instigating others to beat or subject such an inmate to corporal punishment. These prohibitions subject prison and RTL officials to sanctions ranging from warnings to dismissal or, where the behavior may constitute a crime, to criminal punishment. The Chinese government is further bound by the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) which it ratified in 1988.

Wu documented the pollution at Lake Tai in Jiangsu province for 17 years, and, prior to his detention and imprisonment, submitted evidence he collected, including samples of water, to provincial- and central-level officials through the xinfang (petitioning) system (see CECC 2007 Annual Report, p. 138). "Between 1998 and 2006, the environmental protection agency of Jiangsu Province recorded receiving 200 reports of pollution incidents and regulatory violations from Mr. Wu," according to an October 14, 2007, New York Times (NYT) article. For his activism, the National People's Congress named him an "Environmental Warrior," in 2005. However, Wu and his family also reportedly suffered harassment related to his complaints about pollution. Wu and his wife reportedly lost their jobs, and the police interrogated and detained him. On April 13, 2006, police confiscated his computer and other belongings, detained him, and then indicted him, according to the October NYT article. His trial, originally scheduled for June 2007, was put off in order to investigate accusations of torture, according to an August 11, 2007, Reuters article. The Yixing People's Court sentenced him on August 10, 2007, to three years' imprisonment for fraud and extortion, ruling that there was no evidence he had been tortured, according to the Reuters article and the October NYT article. The court also fined him 3,000 yuan (US$400) and ordered him to return the money he allegedly extorted from enterprises, according to an August 12, 2007, Straits Times article (subscription required).

Wu told RFA in the May 11 report that he had filed two unsuccessful appeals and now planned to appeal his case to the Supreme People's Court. He said he was seeking to overturn the verdict, obtain compensation, and push for an investigation into those responsible [for his mistreatment]. An intermediate people's court in Wuxi rejected Wu's first appeal in 2007 without holding a hearing, according to a November 6, 2007, NYT article. Wu's wife later filed an unsuccessful appeal with the Jiangsu High People's Court in Nanjing, according to a May 1, 2008, article in the Economist (subscription required).

Wu Lihong's detention and imprisonment underscore the problem that whistleblowers in China do not enjoy adequate legal protections and risk retribution for their whistleblowing activities. "Fear of retribution is a major concern for whistleblowers" in China, according to a March 26, 2009, Asia Times article. Wu's case also underscores the concern expressed in a December 2008 report by the UN Committee Against Torture about "continued allegations, corroborated by numerous Chinese legal sources, of routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings" in China.