Jiangsu Court Sentences Guo Quan to 10 Years for Organizing Political Party

December 4, 2009

In October 2009, a court in Jiangsu province sentenced Guo Quan to 10 years in prison for his attempts to organize the "China New Democracy Party" and to use the Internet to seek members and disseminate his political views. Chinese citizens who attempt to form independent political parties and use the Internet to organize and peacefully express their opposition to the Communist Party frequently are targeted for harassment, detention, and imprisonment by the Chinese government.

The Suqian Intermediate People's Court in Jiangsu province on October 16, 2009, sentenced Guo Quan, formerly a university professor and a past member of one of the few state-approved "democratic" parties allowed in China, to 10 years in prison for "subversion of state power," according to a Human Rights in China (HRIC) press release of the same date. The court found that Guo used the Internet to organize an "illegal" political party called the "China New Democracy Party," recruited members for the party, published numerous "reactionary" articles online, called for a seven-day stay-at-home boycott of the government, and sought to "overthrow" the socialist system, according to the court judgment (English translation prepared by Dui Hua Foundation, Chinese). Authorities detained Guo on November 13, 2008, arrested him on December 19, and held his trial on August 7, 2009. Guo appealed the verdict on October 23, but authorities reportedly told one of Guo's lawyers, Guo Lianhui, that he could not represent Guo during the appeal and should not accept foreign media interviews, according to an October 23 Radio Free Asia article.

China's Communist Party does not allow Chinese citizens to form independent political parties. In handing down its subversion verdict, the court in this instance cited Guo's attempts to organize a political party, the "China New Democracy Party", calling the party "illegal" but providing no legal reasoning for this conclusion. Guo's lawyers argued Guo's activities were legal based on the right to freedom of association provided for in Article 35 of China's Constitution. His lawyers also argued that he was only promoting democratic ideals and there was no evidence that he sought to overthrow China's socialist system. According to the HRIC press release, Guo Quan is a former member of the state-approved China Democratic League, but was expelled in late 2007. Under China's political system, officials have permitted eight political parties in addition to the Communist Party, but such parties operate "under the leadership" of the Communist Party, according to the White Paper on China's Political Party System published by the State Council Information Office (via China Internet Information Center). In addition to Guo, other Chinese citizens imprisoned for subversion for similar activities include Xie Changfa, who was recently sentenced to 13 years in prison, according to a September 1 HRIC press release, and Wang Rongqing, who was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment in January 2009 for subversion, according to a January 7 Chinese Human Rights Defenders report. (See the CECC 2009 Annual Report for more information on Chinese Democracy Party members sentenced for inciting subversion and subversion (pp. 46-47) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and "multiparty cooperation" between the Communist Party and the state-approved parties (p. 210)).

As is typical of subversion (or inciting subversion) cases reviewed by the Commission, the court did not assess the harm Guo's activities caused to national security or provide evidence that Guo advocated violence in pursuit of his aims. Subversion is a crime under Article 105 of the Criminal Law. The court emphasized Guo's interactions with other individuals in seeking their membership in a political party, and his calls for an end to one-party rule and civil disobedience, but cites no instance of Guo advocating physical harm to anyone. Nevertheless, the court rejected Guo's argument that his actions were protected under China's constitutional provisions for freedom of speech and association (Article 35 of the Constitution), saying that "the Constitution also clearly stipulates that citizens shall not damage the interests or security of the state in exercising those rights" (an apparent reference to Article 51 of the Constitution, which states that "(t)he exercise by citizens of the People's Republic of China of their freedoms and rights may not infringe upon the interests of the state, of society and of the collective, or upon the lawful freedoms and rights of other citizens"). Despite acknowledging that both Article 51 and Article 35 are found in the Constitution, the court made no attempt to explain why in this instance Article 51 trumped Guo's constitutional rights to free speech and association or to indicate whether it gave any weight to Guo's rights. The court also relied heavily on written statements of individuals who did not appear in court and thus could not be cross-examined by the defense.

Postponements that the court justified on procedural grounds delayed the verdict until October 16, 2009, after celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1. The court accepted the case on June 10 and, under China's Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) Article 168, would have had to issue a judgment within one and one-half months of that date (late July). The court received approval to extend this time period by an additional month (to late August), which Article 168 allows. According to the judgment, the court then granted the prosecution's request for supplementary investigation. The court resumed hearing the case on September 16, meaning that, at the earliest, the court granted the prosecution's request for supplementary investigation on August 16 (Article 166 of the CPL limits such investigations to one month). This means that the prosecution's request was granted after the trial took place on August 7. The legal basis for this post-trial postponement is unclear. Article 162 of the CPL provides that after the defendant makes his final statement, the chief (or presiding) judge shall adjourn the case and then the court shall issue its judgment, making no mention of the possibility of a supplementary investigation by the prosecution. A copy of Guo's final statement (via Chinese Human Rights Defenders) and an August 7 Radio Free Asia article appear to indicate that Guo made his final statement at the August 7 trial. At least one expert on Chinese criminal law has stated that the law does not allow the prosecutor to request a supplementary investigation after the courtroom hearing has concluded (see pp. 490-491 of Andrea J. Worden, "A Fair Game"? of Law and Politics in China, and the "Sensitive" Case of Democracy Activist Yang Jianli, Georgetown Journal of International Law, Volume 40, Number 2, Winter 2009). When the court resumed the hearing on September 16, the time limit for the court's consideration of the case started anew (Article 168 of the CPL), giving it at least another month to issue the verdict.

The court also emphasized Guo's use of the Internet to engage in his activities, including publication of his "Herald of Democracy" series on the Web sites of the Epoch Times, Boxun, and Radio Free Asia, among others. The court cited as evidence the public security bureau's records of the e-mail activity and cell phone text messages of Guo and individuals with whom he corresponded. For more information on the risk Chinese citizens face when disseminating critical views of the Communist Party and Chinese government on the Internet, as well as how Chinese public security officials monitor the Internet activities of its citizens, see Section II―Freedom of Expression, in the Commission's 2009 Annual Report.