Procuratorate Decides Not to Arrest Author Xie Chaoping in Sanmenxia Dam Relocation Program "Book Case"

December 10, 2010

In Mid-August 2010, public security officials in Shaanxi province detained but did not formally arrest Xie Chaoping, an author and journalist, on suspicion of "illegal business activities." Chinese media articles questioned whether local authorities had detained Xie because he had recently published a book (in the form of a magazine supplement) that documented citizen relocation programs associated with the Sanmenxia Dam. In mid-September, procuratorate officials rejected a request by the local public security bureau (PSB) to arrest Xie on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence in the case. PSB officials released Xie on bail, but are keeping the investigation open. PSB officials also detained and then reportedly released on bail the manager of the print shop where the supplement was printed. Provincial authorities punished the magazine that published the supplement. Xie's case highlights the official abuse of criminal law provisions in cases authorities deem politically sensitive, and the risks authors face when writing about subjects that local government officials believe may be harmful to their reputations.

On August 19, 2010, public security officers from Beijing and Weinan municipality, Shaanxi province, detained Xie Chaoping, an author and journalist with Circumference, a magazine under the Procuratorate Daily according to a September 10 Beijing News article reprinted in Phoenix Net and a September 13 Democracy and Law Times article reprinted in Phoenix Net. Xie's wife said the PSB officials told her they suspected Xie of engaging in "illegal business activities," a crime under Article 225 of China's Criminal Law. Xie's lawyer said authorities likely detained Xie because he published a book, "The Great Relocation (Da Qianzou)," that traces problems related to the Sanmenxia hydroelectric dam relocation programs. The hydroelectric dam was completed by 1960, according to a November 7, 2003 Probe International article. The migrants residing in Weinan are the primary subjects of the book according to the Beijing News Article. In May 2010, Xie published the book as a supplement to Spark (huohua) Magazine (also known as Flash Magazine), through its Beijing office. Linwei District PSB officers travelled to Beijing and detained Xie on August 19, issued a criminal detention notice for Xie on August 20, and requested the procuratorate approve his formal arrest on September 13, according to a September 18 Caijing blog post by Xie's lawyer, Zhou Ze. Zhou's blog entry asserted that Weinan officials set up a "special case group" to handle the case and asked for approval to extend the investigation phase to 30 days, the maximum number of days allowed, according to Article 69 of China's Criminal Procedure Law. Procuratorate officials, however, decided not to formally arrest Xie.

The Linwei District People's Procuratorate rejected the PSB's request to arrest Xie on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence, according to a September 17 Caijing article. The article also quoted a procuratorate official as saying "Xie Chaoping also has a profound recognition of his own illicit behavior and he expressed deep regret." The official did not specify the behavior to which he was referring. According to Zhou's blog, however, Xie has consistently maintained his innocence of any wrongdoing. Linwei public security officials released Xie on bail (qubao houshen); however, they did not withdraw the case and reportedly could continue to investigate. Xie's lawyer reportedly said it is hard to predict what will happen with the case, according to the September 17 Caijing article.

According to a report cited in a September 20 Voice of America article, police authorities also questioned workers at the print shop that printed "The Great Relocation." In mid-September, according to the September 17 Caijing article, Linwei branch public security officers detained Zhao Xun, the manager of the print shop. A September 22 Southern Weekend article notes police have apparently released him on bail.

Weinan authorities deemed "The Great Relocation" to be "illegal," a determination that became the basis for their detaining Xie, confiscating copies of the supplement and punishing Spark Magazine. The Weinan Cultural Market Examination Team (Weinanshi Wenhua Shichang Jicha Dadui) reportedly confiscated copies of the supplement on June 27, the morning after their arrival in Weinan, based on, what Xie's lawyer, Zhou Ze, described in his blog as an anonymous "tip about an illegal publicatio." In addition, the local government reportedly sent police, village cadres, and Cultural Examination Team members to the homes of resettled citizens to retrieve copies of the supplement also according to the Beijing News Article and Zhou's blog. Huayang city Bureau of Culture and Sports officials in Huayang city, Shaanxi province confiscated thousands of copies of the supplement from Dong Shengxin, a citizen who had been relocated to make way for the Sanmenxia Dam, according to an August 26 Chinese Human Rights Defenders article reprinted in Boxun that contained a statement by Dong. Dong asserts that the Shanxi Bureau of News and Publications issued a "publication evaluation certification" on June 28 that declared "The Great Relocation" an illegal publication according to Article 30 of the Regulations on the Administration of Publishing (Chuban Guanli Tiaoli) based on the assumption that Spark Magazine had not authorized the supplement. Authorities from the Shanxi Bureau of News and Publications also punished Spark Magazine, according to an account by Wei Pizhi, a former Chief of Spark Magazine Press published in a September 4 article in the China Youth Daily, by issuing a stop publication "warning notice" to the magazine. In addition, the Shaanxi branch of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, the "sponsor" organization for the magazine, sent a document cancelling its (business) agreement with the magazine.

Chinese newspapers have covered the case. News stories highlighted the possibility that local officials wanted to squelch reporting about the Sanmenxia dam relocation programs and reported on calls to drop the case (including a 9/3/10 Justice net article; a 9/2/10 Southern Daily article; and a 9/6/10 Caixin article). Other news articles have used the case to highlight new judicial provisions, including the September 17 Caijing article, which referred to relevant articles in the "Provisions Regarding Problems With Supervision of Criminal Case Registration," jointly issued by the Supreme People's Procuratorate and Ministry of Public Security. Article 8(1) of the new provisions states: "[If] the People's Procuratorate after investigation of the facts, determines the reasons given by public security organs for not registering a case or for registering a case, are not tenable, through a decision made by the chief procuratorate or the procuratorial committee, it must notify pubic security organs to register or to dismiss the case."

Press law advocates have highlighted the case in advocating for press freedoms. A group of intellectuals used the case to spotlight the need for freedom of the press and a press law in China, according to an October 14 Probe International article. One intellectual promised to donate 1 million yuan to "promote discussion and research on legislation establishing a free press and support for journalists and writers who find themselves on the wrong side of the law."

The crime of "illegally operating a business" (Article 225 of the Criminal Law) has been used by officials in the past to selectively punish those who publish political or religious materials or who otherwise upset officials. The human rights defender Yang Maodong (who uses the pen name Guo Feixiong), for example, had earlier caught the attention of authorities in 2005 for helping villagers in their campaign to recall a corrupt official, and for his support of human rights defenders. In November 2007, a court in Guangdong province sentenced him to five years in prison, alleging that in 2001 he illegally published a book that also reportedly angered local officials, as reported in this CECC analysis. In June 2009, a Beijing court sentenced Shi Weihan, a Protestant house church leader and owner of a Christian bookstore, to three years in prison for operating a business illegally, as decribed in this CECC Political Prisoner Database record. Authorities accused him of illegally printing and distributing Bibles.

For additional information on corruption and rights abuses related to hydroelectric dam relocation projects see this CECC analysis regarding Fu Xiancai and this analysis regarding the Three Gorges Dam Relocation Programs. For more general information on suppression of environmental protection advocates, see Section II-Climate Change and the Environment in the CECC 2010 Annual Report (pp. 156-158). For more information on how the Chinese government uses publishing regulations to restrict free expression, see Section II-Freedom of Expression in the CECC 2010 Annual Report (pp. 69-70). For more information on the abuse of criminal law provisions in freedom of expression cases, see Section II-Freedom of Expression in the CECC 2010 Annual Report (pp. 58-60).