Shandong Court Sentences Internet Essayist Li Jianping to Two Years' Imprisonment

December 8, 2006

The intermediate people's court in Zibo city, Shandong province, sentenced Internet essayist Li Jianping on October 25 to two years' imprisonment and two years' deprivation of political rights for "inciting subversion of state power," according to the court judgment. Such acts are crimes under Article 105, Paragraph 2 of the Criminal Law. The court found that Li had "incited subversion of state power" by posting essays on overseas Web sites that "harmed the people's democratic dictatorship and socialist system of China" and "provoked feelings of hostility and hatred" toward the Chinese government. The court judgment neither described how the essays accomplished these acts nor cited any specific passages that it considered to be harmful or provocative. An October 26 Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report quoted Li's wife as saying he planned to appeal the verdict.

The court found that Li had written 18 essays from 2003 to May 2005 and had posted them on such foreign Web sites as Democracy Forum, ChinaEWeekly, and Epoch Times. The judgment included a list of the essays, with titles such as "'Face' for the Communist Party is Paramount," "Who Should be Thanked for Corrupt Officials," "Discussion and Judgment Regarding Hu Jintao's Current Situation," and "Suzhou's Myth of Incorruptibility is Already Shattered; How Long Can Shanghai Endure?"

Li joins a growing list of writers and journalists that Chinese authorities have arrested or sentenced in recent months for posting essays critical of the Chinese government or the Communist Party on overseas Web sites such as the ones cited in Li's case. These individuals include:

  • Chen Shuqing: Internet essayist and China Democracy Party (CDP) member arrested in October on the charge of "inciting subversion of state power."
  • Zhang Jianhong: writer arrested in October on the charge of "inciting subversion of state power."
  • Guo Qizhen: Internet essayist sentenced to four years in October for "inciting subversion of state power."
  • Li Yuanlong: journalist sentenced to two years in July for "inciting subversion of state power."
  • Yang Tianshui: freelance writer and CDP member sentenced to 12 years in May for "subversion of state power."

The CPJ condemned Li's sentence in its October 26 report. "Li Jianping has already been jailed for too long on the gossamer reasoning that his online criticism of national leaders constitutes a threat to the state," said CPJ's Executive Director Joel Simon. Both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed and committed to ratifying, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantee to everyone the right to freedom of expression "regardless of frontiers" and through any media. Both allow for restrictions only if they are prescribed by law and necessary to protect the rights of others, morals, public order, or public health. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD), in a report on its 2004 mission to China (available on the UNWGAD's Country Visits Web page) criticized the Chinese government for using "vague, imprecise or sweeping" criminal law provisions such as "subverting state power" to punish the peaceful expression of the rights guaranteed in the UDHR.

Authorities violated Chinese law by preventing Li from meeting with his defense counsel until just before his trial began. According to an October 26 Boxun report (in Chinese), Li did not meet with his lawyer until more than 10 months after he was detained and just prior to the trial's first hearing, which took place on April 12. The Boxun report said that Li had made several attempts before then to set up a meeting with his lawyer. Under Article 96 of the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), Li's lawyer should have been able to meet with him after the first interrogation by police or starting from the first day of his formal detention on May 27, 2005, unless officials determined that the case involved state secrets. Media reports about the case do not indicate that officials thought the case involved "state secrets." The Boxun report also said that Li was not allowed to see his family during his detention.

Officials relied on a number of procedural postponements to extend the investigation and trial phases of Li's case:

  • Public security officials formally arrested him on June 30, 2005, and submitted his case to the procuratorate on August 30.
  • The procuratorate sent the case back to the public security bureau on October 12 and again on December 6 for supplementary investigations because of insufficient evidence.
  • The public security bureau submitted the case again on January 26, 2006, and the procuratorate formally indicted Li on March 7.
  • After agreeing to hear the case on March 13, the Zibo Intermediate People's Court requested and received from the Shandong High People's Court a one-month extension on the time period to hear and decide the case "because of the case's complexity," according to the judgment. Under Article 1 of Several Provisions on Strictly Enforcing a System of Case Hearing Time Limits (Provisions), issued by the Supreme People's Court (SPC) in 2000 and Article 168 of the CPL, a court must conduct a hearing within two and a half months of agreeing to hear a case and pronounce a judgment by the end of that same time period, in public prosecutions that the investigative agencies have characterized as "complex."
  • The procuratorate requested to postpone the trial for supplementary investigations on May 27 and August 11 and the court agreed to these requests, according to the judgment. Article 9(3) of the Provisions provides that these periods of supplementary investigation do not count towards the two-and-a-half month deadline for hearing the case. Under Article 168 of the CPL, a supplementary investigation does not count towards, but instead restarts the clock, for deciding the case. Neither Article 165 of the CPL nor Item 4 of a 2003 circular jointly issued by the SPC, Supreme People's Procuratorate, and Ministry of Public Security place a limit on the number of times a procuratorate may request to postpone the trial for supplementary investigation. By contrast, Article 140 of the CPL and Item 4 of the circular place a two-time limit on the ability of public security bureaus to make similar requests for supplementary investigation. If abused, this gap in procedural restraints at the trial level could allow a procuratorate to indefinitely postpone the hearing and judgment in a case indefinitely while the defendant remained in detention.

According to a November 4 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report, Li took part in the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests as one of the founders of the Independent Federation of Shanghai Universities. The RSF report also said that Li used to run a medical equipment supply business.