By Yaxue Cao, published: February 21, 2016
Zhang Haitao was sentenced to 19 years in prison for 69 WeChat posts and 205 Twitter posts, including retweets. The judgement named Voice of America and Radio Free Asia “foreign hostile websites,” an absurdity that affronts the very idea of law. — The Editors
Appeal proceedings began on February 18 for the sentence of rights defender Zhang Haitao (张海涛) to 19 years imprisonment in Xinjiang, on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an authoritative source for news on rights activists in China. The report cited the efforts of Guangdong lawyer Liu Zhengqing (刘正清), who, accompanied by Zhang’s relatives, met with a Judge Wang who agreed to submit the dossier to the higher court and facilitate the review of files by lawyers.
Zhang Haitao was sentenced to 15 years in prison on January 15 this year for the first charge — “inciting subversion” — and then another 5 years for “providing intelligence to foreign organizations.” He received a combined sentence of 19 years, and was also fined 120,000 yuan (about $18,000). When the judgement was announced there was widespread outrage.
The second instance trial of Zhang will involve a group of lawyers, trying to gain a fairer judicial process for him.
On June 26 last year, Zhang was arrested and had his house raided by Urumqi police on charges of “inciting ethnic hatred,” and was then formally arrested on charges of “provoking troubles.” After he had been locked up for five months, the charges were switched from “provoking troubles” to “inciting subversion of state power.”
The evidence used to convict Zhang of this crime, and put him in jail for 15 years, consists of 69 posts made to WeChat, and 205 posts made to Twitter using the account @xjvisa (including posts he retweeted). Twitter user Chen Chuangchuang, a researcher of Mao’s political campaigns and activist in New York, noted that if Zhang Haitao wasn’t the first to be declared a political criminal inciting subversion by means of speech on Twitter, his punishment was certainly the most severe.
On January 27, Zhang’s wife, Li Aijie (李爱杰), accompanied Beijing lawyer Li Dunyong (李敦勇), to meet with Zhang for about an hour in the Urumqi Detention Center. Zhang was looking gaunt, Li said, and had entrusted him to deliver an eight-page appeal letter to the authorities.
Perjured evidence, illegally-obtained evidence, and nonsensical evidence should all be excluded from the judgement in the case. For instance, he said that the testimony of Yu Xinyong was perjured—either by the procuratorate or a false confession by Yu himself. His own confession, obtained by torture, is an illegal form of evidence; and the one-sided citation of testimony from netizens whom Zhang Haitao barely knows is an unreasonable form of evidence.
He pointed out numerous logical fallacies, or absurdities, in the judgement: for instance, the equation of the Communist Party to China; the equation of opposition to subversion; the equation of having different opinions to spreading rumours and slander; and the equation of peaceful expression to serious social harm, and so on.
Zhang said that calling the act of citizens posting to the Internet information found online “illegal spying,” or “providing intelligence,” is an incorrect application of the law, and moreover is simply unreasonable and preposterous.
In black and white, the judgement named Voice of America and Radio Free Asia “foreign hostile websites,” along with Boxun, Sound of Hope Radio, and Chinese Epoch Times, and this was also used as evidence of Zhang’s crimes (see No. 18).
Voice of America and Radio Free Asia are both news outlets founded and funded by the U.S. government. VOA has since the 1980s to today had journalists stationed in Beijing, and is an established part of the two countries dispatching journalists to the others’ shores. The U.S. government has a responsibility to protest and object to the judgement on this basis, and to protest and object the judgement against Zhang Haitao.
The primary evidence convicting Zhang of providing intelligence consisted of three items: two were essays he submitted to Boxun, and the third was, “providing content to RFA through an interview on July 6, 2014.” Given RFA’s relationship with the U.S. government, Congress and the administration should pay attention to Zhang’s case in the same manner they did with the RFA journalist Shohret Hoshur, whose brothers in Xinjiang were targeted by security forces in order to intimidate him. Congress and the Obama administration should closely follow and make representations to China over the Zhang Haitao case.
Other media outlets noted in judgement are Chinese-language media companies established and operating in the United States. As a normal member of the international community, China must offer legal basis for its declaration that these media entities—private companies operating legally and exercising freedom of speech in the United States—are “hostile forces.” They cannot just arbitrarily declare them “hostile” and then use this as a means of severely punishing a citizen in China.
Zhang Haitao also asked in his appeal: “The websites and media companies I shared my views with, which the procuratorate calls foreign organizations, or foreign websites—which one of them has been determined by law to be ‘reactionary,’ ‘hostile,’ or prohibited for citizens to speak to?”
The judgement identifies Zhang as a journalist for Boxun, to which Zhang in his appeal retorts: “When I first encountered the Boxun website in 2010, I looked up its navigation menu and found a place to register an account. A few minutes after I registered I received an email saying ‘Congratulations on becoming a Boxun correspondent.’ There was no job contract, I didn’t get a cent, no one from the website contacted me, the website gave me no assignments to complete, and I received orders from no one. How is this any different from establishing an account on any other website?”
His appeal also notes: “Xinjiang is a violent place. I hope that the procuratorate will not employ this extremist logic into its implementation of the law, which is supposed to protect the rights of the citizenry. Public opinion will inevitably take into consideration the relationship between your behavior and the violent trends in Xinjiang.”
“You’re the disgrace of the nation, going the opposite way of where our time is heading to,” Zhang wrote, addressing the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court. “This is heading down the road of North Korea, and our silence facilitates it. I used my keyboard and computer mouse to express myself—I’m content in my innocence.”
Zhang Haitao is from Nanyang, Henan Province. After being laid off from state employment in the 1990s, he moved to Xinjiang and began trading in electronics. Since 2009 he’s been an active participant in rights defense activities, exercising his right as a citizen to express his views. For this, he has been regularly harassed and threatened by police.
Zhang has yet to see his infant son, born just a couple of months ago; his wife, Li Aijie said that Zhang is deeply worried about her and the boy. Zhang hopes that international human rights organizations as well as people from all walks of life, will help to keep an eye on his wife and son now that he has lost his freedom.*
The Chinese government’s “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang deal shockingly harsh and gratuitous punishment to Uighurs and to dissidents, both Han Chinese and Uighurs. In September 2014 the Central Minzu University economics professor Ilham Tohti was, on groundless charges of “splitting the country,” sentenced to life imprisonment. Last year the Xinjiang-based activist Zhao Haitong (赵海通) was sentenced to fourteen years in prison for attending rights defending activities in Guangzhou and Hefei with other activists.
*Those who wish to make donations for the welfare of Zhang Haitao’s wife and child can send a check, or make a PayPal donation, to the Bay Area-based NGO Humanitarian China, specifying “For Zhang Haitao’s wife and son.” Humanitarian China was founded by the June 4th movement student leader Zhou Fengsuo and friends. Since 2007 it has been providing financial relief and aid to Chinese prisoners of conscience and their family members. The administration of Humanitarian China is performed entirely by volunteers.
Disclaimer: Yaxue Cao, editor of China Change, is a board member of Humanitarian China.
Activist in Xinjiang Sentenced to 19 Years for Online Writings and Rights Activities, by Yaqiu Wang, January 21, 2016.