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Police Beat and Detain Supporters of Sichuan Earthquake Critic Morning before Trial

August 12, 2009

The trial of Tan Zuoren (谭作人), writer and environmental activist, in the Intermediate People’s Court in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, ended without a court decision today, August 12, 2009. Tan was tried for “incitement to subvert state power.” Before the trial, the well known artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), who had made a special trip from Beijing to Chengdu in the hope of attending the trial as a witness for Tan, was beaten by Chengdu police and detained in his hotel room for 11 hours.

Tan’s wife, Wang Qinghua (王庆华), attended the trial. She told Human Rights in China (HRIC) that the court did not allow Tan to make the final statement to which he was entitled and did not allow any defense witnesses to attend the trial; and that the judge repeatedly interrupted the defense lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强).

Wang also said that the court only allowed her and her older daughter into the courtroom, and barred her younger daughter, as well as Tan’s brother and nephew, from entering. The latter two had flown to Chengdu from the United States to attend the trial. According to Pu, about 100 policemen filled the seats in the courtroom. Wang said that more than 100 people, including family members of earthquake victims, protested outside the court, saying, “If even his own daughter can’t enter the court, what kind of public trial is this?”

Tan Zuoren is a writer and environmental activist based in Sichuan Province. He was the editor-in-chief of Wenhua Ren (文化人) magazine, and was recognized by the Sichuan media as one of “Chengdu’s Enlightened Citizens.” After the Sichuan earthquake, he and Xie Yihui (谢贻卉) conducted a nearly three-month investigation by interviewing families who lost their children in the collapsed schools. They published their findings in an online report titled “Independent Investigative Report by Citizens,” in which they criticized the government for not conducting a thorough investigation into the causes of the collapse of the schools and for under-reporting the number of victims. Tan was detained on March 28, 2009, three days after the publication of the report, on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.”

The indictment, however, downplayed the publication of the report as a reason for Tan’s prosecution. It cited three actions that constituted the crime of “incitement to subvert state power”: 1) Tan libeled the government when he criticized the government’s handling of June Fourth in a May 2007 online article; 2) Tan agreed to be interviewed by “the enemy radio station outside of China, Sound of Hope,” in 2008 regarding a blood donation campaign that he initiated to commemorate the June Fourth crackdown, and exchanged e-mail with June Fourth dissident Wang Dan on commemorative activities; and 3) Tan, in interviews with media outside China after the May 12, 2008 earthquake, said many things that “gravely harmed the image of our Party and government.”

Tan’s lawyers Pu Zhiqiang and Xia Lin (夏霖) maintain that Tan is innocent. Pu told HRIC: “According to the principle of the criminal law, receiving e-mail and initiating a blood donation drive are not criminal offenses. Tan’s investigation into the truth of the earthquake and his criticism of the government did not constitute slander or incitement to subvert the government.” He added that this was a terrible trial, and shows the extreme anxiety of the court.

“The indictment, coming two years after the alleged initial offenses of libeling the government in May 2007, and one year after the June 2008 Sound of Hope interview, strains credibility and common sense,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of HRIC. “In fact, Tan was prosecuted because his report touched the Achilles heel of the authorities. His prosecution is ‘killing one to warn a hundred,’ intended to stop Tan and others from looking further into the true cause of the tragedy.”

Ai Weiwei was a design consultant for the “Bird’s Nest,” the Beijing Olympics stadium. After the Sichuan earthquake, he initiated the “May 12” Investigation of the Student Earthquake Victims. Ai told HRIC that he arrived in Chengdu on the evening of August 11. At midnight, between 20 and 30 Chengdu policemen came to his hotel room. When Ai asked them for identification, one of the policemen punched him in the chin, which became so swollen that he could not close his mouth. Ai said that he had no doubt that the police action was timed to prevent him from attending the trial.

For more information on Sichuan earthquake-related trials, see:

For Tan Zuoren’s investigative report, see:

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