China must end persecution of sentenced earthquake survivor He Hongchun
The Chinese authorities should ensure that May 2008 Sichuan earthquake survivor He Hongchun will not be subjected to any further punishment and that the conditions of his suspended sentence follow Chinese law, urged Amnesty International in a public statement on Thursday. At 2pm on Thursday, Beichuan County Intermediate Court convicted He Hongchun of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order” and sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment, suspended for five years. He has yet to decide if he will appeal the verdict. He Hongchun was detained on 27 September 2008 after organizing a protest outside an insurance company in Beicuan county. He Hongchun, along with eight other individuals, were selected to represent over 500 parents of Beichuan county who lost their children when their school buildings collapsed on them during the earthquake. Amnesty International said that He Hongchun should never have been convicted in the first place of vaguely defined public order maintenance charges for simply seeking redress. The organization is concerned that he could face further reprisals and restrictions that go beyond the remit of a suspended sentence as provided for in Chinese Law and regulations. Authorities similarly gave human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng a suspended sentence in 2006 but heavy surveillance, virtual house arrest and repeated detentions some including torture and ill-treatment became part of his “unofficial sentence” all outside legal provisions. There are precedents of irregularities in He Hongchun’s case – his criminal proceeding has been marked with procedural flaws, including interference with his legal defence and it is unlikely his trial met international fair trial standards. The Sichuan courts’ unwillingness to provide a legal channel for parents wishing to seek compensation from insurance companies for their terrible loss means that for many the deep wounds that were inflicted over a year ago remain unhealed. These actions will not help achieve the authorities’ goals of harmony and stability. Amnesty International said it is also concerned about two other detained activists who offered assistance to earthquake survivors. Huang Qi has been in detention without a trial for more than a year on state secrets charges after he assisted parents to take legal action against the local authorities. Tan Zuoren was detained in March 2009 while he was compiling a list of students who died in the earthquake and has been charged with “inciting subversion of state power”. Amnesty International said that it considers them to be prisoners of conscience and has called for their immediate and unconditional release.