China Sichuan earthquake activists to be tried

Two activists who offered assistance to survivors of the May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province, China, will be tried this month. Their detention is part of the authorities’ continuing effort to hamper peaceful and lawful human rights activities using China’s criminal law. Huang Qi will be tried behind closed doors tomorrow by Houwu District People’s Court in Chengdu city on allegations of “unlawfully holding documents classified as highly secret”. He will face up to three years in prison if convicted. Another earthquake activist, Tan Zuoren, will be tried at Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court on 12 August on charges of “inciting subversion of state power”. He is accused of defaming the Chinese Communist Party and government with his online coverage of the authorities’ handling of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989. Local sources believe, however, that Tan Zuoren’s detention is linked to his intention to publicly issue, on the first anniversary of the earthquake, an independently investigated report on the collapse of school buildings caused by government corruption. “After more than 13 months in detention, Huang Qi is suffering from serious health conditions, including two tumours which have developed since his detention, and there are fears that he has not received adequate medical treatment,” said Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme Deputy Director. “The authorities have turned down repeated requests made by his family to release him on bail pending his trial.” Huang Qi has repeatedly been questioned about help he gave to parents bringing legal action against the local authorities in relation to the Sichuan earthquake. Their children died when school buildings collapsed in the earthquake and the families believe that corruption, involving the local authorities, resulted in poor construction of public buildings that collapsed in the earthquake. Amnesty International has called on the Chinese authorities to drop the politically motivated prosecution against Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren and to release them immediately and unconditionally.