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China: Hu Jia to be sentenced today

Global Voices Olympics Update: On Thursday morning, Hu Jia was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison.

Hu Jia goes back on ‘trial’ in a few hours where it is expected he will be handed down a sentence of up to five years in prison based on two interviews given and six unspecified blog posts most of which written during the more than one year he spent under house arrest.

Charging Hu with state subversion is proving as difficult for the legal process as it is for Chinese premier Wen Jiabao; when asked directly last month, during one of the most public appearances Wen gives each year, about Hu Jia's situation, the response Wen gave sounded to many like a denial that any ‘dissidents’ had even been arrested.

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Playing Captain Kangaroo may work in Zhongnanhai, but the reality that Hu and Zeng and their supporters have chosen to live in goes more like a Kanye West song. When Hu was first kidnapped around this time two years ago, Zeng Jinyan started a blog on which she documented the bureaucratic games she saw being played as she ran around Beijing trying unsuccessfully to find out what had happened to her husband, who was dropped off miles from home and with no notice over a month later.

When Zeng herself soon became subject to constant surveillance, she slammed on the brakes and started getting in their face.

Placing Hu under ongoing house arrest in 2006 effectively put an end to the environmental protection and AIDS awareness work for which he had already become quite well-known, and so trapped at home with little more than an internet connection, he not only created a whole new approach to activism, which some are calling Tiananmen 2.0, he switched gears to become a social worker of sorts, enabled by technology to keep constant track of a whole range of cases, and where possible, enabling others [zh] to do the same.

In 2007, Zeng Jinyan was chosen by TIME Magazine as one of the most influential people in the world.

This will no doubt go down as a landmark moment in Chinese history, but to this day anyone looking to China's largest search engine for more information needs to be prepared for disappointment. In the China of today, though, someone like Hu Jia just doesn't quietly disappear, and when state agents abducted him again last December, near-blind family friend Zheng Mingfang went straight to the streets and did what she could, walking up to strangers and explaining Hu's situation, collecting signatures for a petition calling for his release. Early last month, however, Zheng too was arrested.

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On Facebook, there are Hu Jia support groups. There's a cause.

Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan spent months filming their would-be captors for a documentary, Prisoners in Freedom City. After Hu was abducted a second time in December last year and not quickly released, someone got hold of a copy and put it online, and not just in one place, but several.

Following Hu Jia's arrest late last December, when it came to appear that his and Zeng Jinyan's newborn baby's health was at risk, enough momentum grew out of scattered online chatter that a group of netizens tried to force their way up to Zeng's door to deliver milk powder. When that proved unsuccessful, someone thought it through, and got it right. And still others went on to try.

Hu Jia kept it simple; in preparing posts for his blog, he did interviews over Skype, then sometimes sent them out over e-mail as .mp3 attachments. Clearly there were things he could have done better, but shortly after his arrest we saw the formation of a Netizen Party, with clearly stated intention to stick to using the highly encrypted services offered by Gmail and Skype.

One of the first things the authorities did in December last year when Hu was taken away and Zeng placed under house arrest, where she remains today, was to cut off her internet connection and confiscate her phones. Despite this, Zeng's blog kept on getting updated. And supporters kept translating it.

The second she got her cellphone back, Zeng started sending out photos. When Hu had his first day in court, we saw drive-by vlogging. Zeng's even managed to release a podcast.

Wen Jiabao almost seems justified in denying that any activists or netizens have or are being detained, given all the networks of bloggers out there so equally resolved not to accept it. If the bogus charges against Hu do somehow end up being dropped today, we only have more of ingenuity in blogging to look forward to. If they don't, and Zeng and her daughter remain captive to their squadron of nosepickers, didn't China finally launch 3G networks this week? It won't be long before we'll see a House Arrested Beijing channel on Qik.com.

Speaking of which, a post this week on Zeng Jinyan's blog says that Hu's trial at 9:30 a.m. on April 3 in courtroom 23 at Beijing #1 People's Intermediate Court will be open proceedings, and Zeng intends to be there.

Here's a poem from Hu-Zeng friend Teng Biao, written in prison after he himself was kidnapped for two days early last month and translated now by Under the Jacaranda Tree blogger C.A. Yeung, ‘To my wife, from jail‘:

Presently as I confront prison walls,
Now I write this poem for you, my Love, my Lady, my Wife.
Even tonight, the stars glitter in the cold sky of apparent isolation.
Glowworms yet appear and disappear among the shrubs.

Please explain to our child why I did not have a chance
to bid her farewell. I was compelled to embark on a long journey away from home.
And so, everyday before our daughter goes to bed,
And when she awakes in the morning,
I will entrust to you, my Lady, my Love, my Wife:
I entrust to you, my warm kisses on our daughter’s cheeks.

Please let our child touch the herbs beneath the stockade.
In the morning on a beautiful sunlit day,
If she notices the dew on the leaves,
She will experience my deep love for her.

Please play the Fisherman’s Song every time you water the cloves.
I should be able to hear the song, my love.
Please take good care of our silent but happy goldfish.
Hidden in their silence are memories of my glamourous and turbulent youth.

I tread a rugged road,
But let me reassure you: I have never stopped singing, my Love.
The leaves of the roadside willow tree have gradually changed colour.
Some noises of melting snow approach from afar.

Noises are engulfed in silence. This is just a very simple night.
When you think of me, please do not sigh, my Love.
The torrents of my agonies have merged with the torrents of my happiness.
Both rivers now run through my mortal corpse.

Before the drizzle halts,
I would have returned to your side, my Lady.
I cannot dry your tears while I am drenched in rain;
I can do so only with a redeemed soul after these times of testing.

89 comments

  • tristin

    i am living in shanghai Chinamainland, honestly I think this Hu jia guy is really funny, i guess he may have some mentle disorder? Western guys, stupid white trash, do you think you are superior? you know NOTHING about the situation in China, you know NOTHING about what the chinese people really want, as an ordinary chinese guy, i can’t help laghing, you are so pathetic, let HuJia rot in jail, a smelly bug

  • Thanks for your opinion, tristin.

  • Nano

    I am very sceptical that Hu Jia is just an ordinary blogger and activist who is unluckily targetted by the government as an exemplary case to frighten off other activists from being too critical of the government. If details of the government’s charges and evidence are scrutinized, activists will often claim that those charges and evidence are trumped up. Is there anyway to find out the truth of the case?

  • I haven’t seen any mention of the evidence of which you speak in any legitimate media, which makes sense because no reporters or diplomats were allowed to attend the trial. Xinhua did mention the titles of two of the allegedly illegal articles, but unfortunately has since deleted that statement.

    It’s too bad you feel very sceptical about Hu Jia’s identity, but then again all the background information you need is out there. Here’s one place to start.

  • Dear Nano, Tristin, and others –

    Your brainy comments bring to mind a poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) who was outraged “about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.” I have changed a few words, just to suit the occasion.

    In China, they came first for the journalists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a journalist;

    And then they came for the HIV activists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t an HIV activist;

    And then they came for the bloggers, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a blogger;

    And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.

  • ur chinese friend

    Jotman, your holier-than-thou and dismissive attitude towards anyone who you perceive to be pro-China is borderline racist to say the least. Did you even bother to read Nano’s post? He was asking for more details, just like anyone would before they make an informed decision.

    Tristin’s comment about how people such as yourself think they are superior to the average Chinese is right on target. It’s obvious that you think you know more than the average Chinese, even about their country. I still don’t see anyone asking the basic question which Tristin asked : “What do you know about what the Chinese people want”? Elitists such as yourself THINK you know what’s the best for the Chinese people.

    Being pompous isn’t going to get you anywhere in life.

  • ur chinese friend

    It seems that this guy has actually being doing good work for the Chinese people, which does bring up the question as to why would the Chinese government put him in jail. My guess is that his AIDS work showed how incompetent the Chinese government really is. That would be more than enough to piss off the Chinese government but in addition he probably also received some foreign money to do his work as a critic of China. This is definitely a no-no not only in China but pretty much in any nation.
    Since this article did mention something about a rapper, it’s interesting to note that in the Human Rights game getting jailed is a badge of honor, kinda like in the rap game. Without being martyred anyone can be a famed Human Rights activist.

  • @urchinesefriend Interesting, but you’re not actually saying anything meaningful when you suggest Hu was foreign-funded without offering the slightest shred of proof. Funny this concern never came up in the trial.

    As for whatever game it is that you think you’re talking about, note that the reference was to a song and not to its singer, the title of the song being the unstated point I was trying to make in the post, that easily-accessible technology enables activists to do pretty inspiring things, and in the cases above, the methods and strategies used evolved, got better. Whereas, for example, you in any of those situations might simply regress to a victim role, Hu Jia and his supporters show us that not everyone will. The people above chose to be stronger and do better.

    Framing the situation in the way you have, though, I can agree that this is an effective way to trivialize people who have put their lives and wellbeing on the line for honest and good principles that they believe strongly in.

  • […] durch eine handvoll Postings. Wie bedroht fühlt sich die Volksrepublik? Bei Peking Duck und Global Voices Online gibt es mehr Material, das man lesen und ansehen sollte. von carsten raddatz um 23:37 | abgelegt […]

  • ur chinese friend

    John Kenney wrote : “but you’re not actually saying anything meaningful when you suggest Hu was foreign-funded without offering the slightest shred of proof.”

    I hope it’s obvious to people that I do know at least how to google and I do google before I make statements about other people.
    http://www.china.org.cn/english/MATERIAL/158625.htm

    ” In November last year, he and four other environmental activists were given the Figures of Green China in 2005 award, the first awards for environmentalists sponsored by the central government and supported by the United Nations Environmental Program.”

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