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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

  • ur chinese friend

    In my last post, the link which I provided was about LiangConjie. Here is a piece of Hu Jia.

    http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e&id=ENGASA170112006

    “According to Hu Jia, some international donors who helped to fund the operations of the organization withdrew their support to the group under pressure from the Chinese government and its volunteers were intimidated.”

    Mind you, fighting AIDS is not a bad thing.

  • Sorry, ur chinese friend, I just don’t see what you see in that article.

  • S4T

    As a grassroot activist, Hu Jia has been involved in some honorable causes, such as bringing the plight of the HIV/AIDS patients in China to people’s attention. He should be applauded for trying to make a difference. For China’s human rights conditions to improve, it will need more of the home-grown activists that truly want to make a difference for people at the bottom of the society. Real people with real grievances in their day-to-day life.
    Unfortunately, his activism had somehow become the target of the government. Maybe he had became so frustrated with the system he felt it might be helpful to bring in the influence of some government institutions and NGOs in the west that have been considered by the Chinese government as “traditionally hostile forces”. I question the wisdom of this tactic. It also would not help that by proudly displaying his admiration of Dalai Lama, a figure that has been so distorted in the mind of regular Chinese, he seemed to have brought his activism into the realm of ideology. The apparently confrontational rhetoric in some of the Chinese entries on his Livespace blog, especially in later years, demonstrated his anger and animosity towards the government. Nevertheless, people should admire the courage shown by Hu and Zeng, a young couple with an infant daughter taking on the system and pray for Hu’s safety and health.

    In a sense, Hu’s incarceration might be a blessing in disguise. As he sits alone in his cell, like many anti-establishment activists before him inside and outside China, he will be well served not to dwell on his anger, but take the time to ponder his future role in China’s transformation, a martyr, an exile, or a leader in his homeland.

  • Frank Calamia

    Everyone is missing the point. The point is, Free Speech is non-existent in China. Freedom is not something that the Chinese people understand, or support. They are comfortable living under a strictly controlled society that tells them how to think, and act. As a sponsor of a college student from Shanghai, I can speak first hand how my country has positively impacted this young person. I wonder from time to time, just how life in China and the world would be if these beautiful people were free like me.

  • Nano

    S4T,

    Thanks you for the clarifications. It does help me to understand the situation better. Bringing in the foreign NGOs and Dalai Lama are definitely a no-no. Hopefully on his appeal, his sentence can be reduced to a token charge. My sympathies to his wife and kid.

  • Nano

    Frank Calamia,

    “..Free Speech is non-existent in China.”

    I don’t agree with that. There may be no absolute freedom of speech in China but so is USA. In USA, Political Correct speech is heavily censored and not permitted too. Generally, the present governance of China is acceptable to most Chinese. I wonder why you gave the impression that people in China are not having social, economic or political freedom. Often, it’s imprudent to enforce your value system onto another society. Different people, different culture and different way of life. Absolute freedom will bring anarchy. Westerners are fond of criticising Asians through their own narrow tunnel vision.

  • DT

    Nano,

    “Westerners are fond of criticising Asians through their own narrow tunnel vision.”

    You mean to say that they’re fond of criticising governments that they don’t agree with. It’d be a fallacy to think that all “Westerners” are out to attack “Asians”. Believe it or not, there are a good number of “Westerners” who speak up on these things with good intentions in their hearts. How you make of their attempts is your own business, but please remember that the argument cannot simply be split into a discourse between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Also remember that phrases like “tunnel vision” can be interpreted as true for either party, and that it only serves to erect a bulwark for productive international relations.

    In short, certin people here (on both sides of the argument) are too dismissive of one another. They are the people that will never be of any use in constructive world politics.

  • Frank Calamia

    You indicate that you believe the government of China allows the people social, economic, and political freedom. Hmmmmm I suppose censoring the internet, the press, and your free speech is a figment of my imagination. Your government will never have a Martin Luther King because such a person would be arrested and put in prison for speaking the truth. And, finally, do you really think people in the world will believe that in America we do not have free speech? Get real!!! As an American, I respect and cherish your culture. I just do not have to like your government because it is not representative of the great people of China who deserve to be free!

  • tristin

    @Frank Calamia:
    Thank u for ur “frank” statement of Chinese people who have no “freedom” in ur eyes, u r frank, but ur miserably ignorant and arrogant.As one of the post-80s generation, i know what happens in china, i know what you guys are thinking towards us, i can also “frankly” tell u, u don’t know our culture,our history and the mode we are living! it’s you who is blind and brain-washed, because although we are living China, we are able to collect information from all the sides.After hearing what u saying and thinking, i have to say u have a wrong vision towards us. Thank u for mentioning the term “free”, yes, you are more free than us, you are free to send troops to invade other country for OIL.As a sponsor of a chinese student, u consider his past as “negative” so you can proudly say ur country ” positively” influenced him, i donnt see any respect in it, and i think u are not talking and thinking like an educated person.

  • ur chinese friend

    John Kennedy,

    HUH? You wrote: “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.”

    I have provided evidence that Hu was foreign-funded, as Hu Jia admitted himself that he has been receiving less over-sea funds due to Chinese government’s harassment. I expected you to understand this easily.

    Reading your comment more carefully this time, it sounds like you actually went to his trial. Since the transcripts of his trial was never published, the only way you could be sure of what came up during the trial is for you to be there. The Western media reported that the evidence “included internet articles and interviews”, which is hardly detailed nor at all inclusive.

    I believe I share similar sentiments as the poster SA4 expect his post is a lot more eloquent than mine. I also think that the jail time will be good for Hu’s career as a Human Rights activist in China.

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