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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

  • urchinese 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.

  • S4T

    It’s good that someone mentioned MLK, as we are commemorating the 40th anniversary of his ASSASSINATION in the US. Imaging what would happen with the Civil Rights Movements if he were to introduce foreign influences into his struggle and/or get involved with radical militancy movements such as the Black Panther.

    China needs improve on its freedom among a long list of other things. But that can only be done by Chinese people themselves because whatever the path of transformation China takes, the people that live there will have to decide and live with the consequences of that change, be it a radical revolution or a gradual evolution.

  • ur chinese friend

    Frank the Calamari wrote: “Your government will never have a Martin Luther King because such a person would be arrested and put in prison for speaking the truth.”

    So far, I have tried to avoid bashing the US because I believe it’s really a wonderful country. But if Frank you want to use MLK as an example of how the US is tolerant then you should look elsewhere. The last time I checked MLK was shot in the head, which IMO is a lot better than getting locked up in jail.

    And what of MLK’s vision? 40 years after his death, half of the US prisons are filled with blacks. Some 25% of black youth will be in prison eventually, which is also the same percentage of blacks who fell below the poverty line. Despite what Americans say about MLK and his “truths”, statistics show that they discriminate to no end.

    As you wrote, maybe se people don’t really care about the so called “freedom”. China’s still a 3rd world nation where people are struggling to get food on the table. People such as yourself wet over yourselves when talking about providing “freedom” to 3rd world nations are nothing more than Marion Antoinette, whose famous words were “let them eat cake!”. You have no idea what the Chinese people prioritize, yet when you failed to force your own ideals down their throat you disparage them as sheeps to their government. You claim you love the beautiful China people but I would bet that the shanghai college student of yours think you are just another bigot.

  • Frank Calamia

    Dear Tristin:

    I am not afraid to use my real name in this communication. That is because I do not fear my government. I am familiar with your history. I suppose you are proud of Chaiman Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” and purges of innocent people that were perpatrated in the name of socialism. How about the massacer of your own students who demanded democracy? I advocate for a free China so its people can invent, prosper, and have as many children as they desire. You say that I am ignorant about your people and country. I live in California, an area with thousands of “American” Chinese. They know your history better than you. Reach out to them and ask them if they would give up America for the PRC and they will start signing the American National Anthem. You are obviously an apologist for your government. By the way, what is your monthly communist party salary?

    My government is not perfect. At least I can vote GW out in the fall. I am sick of my government’s adventurism just so your country can keep the flow of oil going into your tanks. Yes, what would you do without America? You are so free. What have you invented other than gun powder? Your factories churn out other peoples inventions, and ideas. China has not made one single contribution to human kind in a thousand years of oppression. Don’t you think it is time to set the Chinese people free to dream? I certainly do. I will continue the fight for a free and democratic PRC.

  • Frank Calamia

    Your comments about MLK miss the point, which is the freedom to speak out against my government and its injustices towards blacks. I admit that a disproportionate number of blacks fill our prisions, but in this country, when you commit a crime, and a jury of your peers finds you guilty, you go to jail. Notice, I said a jury of your peers. A concept that China does not now recognize. I would never force my ideals on people. I believe it is the right of every human being to determine his or her own destiny. What right does the PRC have in telling you where to work, or what career you will have? It is the human spirit that needs to be free. If you find me at fault for wanting the Chinese people to be free, then I plead guilty. I suppose then, you would put me in jail too.

  • ur chinese friend, you haven’t provided evidence of anything. If Hu Jia claimed he was foreign-funded, let’s see your source. The article you link to above doesn’t even mention Hu Jia. Is he one of the other four environmentalists mentioned there? If he was, does it even make a difference? Hu Jia obviously wasn’t sent to prison for environmental work that is funded in part by the UN and gets glowing coverage from Chinese state media or whatever on earth china.org.cn is.

    Then you say western media reports on Hu’s trial provided no more detail beyond “internet articles and interviews.” I say you haven’t done your homework; even Xinhua listed out specific titles, in English and in Chinese. At this point, I really don’t see what it is that you think is so important to prove, or what your intentions are. I thank you for taking the time to comment on this post, but based on the clear disclaimer given below, I have to warn you that mockery of other commenters’ names is unacceptable. To Frank Calamia, please accept my apology on ur chinese friend’s behalf.

  • S4T

    @Frank Calamia
    “What right does the PRC have in telling you where to work, or what career you will have?”

    Let’s be fair. Unless the student you sponsored from Shanghai was born in the 50s. He should be able to tell you that economic mobility in terms of where to live and what job to have is, for the most part, not limited by the government, but rather by the concentration of population in major metropolitan areas such as Shanghai, among other things. That’s why he is very fortunate to be able to come study in the US and maybe start a life here, comparing most of his classmates and friends, who have to worry about getting a job after they graduate.

    Many decided to take the government incentive and go WEST, such as Tibet and Xinjiang. But that would be a whole other different debate (can of worms).

    Let’s just stick to the subject at hand. I would love to hear any comments regarding my previous posting.

  • Frank Calamia

    S4T: ” It’s good that someone mentioned MLK, as we are commemorating the 40th anniversary…”

    I agree with you. I hope that China’s transformation is peacefull. The government probably will not change without significant pressure from the people. Human nature shows that people in power rarely willingly give up their positions. In China’s case, the communist party will declare a people’s revolt as an insurrection against the revolution. The questions remains then, will the Army support the government if the move to a more democratic form of government is widely supported in China’s major cities. Without the military, the government is powerless. Therein lies the key to change…

  • S4T

    “Without the military, the government is powerless. Therein lies the key to change…”

    Interesting argument. However CCP knows this all too well based on the experience of their rise to power.

    So what are the alternatives?

  • ur chinese friend

    John Kennedy wrote: “ur chinese friend, you haven’t provided evidence of anything. If Hu Jia claimed he was foreign-funded, let’s see your source”

    Hmm, I actually did posted a 2nd link yesterday while stuck at an airport the moment after I posted the first one because I realized that my first post was about LiangCongjie. I thought the post would come through but it did not. “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.”
    http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e&id=ENGASA170112006

    Plus, if you just go on Hu Jia’s Friends of Nature website (http://www.fon.org.cn/) you can see that its sponsored by Shell Oil (odd).

    I’ve thought I’ve made my points are clear: Hu Jia had good intentions but then I speculated that he probably had foreign money from who knows where. You immediately said that I don’t have any evidence that he received foreign funds, and here we are. Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with taking in foreign donors for a good cause. However most governments, including the US, are against foreign money influencing local politics and for good reasons too. I am also speculating, but if you have anything which would prove me to be wrong then post here.

    On the trial itself, I did not read Xinhua news. I don’t like Chinese news sites because they have no credibility, although they are not much less biased than western news outlets on certain issues. I googled the trial and read somewhere that no reporters were allowed so I figured there is no way to verify the charges anyway.

    Point taken on the name calling then. I will stop it.

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