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China: Bloggers take stand against web activist's arrest

Following his apprehension last month as he was pitching in with the earthquake relief in his native Sichuan province, web activist Huang Qi was this weekend formally arrested for “illegal possession of state secrets”.

Volunteers at his well-known website 64Tianwang.com (English) have been actively posting all news coverage and details surrounding Huang's case, but the campaign to have his charges dropped gained a lot more momentum when, following his formal arrest on Friday afternoon, three of China's better-known social issue bloggers, all from Sichuan, Wang Yi, Ran Yunfei and Linghu Buchong*, joined up with two other intellectual-writers, Liao Yiwu and Li Yadong, to take the brave step of issuing a letter of protest. The letter has been posted not just on their own blogs, but also on the more mainstream My1510, IndyMediaCN, among many others.

A translation of the letter, the original of which has since been read and spread widely online, can be seen below. Of particular note, however, is the online support yet another highly-read blogger, Mo Zhixu, has been providing on his own and in his own way, centered around his blog at independent portal Bullog.cn.

In early June, he posted the content of Huang's Chinese Wikipedia entry, which at the time had far more information than its English counterpart, in a post at Bullog which although has since been deleted, can still be found elsewhere.

In a June 15 post titled simply, ‘One less person on MSN’, Mo reposts a Chinese-language RFA news report with the details of Huang's arrest and earthquake relief/writing activities in the few days prior. On June 17 he posted a picture of the official document first used to detain Huang nearly a week earlier on June 11, along with the legal definition of what constitutes “possession of a state secret” in China:

Then on Saturday, July 19, Mo returned to Huang's case with a picture and transcription of the official notice of Huang's formal arrest, addressed to Huang's mother, a post which in just a few hours had received over 11,000 hits and many supportive and outraged comments:

Below is the text of Wang, Ran, Linghu, Liao and Li's statement on Huang's arrest:

致成都市警方、政府、人大及广大市民:

To Chengdu City Police, government, NPC representatives and the general public:

2008年7月19日,我们在朋友聚会中,得知自6月10以来被成都警方刑事拘留的黄琦先生,已于今日下午,因“非法持有国家机密”的罪名被正式逮捕。
我们与黄琦素不相识,但尊敬他创办“天网”、致力于公民维权的努力。我们知道他曾因此坐牢,并在狱中遭受不当待遇,出狱后留下脑部疼痛等多处后遗症。我们尊敬他在此情况下,仍然坚持从事“天网”的民间维权活动,尤其是为六四受难者家属唐妈妈争取政府补偿金的努力。
作为经历了512大地震的几位四川知识分子,我们尤其尊敬黄琦先生在地震后,参与民间震后救灾的工作。我们知道他在灾区为灾民提供力所能及的物资援助,也与地震罹难者学生的家长有所联系。

On July 19, 2008 while at a friend's party, we learned that Mr. Huang Qi, who since June 10 has been criminally detained by Chengdu Police, as of this afternoon, was formally arrested for the crime of “illegal possession of state secrets”.

While we have never been acquainted with Huang Qi, we respect the “Tianwang” which he founded to devote himself to upholding the rights of citizens. We know that he has served jail time, that he was mistreated while in prison, and that he came out with pains in his chest and other lingering conditions. Out of respect for him, we maintain our firm support for his civil rights-upholding activities through “Tianwang”, particularly his efforts in helping Mother Tang, relative of a June 4 victim, fight for compensation from the government.
As several Sichuanese intellectuals who experienced the earthquake, we especially respect Mr. Huang Qi for his participation in the civil society relief effort work following the earthquake. We know that he did everything in his power to provide supplies and aid to the earthquake victims in the disaster area, and was in contact with the parents of children who perished in the earthquake.

但我们非常不理解,一个普通公民参与救灾、了解灾区真实情形,这和“国家机密”有什么关系?我们也曾以普通公民身份,参与过一些灾区救助的工作。我们和黄琦先生一样,也和成千上万在灾区的民间志愿者一样,因此了解到一些非官方的、甚至与媒体的报道不完全一致的信息。可是,难道一个公民从媒体以外了解到的信息,就属于“国家机密”吗?难道国家天然地拥有一切社会信息的所有权吗?难道一个公民有幸(或不幸)见到或听到了一些和政府口径不一致的信息,他就“非法持有国家机密”了吗?
如果这样的话,那就意味着每一个和黄琦说过话的灾民,都非法持有着国家机密。换言之,一旦他们成了灾民,他们就同时成了“国家机密”或携带国家机密的病毒。成都和四川警方应该逮捕每一个和黄琦有过接触的灾民,而不是仅仅逮捕黄琦一人。或者至少把所有灾民都隔离起来,免得我们一和他们说话,就触碰了国家机密。

But what we really don't understand is what a common citizen's participation in disaster relief and understanding of the true situation in the disaster zone have to do with “state secrets”. We have also, as common citizens, taken part in some of the disaster zone relief work. We're no different from Mr. Huang Qi, or any of the thousands of civil volunteers who went to the disaster zone, and in being there came to learn some unofficial information, or news which differed from what was reported in the media. So is any information that a citizen receives via means other than the media then supposed to be a “national secret”? Or does the state now naturally have ownership over all societal information? So is any citizen fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to see or hear any information inconsistent with government talking points then in “illegal possession of state secrets”?

If that is the case, then that would suggest that every single earthquake victim who spoke with Huang Qi is also in illegal possession of state secrets. Put another way, at the same time they became earthquake victims, they also became “state secrets”, or began carrying some sort of state secret virus. The Chengdu and Sichuan police should go arrest every single earthquake victim who came in contact with Huang Qi, and not only just Huang Qi himself. Or at least, all earthquake victims should be put in isolation, to keep any of us from speaking to them, and coming across any state secrets.

基于法治的常识,我们知道所谓国家机密,第一是不为一般公民所知,第二是国家事先采取了保密措施。换言之,凡是能在大街上看到的事,都不是机密。凡是在大街上看见裸体,一定不是看见的人有问题,而是被看见的人有问题。也就是说,一个非国家机关的普通公民,除非他以非法的方式刺探、偷窃被国家机关预先加以保护的信息;否则,他所知道的任何信息,都不可能触及“非法持有国家机密”这一罪名。

因此,我们对成都警方因黄琦先生参与震后救灾而逮捕他、构陷他,不得不表示强烈的质疑、反对和抗议。尽管我们看出,地方政府似乎不太喜欢民间的救灾志愿活动,但成都警方逮捕黄琦的事件,仍然是令人震惊的。我们只能理解为这是对市民社会的一种否定,对民间的一次粗暴和傲慢的挑衅,也是对这个刚刚遭受地震的省份的一次羞辱。
我们基于个人的经验和良心,不相信这是一次公正的逮捕。但我们希望成都警方能以尊敬法治、尊重公民权利,同时也是尊重自己的方式,来处理这一案件。我们主张并支持媒体、网络和民间可以自由地报道和评论这一案件,我们更加鼓励成都和其他地方的知识分子、市民和媒体,更多地站出来质疑和批评成都警方,以公民的正当方式,帮助政府尊重他自己制定的法律。

Given the common sense of rule of law, we know that all so-called state secrets, first off, are not known to average citizens. Second, the state takes measures to keep them confidential. In other words, anything that can be seen on the street, is not a secret. If nudity were to be seen on the street, the problem would certainly not be the people who saw it, but the person who was seen. Which is to say, any common citizen not part of any state organ, unless he were to use illegal means to pry into or steal information given prior protection by any state organ, any information of which he is aware, could not possibly touch up on the crime of “illegal possession of state secrets”.

As such, we have no choice but to express our strong suspicion, opposition and protest to Chengu police's arrest of Huang Qi under the false pretense of his participation in post-earthquake disaster relief. Although we have seen that the local government was not happy to see volunteer-based civil society relief rescue efforts, the Chengdu police's arrest of Huang Qi is all the more shocking. We can only understand this as a sort of negation of municipal society, a cruel and arrogant provocation aimed at civil society, as well as a humiliation to this province which only just suffered an earthquake.

Based on experience and conscience, we do not believe this to be a just arrest. We do hope that Chengdu police will be able to respect the rule of law and respect civic rights, at the same time, respecting their own methods used in handling a case. We advocate for and support the media, internet and civil society to be able to freely report and comment upon this case. Even more, we encourage intellectuals, urban residents and media in Chengdu and elsewhere to stand up and question and criticize the Chengdu police for this, using the legitimate means of a citizen to help the government in respecting the laws it itself established.

我们呼吁成都警方对黄琦先生,不要采取任何刑讯逼供等违反法治的野蛮做法,呼吁成都警方准许黄琦先生的委托人可以与他见面,呼吁成都警方不要以非法的方式,继续骚扰、威胁黄琦身边的天网义工。
我们不愿这一案件,成为奥运年中又一次引起国际关注的糟糕的人权记录。但遗憾的是,我们怀疑成都警方正致力于这样做。作为中国的知识分子,我们也不愿看到中国的人权状况总是遭到其他国家人士的批评,所以我们只好硬着头皮,率先批评自己的政府。
希望成都警方和成都司法部门,也能在这个案子中有率先的回应。愿我们的批评、抗议和政府的回应,都能成为对成都、对中国的祝福。

We call upon the Chengdu police that they not use any torture tactics to extort a confession or any other such barbaric means which violate the rule of law. We call upon the Chengdu police to allow Mr. Huang Qi to meet with his attorney. We call upon the Chengdu police to refrain from using illegal methods to continue to harass and threaten Huang Qi's volunteers at Tianwang.

We would hate to see this case become yet another dismal human rights record raising international attention in the midst of this Olympic year. We regret to suspect, however, that the Chengdu police are at present committed to doing as much. As intellectuals of China, we also hate to see China's human rights situation always being criticized by people from other countries, which is why we can only be hard-headed about this, and begin first and foremost by criticizing our own government.

We hope the Chengdu police and Chengdu judicial departments take the initiative in their response to this case. May our criticism, protest and response to the government prove to be a blessing for Chengdu, and for China.

2008-7-19
July 19, 2008

Just a brief description of Huang's website Tianwang: put online in 1998 as a platform for reuniting families with missing persons, a year later it had expanded its focus to larger social issues, exposing several corruption cases and one major medical scandal, during which time Huang Qi was beaten while his website garnered heavy praise in commercial and official Chinese (as well as foreign) media. Less than two years later, the website was shut down. Two weeks after that, Huang Qi had it up and running again, this time hosted overseas, only then to be blocked within China as it remains today. That same summer, Huang Qi was sentenced to five years in prison for subversion of state power. All this and more can be read on Tianwang here.

*Linghu Buchong has informed GVO that while he in fact did not sign his name to the letter, he was the first person to have posted it to Bullog.

7 comments

  • Kai

    Incredibly disappointing.

    Kennedy, what are your thoughts on what is going to come of all this? What can we expect to happen?

  • Chengduers are big tea drinkers, and I’m sure the guys who wrote this letter have been invited out for tea more times than they like to remember. Some of them could be next. Du Daobin was just arrested yesterday for alleged violation of the terms of his parole while on political probation. Link: http://www.bullog.cn/blogs/mozhixu/archives/159572.aspx I’ll translate that for GVA when I get the chance…and I’m sure there will be others coming soon, leading up to the Olympics.

    Leung Man-tao has a post worth reading on Bullog/Huang Qi: 豆腐渣是國家機密? http://www.bullog.cn/blogs/liangwendao/archives/159702.aspx

  • Kai

    This is one of those situations where the very act of arousing awareness only seems to compound the deterrence the government precisely aims for. No matter how agitated or frustrated, there’s an elusive ideological threshold with reaching critical mass for online activism and suppression.

    I suppose my original question was more of a vain hope that you, Kennedy, would have some sort of answer to all of this, but I know that was unlikely. It is such a difficult situation to be in where all you can do is to keep the information alive and hoping, praying even, that simple awareness will somehow, eventually, prompt some real change. Until then, it is just one demoralizing story after another.

    Ignorance would’ve been bliss. Thanks.

  • Ben

    non

  • Ben

    By now we should have known, if not already – anything that is not in the best interest of CCP is 國家機密. Please keep our opinions/thoughts that are 國家機密 to ourselves, or maybe we will be the next.

  • […] –- excerpt from letter written by Wang Yi, Ran Yunfei, Linghu Bucong, Liao Yiwu and Li Yadong, full text can be found here […]

  • […] solved by architects. Today, the death toll of children and their names in the earthquake are still national secret, cannot be disclosed. If we cannot even disclose the name of the dead, what is the issue at stake? It is not related to […]

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