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China: Verdict announced in Fujian Three netizen trial

Categories: East Asia, China, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Law, Protest, Women & Gender

After 57 depositions [1], initial handling as a state secret case, ten months and three days [2] in court, sentences were handed down Friday to the Fujian Three [3]; aside from being the only prosecutions resulting from the alleged rape and murder of Yan Xiaoling [4] (严晓玲) at the hands of police, also remarkable about this trial was the number of people [5] who rallied in protest outside the courthouse Friday.

Lawyer for one of the defendants, Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原), updated his blog [6] [zh] soon after the trial ended:



Just as I predicted, a verdict was delivered in today's court session, but what I hadn't expected was that the charge would actually be changed from false accusation to slander. Fan Yanqiong was sentenced to a term of two years, You JIngyou was sentenced to a term of one year, and Wu Huaying was sentenced to a term of one year.

More than a thousand people gathered outside today, netizens were both level-headed and excited. In court today, I also witnessed the dark side to the legal system.

Leading up to Friday's trial day, it was reported [7] that Lin Xiuying, mother of the deceased, had been offered money and a house in exchange for keeping quiet; according to Liu, attempts to call Lin as a witness were met with the court's refusal [8]. The night before the trial, Lin along with several others [9] connected to the case, was detained by police; Friday morning she somehow managed to free herself and joined the crowd gathered outside the courthouse where an attempt by authorities to whisk her off [10] in a van was stifled by onlookers.

Unremarkable about this case, writes former CCP Central Party School [11] director Du Guang (杜光) in a guest post [12] on Liu's blog, is how it fits within the larger ongoing trend of cracking down on rights activists:


It turns out, Fan, Wu and You are all rights activists. Fan Yanqiong's daughter [13] has said that her mother often sympathizes with the weak, helping others write articles or file complaints, and had even established an organization through which to carry out social activism, and as a result of which had been arrested, had her house searched, even placed under long-term detention. On Fan Yanqiong's blog, Tears of China [14], I see that just over a month before she was arrested she wrote 7-8 posts related to activism and to commemorate June 4.

On June 6, she went up to the Wuyi mountains [15] to see a social activist friend and was followed and filmed by undercover police. Her publishing of Lin Xiuling's oral statements online created a large stir both domestically and overseas, and was followed by the release of articles detailing fear tactics used by authorities against Lin Xiuying which ended up leading directly to her arrest. You Jingyou is a bridge engineer and graduate of Southwestern Jiaotong University [16]; his colleagues all describe him as an outstanding employee, skilled, modest and highly responsible. For many years, at the same time that he was outstanding in completing work required by his day job, he was also devoted helping the weak uphold their rights, and as a result was questioned and warned by police on multiple occasions. The reason he was arrested this time is due to an “in her own words” video he filmed of Lin Xiuying after seeing Fan Yanqiong's articles, which he then spread around online.

Wu Huaying, familiar with the pain of injustice after her younger brother, Wu Changlong, was arrested following an explosion on June 24, 2001 at the front gate of the Fuqing Disciplinary Commission building. Through to the end of the second trial, facts were unclear and evidence was lacking, and the case has yet to closed even to this day. Throughout the several hearings, Wu Changlong and others being tried all deny their involvement in the crime, and claim they were tortured into giving confessions during the investigation period. Their lawyers have all tried to make the case of their innocence, but none have yet to succeed. Eight years have gone by and Wu Huaying is still on the move, petitioning and appealing, and has been placed in administrative detention multiple times as a result. Which is why she has such sympathy for Lin Xiuying and making recordings, publishing them online.


I can see from what I've read about this case that the reason Fan Yanqiong and others were arrested is not solely due to their speaking out on behalf of Lin Xiuying. It's their years of social activism which long ago brought them into sight of authorities, and seeking redress for Lin Xiuying now was merely the straw that broke the camel's back. The nature of this “false accusation” case lies not in Yan Xiaoling's cause of death or in that some cadres were “accused”, but in official suppression of the rights defense movement.

Notices were reportedly [17] sent out to Chinese media, banning them from reporting on the trial, although some [18] in southern Guangdong province carried the story [19].

Liu also notes [20] that while Xinhua [21] alone was allowed into the courtroom on Friday, even reporting the official side to the story was enough to get the article harmonized [22].

Picture 4 [23]

Nonetheless, it seems the trial generated enough interest that the #fjwangmin [24] Fujian netizen hashtag topped Google China's list of search keywords yesterday and for Han Han to even write about the case, which became a topic for discussion itself. Han's post has been deleted, but a copy is still up on Liu's blog [25]. In his somewhat flippant tone, Han goes to the heart of the matter in the Yan Xiaoling case and many others like it, why holding secret autopsies or denying them altogether can lead to mass incidents and damage government credibility:


The principal dies suddenly and the family, suspecting she was gang raped, leading to her death, proposes an autopsy, the results of which are that she died of illness and not being gang raped. The family, suspicious that police are covering up for the perpetrators, reissue their request for an autopsy, to which the relevant authorities do not comply. The family become emotionally unstable. Three rights activists get wind of this, take the view that the deceased was raped until her death, make this into recordings and articles, posting them to forums inside and outside China. The local police hold a press conference, emphasizing that the deceased died of natural causes, following which, those who took part in producing the video and posting the information are arrested by local police, with the three key figures being sentenced at their second hearing to terms of 1-2 years.


That's more or less how the story goes, and in the case itself, what's key is how exactly it was that the deceased died. This, I have no idea, nor do I have evidence, so I can't take the side of the rights activists or of the government in giving an opinion. The government's view is that anything they publish is to be considered evidence, and that anything they find during investigations is to be considered evidence also. I'm not familiar with this case, but in other mass rights defense incidents, is the government necessarily always wrong? Not always. Are the rights defenders necessarily always right? Not always, either. So then why does the government always act like it's completely in the wrong?


Actually, a lot of things are actually blown out of proportion by local governments themselves. If [s]he truly did just die suddenly from illness, then have the autopsy be done someplace with credibility and leave the family convinced. Many netizens say, the government urgently needs to set up an ICAC [26] and establish public credibility. I think an ICAC would be useless. Incidents of corruption seldom take place in Hong Kong, the difference being not the word ICAC itself, but in the fact that it is independent. The way I see it, with the way things are now, the mainland isn't suited to establish an independent organization similar to the ICAC. It one were set up and actually put to work, then nearly all civil servants and their families would disappear in one big swoosh.

On the other hand, a department the mainland needs far, for more urgently, is an independent “autopsy department”, and this autopsy department would be required to be just as independent and credible to the public as the ICAC, doing autopsies on television when required. Thinking carefully to mass incidents that have taken place in China over the past few years, how many of them began as a result of [27] an autopsy? An autopsy department is an important department in maintaining social stability, because regardless of whether they're true or false, autopsy results today just aren't believed by the public. This incident aside, while I do feel that it's very possible that many autopsy result reports are accurate, the public's suspicions are not unfounded.

With a government that likes to cast guilt first and the crime later, it's not hard for the public to catch on, which is why I think we need to forgive the public when they automatically assume their relatives have been murdered, that the government is protecting the perpetrator, and that the government tampered with the autopsy. Because in this society, if you don't form your conclusions on evidence, then I don't need evidence either; if you're not transparent, then I'll speculate, and the minute I do, you say I'm guilty of slander; if I keep with it, then you say it's a state secret. If I make a big deal of it, you'll just…you'll just…well, you'll spare yourself the trouble of doing anything and instead just have the relevant departments notify news departments not to report on the incident. But then, the only thing that ends up burying are seeds of hate.


Which is why, with regards to the local government, this could have been dealt with easily: make the autopsy completely open. If it really was a death of illness, then the family will be convinced. If it really was a murder, then apprehend the killer. Backing up a step, this could totally be dealt with on the table. Explain things clearly and publicly, and let people see the evidence and decide for themselves. Except that authorities wouldn't ever stoop to something like that, in their eyes that would just diminish their prestige. That and whenever our authorities do open their mouths, it's never for their benefit. There'll never come a time when you see them actually speaking like normal human beings do and being honest at the same time, all you'll ever see is them using inhuman officialese to fight off cries from the public. Friends who listen to music will know how important the vocals are; if it's a voice you hate, it doesn't matter what they sing, it'll all be off.


Now, however it was that that girl died isn't important anymore. What's more important is the verdict handed down to those three rights activists. As for the slander charge, it seems that was a given. Similar crimes can't be explained explained through laws, but can only be determined at the interpersonal level. Because face is so important to the government and after all they have had you locked away for so long already, particularly for this very reason, to let you out now would cheers for the courthouse itself, but what are you going to do about the police, this being a small county after all, there being no avoidance. If you dodge them at the office, they'll probably see you at the sauna, and how would you get along in a place like that. Actually, after all these years, people still misunderstand the People's Court. The People's Court isn't in fact directly answerable to the people or a court that serves the people, but rather is only a court responsible for resolving conflicts between individuals.


With these three netizens being sentenced to 1-2 years as a result of having helped someone else uphold their rights, many netizens wonder if this incident symbolizes a new dark age for the Internet approaching, or if it means there will be a vendetta against rights defenders, or if public scrutiny online will be clamped down upon legally, or if freedom of speech is going to disappear entirely. I don't see signs of any of those taking place; these were just the actions of law enforcement bodies in a tiny county town, not that much thought needs to be put into it. Actually, the only significance of this incident is the message it sends: watch and learn how bad I can be.


Yes, watch and learn how bad I can be. We're learning, and we're all very afraid. The one thing we don't know is just what it is that you're afraid of.

The netizens who traveled to protest the trial came prepared to blog it, uploading a steady stream of video clips, audio tweets and photos while several hundred police kept them cordoned off at a distance from the courthouse; here are a few of the photos, the first two taken by citizen journalist Tiger Temple [28] and the remainder posted anonymously:

Lin Xiuying, mother of the deceased

Lawyer for the defendants, Liu Xiaoyuan

Crowd gathered outside the courthouse



Three daughters of each of the three defendants, Lin Jingyi [13], You Yujing [35] and Du Mei [36]


Lin Jingyi's blog post [zh] about proceedings of the netizen trial: http://liu6465.fyfz.cn/art/610530.htm [37]