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China: Sham Trial of Veteran Human Rights Activist

November 25, 2009

Drop State Secrets Charges Against Huang Qi and Release Him
Human Rights Watch
November 23, 2009

For Immediate Release

New York -- The conviction of veteran human
rights activist Huang Qi on state secrets charges
on November 23, 2009, demonstrates the Chinese
government’s intent to use the judicial apparatus
to crush whistleblowers without regard to minimum
standards of fairness, Human Rights Watch said today.

A court in Chengdu in Sichuan province sentenced
Huang to three years imprisonment for "possession
of state secrets" without any public disclosure
of the evidence against him or what secrets he
had allegedly possessed following his
investigation of the collapse of schools in Sichuan’s earthquake zone.

"Huang Qi’s conviction demonstrates the depth and
breadth of the Chinese government’s hostility
towards freedom of expression,” said Sophie
Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human
Rights Watch. “The Chinese government’s
willingness to use ambiguous state secrets laws
to silence free speech rights embodied in the
constitution and the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights highlights its dangerous lack of rule of law.”

Huang Qi’s conviction followed a closed trial in
Chengdu on August 5, 2009. Huang is a veteran
activist and founder of, a website dedicated to
publicizing human rights abuses across China.
Police detained Huang Qi on June 10, 2008, in the
Sichuan city of Chengdu and formally charged him
with “possession of state secrets” on July 18,
2008. Those charges stem from Huang’s
investigation into allegations that shoddy
construction contributed to the collapse of
schools in the Sichuan earthquake zone in May
2008. Huang’s family has reported that his health
has markedly deteriorated in detention, that he
has two tumors growing on his chest and stomach,
and is suffering from headaches and heart troubles.

The Chinese government has yet to sentence Tan
Zuoren, a literary editor and environmental
activist tried in Chengdu on August 12, 2009, on
charges of “subversion” related to his
compilation of a list of children killed in the
Sichuan earthquake. Tan, who faces a prison term
of up to five years, has also reportedly suffered
serious health problems while in detention.

Human Rights Watch said that China’s state
secrets law defines "secrets" expansively, allows
officials to arbitrarily block defendants from
access to their lawyers during the investigation
phase, and bars the public from access to even
non-classified parts of state secrets trials, all
in violation of international human rights.
Penalties for state secrets convictions range
from a minimum five-year prison term to the death penalty.

In June 2009, China’s National People’s Congress
approved a draft revision on the Law on Guarding
State Secrets which focuses mainly on securing
confidential information stored on computers or
transmitted via the internet and leaves intact
the law’s broad criteria for classifying state secrets.

"Until the Chinese government provides clear and
specific definitions of what actually constitutes
a state secret, the Law on Guarding State Secrets
remains a distinct threat to anyone in China
whose views or activities the government wants to silence,” Richardson said.

Human Rights Watch called on the United States
and the European Union to publicly urge the
Chinese government to dismiss charges against
Huang and immediately release him. The US should
use Huang’s case as an opportunity to remind the
Chinese government of its commitment to
“promoting and protecting human rights consistent
with international human rights instruments,” in
the U.S. China Joint Statement released on
November 17, 2009. The two countries issued the
Joint Statement during US President Barack Obama’s recent state visit to China.

The European Union should raise Huang’s case
along with that of Tan Zuoren and other jailed
rights activists at the upcoming summit China and
the European Union will hold in Nanjing on Nov. 30, 2009.

"Foreign investors, representative governments
and international business federations should
find common cause in urging the Chinese
government to narrow its definition of state
secrets and demand an end to the routine
violation of international due process standards
for all suspects in state secrets cases,” Richardson said.

Background: Recent State Secrets Detentions

Recent cases in which the Chinese government has
deployed state secrets laws to silence criticism
include that of Lin Dagang, a 70-year-old
petitioner, who was sentenced to a two-year
prison term on state secrets charges by a court
in Zhejiang province on November 6, 2009. The
evidence against Lin consisted of a document he
downloaded from the Ministry of Housing and
Urban-Rural Development public website in 2007
which detailed “proper handling” of petitioning
cases. Petitioning is a legal activity which
allows Chinese citizens to directly seek legal
redress from government agencies for problems
including illegal land seizure, official corruption, and police brutality.

China has also detained foreigners on state
secrets charges in matters concerning economic
research. On November 19, 2009, the Associated
Press revealed that the Chinese government had
detained a US geologist, Xue Feng, since November
20, 2007, on state secrets charges in relation to
Xue’s participation in the sale of a detailed
computer database about China’s petroleum
industry. Xue has alleged to US consular
officials in China that he has suffered torture
at the hands of his jailors including beatings
and the application of lit cigarettes to his arm.

On July 5, 2009, state security agents in
Shanghai arrested four of the Shanghai-based
staff of the Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio
Tinto, including Australian national Stern Hu, on
state secrets law charges in relation to their
alleged acquisition of confidential documents
during negotiations for the supply of iron ore to
Chinese state-owned firms. Chinese prosecutors
downgraded those charges to on charges of
infringing trade secrets and bribery on August 11, 2009, without explanation.

To read the July 2009 Human Rights Watch news
release, "China: Cancel Trials of Quake Victim Advocates," please visit:

To read the May 2009 Human Rights Watch news
release, "China: End Quake Zone Abuses," please visit:

To read the July 2009 Financial Times commentary
by Human Rights Watch researcher Phelim Kine, please visit:

To view a brief profile of Huang Qi and other
Chinese human rights activists, please visit:

For more information, please contact:

In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson (English,
Mandarin): +1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)

In Hong Kong, Phelim Kine (English, Mandarin): +852-9074-3179 (mobile)
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