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 (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

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:

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 GVA that while he in fact did not sign his name to the letter, he was the first person to have posted it to Bullog.


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