When Words Become Crime

On 10 February 2012, Zhu Yufu, an activist in Hangzhou was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment for an alleged crime of “inciting to subvert state power”.  Hearing the judgement, Zhu’s wife fainted in the court.

The sentence was based on Article 105 of the Criminal Law of the P.R.C. Article 105 regulates the crime of subverting state power, which includes two types of crime: subverting state power, and inciting to subvert state power. Zhu’s sentence is based on the latter crime.

In the court judgement (in Chinese), it is stated that Zhu collected donation to help people who damaged state security and their families, attempted to arouse people’s hatred towards the State authority and socialist system in China, expressed comments under the identity of “member of illegal Democracy Party of China”, and sent a poem “It’s Time” to about fifty people via skype to stimulate people to gather together in city squares illegally.

A poster with Zhu's poem

It’s Time   by Zhu Yufu translated by A. E. Clark.

It’s time, people of China!  It’s time.    The Square belongs to everyone.    With your own two feet    It’s time to head to the Square and make your choice.

It’s time, people of China! It’s time.    A song belongs to everyone.    From your own throat   It’s time to voice the song in your heart.

It’s time, people of China! It’s time.    China belongs to everyone.    Of your own will    It’s time to choose what China shall be.

This is not the first case of sending writers and commentators into prison for writing articles for the crime of “subverting state power”. The most prominent one is the 2010 Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo who was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for drafting Charter 08 and calling for political reform. Only recently, from late 2010 till now, three other writers, Li Tie, Chen Wei, Chen Xi,  were also sentenced to around 10 years imprisonment for their essays criticizing the Chinese Communist Party’s ruling and calling for political change in China.

In China, subverting state power is not the only crime that can be used to repress people who use words to express their critical opinion. Journalist and poet Shi Tao, was sentenced to a 10 years imprisonment in 2004 on the crime of “leaking state secret” for his email sent to a Chinese pro-democracy website based in the USA. The email included an article describing the Chinese government’s instructions to Chinese journalists on how to cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Freedom of expression is a constitutional right in China. Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution stipulates that “citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration”. However, in reality, “The state regards people who tell the truth, are thoughtful, who are independent thinkers, who are willing to express their ideas and are fearless, as its enemies” said Ai Weiwei, in light of Sichuan activist Tan Zuoren’s being imprisoned for participating in activities of collecting names of victim children during Sichuan earthquake.

Nevertheless, the truth is, facing this autocracy state power, fear is never the best choice; instead, there will only be more and more people choose to bravely speak out the truth.

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One Response to When Words Become Crime

  1. Pingback: Neither Joke Nor Truth is Allowed | Chinese Voices for Justice

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