With his thin frame, shabby suit and graying hair, Chen Pingfu, who played his violin for handouts on the streets of the northwestern Chinese city of Lanzhou, hardly seemed to be a threat to anyone. But after he wrote a series of online essays criticizing the country’s ruling Communist Party, the 55-year-old laid-off teacher was accused of “inciting subversion of state power” — a criminal charge generally reserved for China’s most prominent dissidents.
A very well-written article about Chen Pingfu, A Portrait of a “Subverter”, by Yaxue Cao can be read here. To support Chen Pingfu, Ai Xiaoming, a Professor of Chinese Literature at Zhongshan
University, launched a signature campaign (in Chinese here) on the Internet. She wanted to collect 2000 names within ten days and show the supporting voice of ordinary people for Chen Pingfu and for freedom of expression to the court where Chen Pingfu was tried on 4 September 2012.
The prosecution’s charges were based on articles that Chen had posted online about his personal ordeals. The letter alludes to the persecution of speech in the Anti-rightist Campaign and the Cultural Revolution, and asks, “In the Internet Era and with the use of technology and news media so prevalent in China, what image does China present to the world if posting or reposting articles can be suspected as a crime? It again opens an era of wide-spread political persecution!”
The following is a partial translation of Professor Ai’s campaign letter.
He huixin, the defense lawyer of Chen Pingfu defended on the court that Chen is not guilty. According to Article 35 of the Chinese Consitutition, “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Chen Pingfu published articles on the Internet either based on his own experiences, or as reposts from other people; he is doing this to express “his complain about the reality, and his unhappiness”. There is no content of “rumors, slanders” in his articles. He is merely performing a citizen’s right to criticize and supervise a government. How can this be regarded as “inciting to subvert state power, overthrow the socialist system”? Furthermore, the government is not the equality of the state, the criticism on government officials and even the government by citizens, differs from subverting state power.
We support the defense lawyer He Huixin’s statement that Chen is not guilty. We also think that the accusation by Lanzhou Procuratorate on an ordinary citizen’s expressing freedom of speech is shocking and unbelievable. This is a typical case of literary inquisition. It makes an intimidating signal to the whole society: a new cycle of Cultural Revolution, a new cycle of literary inquisition will fall upon ordinary people. This happened just before the opening of the CCP’s 18th National Congress, makes it more significant. This is a defiant challenge of the sacred rights granted upon all citizens by the Constitution.
Although no mainstream media dares to report the trial of Chen Pingfu, although Chen Pingfu is just an ordinary person, in this era of the Internet, the pursuit for free thoughts is unstoppable, the circumventing of the Great Fire Wall is unprecedented. Chen Pingfu’s name and his articles spread quickly on the Internet; many netizens start to shout “we are all Chen Pingfu”. …
Needless to mention, those “guilty” words posted by Chen Pingfu, were published on domestic websites. These websites are all controlled by the CCP’s propaganda department. They filtered the words carefully and repeatedly. However, the leftover articles are still used as the evidence for his “inciting to subvert state power”. Then, other authors whose articles were blocked or censored by these websites, are they all guilty? If Chen Pingfu is guilty, then those who allow him to write his blogs, what kind of crime they have been committing? The responsible people for these websites, are they in accomplice, or even the heads of the accomplice crime? Moreover, if without the allowing of the Internet to enter China, from where Chen Pingfu can obtain information and repost articles?
If all the above deduction is ridiculous; the trial of Chen Pingfu is a judicial drama, which intends to intimidate and repress people who concern for the reality and dare to criticize. However, it is right at this moment, on the Internet, a vast sea of information is flowing; uncountable netizens are disclosing the crisis, corruption, repression of thoughts, and calling for democracy and constitutionalism, … with their blogs and microblogs. This, is not only to assert a citizen’s right under the Constitution of the PRC, it is also performing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:
* Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
* (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
We must take actions, to protect Chen Pingfu, to fight against literary inquisition. To protect Chen Pingfu is to protect every citizen of us, to safeguard the rights of every netizen who is typing the keyboard and clicking the mouse at this moment, to safeguard the right of free communications, and to safeguard the right of everyone of obtaining and disseminating information.
Today if we do not stand out to safeguard Chen Pingfu’s freedom of expression, then our pursuit for freedom and democracy, our disclosure of problems, and our criticizing opinion on public affairs, will also be demonized; “the crime of inciting to subvert state power” will spread like SARS, becoming the instrument of revenge by the authorities. and the tool of repression upon those who criticize. The tragedy of recklessly making those who hold different opinion will repeat. This is a fatal attack upon the society, and a critical slaughter of public conscience; before this disaster of human rights, we shall not keep silent.
We are calling, all people, who hope that China will go towards democracy, openness, and cultural diversity, all people, who wish that our next generation will not live in a place where thoughts are repressed, all scholars, thinkers, human rights defenders, netizens … sign your names on this letter of appeal “Support Chen Pingfu, Oppose Literary Inquisition”.
Send your name, residence and profession to : firstname.lastname@example.org