By Zhang Xiaohui (张晓晖), Du Yuan (杜远) and intern Cheng Jiaojiao (程娇娇)
Issue 592, Oct 29, 2012
Nation, page 10
Translated by Zhu Na
Original article: [Chinese]
"I spent that night at the Renhe transfer station (人和转运站), around a hundred people were crammed into a small room of some dozens of square meters. Decembers in Chongqing are freezing cold, but due to there being so many people locked inside, many of us slept on the bare concrete floor with nothing but a very thin blanket. It was a sleepless night and early the next morning I was taken by a bus from the Xishanping Re-education Through Labor prison to Xishanping (西山坪). As I looked at the familiar scenes out of the bus window enveloped as they were in the mists of dawn, they felt just like my life at that point.”
It was already two full years after Xie Suming (谢苏明) had been released from a re-education through labor camp that he wrote the above description of his experience.
On Nov 12, 2009, the 40-year-old man from Youyang (酉阳) in Chongqing left a comment about a news item on Tianya(天涯论坛), one of China's most popular online forums. The next day Xie disappeared. First he was detained by the Chongqing Public Security Bureau on charges of libel and later he was sentenced to re-education through labor for one year on the same charge.
A startled Xie when interviewed by prominent lawyer Pu Zhiqiang pleaded with the lawyer to continue to look into his case if he went missing after agreeing to be interviewed by him.
Xie has already submitted an appeal to both the Chongqing re-education through labor commission and the city’s Gaoxin District public security sub-bureau. Xie hopes that the relevant departments can redress the error which resulted in him being sentenced for re-education through labor due to simply posting a single comment online.
Since May 2012, the Chongqing government has begun to clean-up these kinds of “speech crime” cases which saw many individuals sent to re-education through labor for posting comments online. Some people have already had their sentences overturned.
Below we look at three cases that are currently being reconsidered.
The Fang Hong Case
The case of Fang Hong (方洪) is a classic example of the recent spate of “speech crime” sentences that have been overturned.
The 46-year-old Fang Hong likes to surf the Internet and follows current affairs and politics closely.
At 9.30am on Apr 22, 2011, Fang posted a comment to Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging website that is similar to Twitter, from his Fang Zhusun (方竹笋) account. The comment was in relation to the case of Li Zhuang (李庄), a lawyer that had become entangled in Chongqing’s crackdown on organized crime, which was the focus of much attention at that time.
One of Fang’s lawyers, Si Weijiang (斯伟江), noted that this comment was only “reposted” three times by other users and did not have a big impact. However, two days later Fang was visited by two police officers who took him to the local police station for questioning.
After questioning, the Fuling (涪陵) District public security sub-bureau decided to hold him for 10 days of “administrative detention”. This decision was later revoked. However, on the same day, Fang was told that he was to be sentenced to re-education through labor.
On Apr 28 2011, the Chongqing Re-education Through Labor Commission issued a formal decision. According to this document, Fang had disturbed social order and was sentenced to a one-year sentence.
On April 24 2012, Fang was released from detention. On May 8, Fang started administrative proceedings against the decision to send him to re-education through labor, lodging an appeal with Chongqing’s No.3 Intermediate People's Court.
On May 18, a public hearing into Fang’s case was held, it was open to the media.
As the facts of the case were not very complicated, Fang’s lawyer (Yuan Yulai (袁裕来) – the same man who represented Li Zhuang) didn’t make too many statements, and the defendant, the Chongqing re-education through labor commission, didn’t mount a defense. After only 15 minutes deliberation, the court announced its decision – it revoked the original re-education through labor sentence handed to Fang.
The next day Xinhua News Agency reported on the case. In order to mark the occasion, Fang Hong also changed his Weibo user name to Fang Zhusun 518 (方竹笋518).
The Peng Hong Case
Chongqing resident Peng Hong (彭洪) shared a similar fate with Fang Hong.
In October 2009, Peng was handed a two-year re-education through labor sentence for libel after he forwarded a cartoon that presented Wen Qiang (文强), the former director of the Chongqing Municipal Judicial Bureau, as an “umbrella” for criminal gangs on the Tianya website. Peng also included a short innocuous comment – “what a strange umbrella!” (这把伞好怪哦).
Like Fang Hong, Peng was first brought in for questioning by the police who asked about his motivations for sharing this content online. After that he was sent to the re-education through labor camp in Chongqing’s Beibei district.
In an interview with Southern People Weekly (南方人物周刊), Peng Hong explained how “[I wanted to] get a lawyer, but lawyers wouldn’t dare to take my case. I told my wife to call magazines [the media], but my family were unwilling to do so … ”.
“I didn’t continue to fight inside [the camp]. I intended to go through it. I have come through, from Oct 14, 2009 to Oct 13, 2011. I had my sentence reduced by 33 days and I got out on Sept 10 last year.”
After being released, Peng Hong saw reports about Fang Hong’s case and decided to track down the judgment in that case and decide whether to launch legal proceedings too.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, as Peng Hong found it difficult to locate the written decision that resulted in him being detained for two years. It was only after media reports about Peng Hong’s situation appeared that he was presented with a formal written decision to revoke his original sentence.
On Sept 10 2012, the Chongqing re-education through labor commission acknowledged the original penalty was improper and decided to revoke the original decision of re-education through labor on Peng Hong.
Peng has now decided to apply for compensation. According to his lawyer, as Peng was in the labor camp for 697 days, he is owed 110,000 yuan in accordance with the relevant provisions.
The Ren Jianyu Case
Ren Jianyu (任建宇) was born in 1987, graduated university in 2009 and until recently served as a low-level public servant in a small town in Chongqing’s Pengshui (彭水) county.
Ren was sentenced to two years re-education through labor on Aug 18, 2011 for spreading a large number of negative comments about the party and the government and the people who were in charge of Chongqing at the time.
On Aug 15, 2012, inspired by the case of Fang Hong, Ren’s father decided to sue the Chongqing re-education through labor commission and submitted an appeal with Chongqing’s No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court.
Domestic media outlets have also criticised Ren's punishment.
On Oct 10, a public hearing into the case was held but no decision was announced.
As of this article going to print, no decision has been announced in the case.
Links and Sources
Southern People Weekly: 彭洪 贴“打黑”图片被劳教两年
Economic Observer Online: Cities Pilot Alternative to “Re-education through Labor”
China Daily: Chongqing clears man after 2-year labor camp
Economic Observer Online: Chongqing Prosecutors Drop Case Against Lawyer
Economic Observer Online: 重庆陆续平反部分劳教案
Caijing: 重庆网民讥讽王立军等遭劳教案被确认违法 (image)