Earthquake activist sentenced in China

A Chinese court today sentenced an activist who investigated the deaths of thousands of schoolchildren in the country's massive 2008 earthquake to five years in jail for inciting subversion of state power, the man's lawyer said.

The United States deplored the sentence handed down to Tan Zuoren by a court in southwestern Sichuan province, saying such convictions were politically motivated and urging China to immediately release the activist and others similarly prosecuted.

Attorney Pu Zhiqiang said Tan was convicted and sentenced today by the Chengdu Intermediate Court. Tan's trial in August had concluded with no ruling, during which police detained and threatened his supporters.

The conviction of inciting subversion of state power was based on Tan's activities in recent years to draw attention to the 1989 student-led demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square that ended in a deadly military crackdown. China routinely uses such broad and vaguely defined charges of subversion to imprison dissidents, sometimes for years.

But Tan's supporters and human rights groups believe authorities were trying to silence him for his investigation into the collapse of schools in the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that struck in Sichuan province in May 2008, leaving almost 90,000 dead or missing. Tan estimated at least 5,600 students were among the dead, while a figure released by the government last May put the count at 5,335.

Tan, 56, started his investigation in December 2008 and hoped to complete it before the May 12 anniversary of the quake the following year, but he was detained in late March.

"Tan thinks one of the reasons behind this case is that he was leading an investigation into the poorly built schools after the earthquake, which would have embarrassed the local government in Chengdu," Pu said.

Critics allege that shoddy construction, enabled by corruption, caused several schools to collapse while buildings nearby remained intact — a politically sensitive theory that the government has tried to quash, fearing it could undermine the admiration and goodwill it earned after its massive rescue effort.

But activists and parents — many of whom lost their only children in the quake — have repeatedly demanded those responsible for shoddy construction be investigated and punished. Those who've pressed the issue have been detained, harassed and threatened by police and thugs believed to be hired by local officials.

Pu said Tan would appeal the court's verdict, which centered around Tan's questioning of how authorities handled the 1989 Tiananmen protests: an essay he had written about it in 2007 and a blood drive in 2008 he had organized with others in Chengdu to commemorate the anniversary.

Tan had initially also been accused of defaming the government in interviews with foreign news outlets following the quake, but the court dropped that allegation, Pu said.

"The court was very smart. They took out any mention of the earthquake from the verdict because they are afraid of referring to it," Pu said.

An officer from the US Consulate General in Chengdu was at the courthouse for Tan's sentencing but "did not gain entry," according to US Embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson.

Chinese police officers tried to block nine Hong Kong journalists from interviewing Pu outside the courthouse, Hong Kong's radio RTHK said.

RTHK said their reporter filmed the scuffle on her mobile phone, but the phone was confiscated and the footage deleted. The reporters were led to a room inside the courthouse and released after the verdict was announced.

Calls to the court rang unanswered today.

The US government was dismayed by the sentence handed down to Tan, Stevenson said, adding he is the latest in a series of activists to be jailed for the peaceful exercise of rights guaranteed them by the Chinese constitution.

"Persecution of individuals for the peaceful expression of political views is inconsistent with internationally recognized norms of human rights. The United States condemns these convictions," Stevenson said. "We call on the Chinese government to immediately release Tan Zuoren and other Chinese citizens who have been imprisoned on baseless, politically motivated charges."

Amnesty International also urged Chinese authorities to release Tan, saying his case highlighted China's use of vague and broad laws to silence dissenting voices.

"The Chinese authorities cannot continue to claim that they are dealing with human rights defenders according to the law when they violate so many of their own legal procedures in cases like this," the organization's Asia-Pacific deputy director, Roseann Rife, said in an e-mailed statement.

In a related case, the same court rejected the appeal of Huang Qi, a prominent dissident who criticized the government's response to the Sichuan earthquake.

Huang had appealed against a three-year jail sentence he was handed in November on the charge of illegally possessing state secrets, his lawyer Mo Shaoping said. Mo said he was notified of the court's decision in a letter he received today and that no hearing had been held.

Huang, founder of a human rights Web site, was detained in June 2008 and had previously served a five-year prison sentence on subversion charges linked to politically sensitive articles posted on his site.

Since his release in 2005, Huang has supported a wide range of causes, including aiding families of those killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and publicizing the complaints of farmers involved in land disputes with authorities.

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

IT Specialist for a one month cover role

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: IC...

History Teacher

£7200 - £36000 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education is...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits