Man sent to labor camp for subversive comments and T-shirt files lawsuit
A college graduate detained and sent to a labor camp for forwarding ‘subversive’ content on a microblogging site sued the labor camp in Chongqing Wednesday. On the web, he has garnered immense support for his fight for freedom of speech. His lawyer, also a human rights activist, defended him fervently in court and publicly indicted China’s notorious forced labor camp system that is often used to jail dissidents without a public trial.
Ren Jianyu, 25, had been serving as a village officer of Pengshui county under Chongqing for two years since graduating from college in 2009. Last September, when he was waiting for his temporary ad hoc job to be turned official, the authorities in Chongqing determined that he had copied, forwarded and commented on “over 100 negative pieces of information” and therefore needed to be reeducated through labor for two years.
His father brought the case to Chongqing No.3 People’s Intermediate Court and asked that the decision to re-educate him through labor be rescinded. The case was heard in court Wednesday.
The case has been the latest in a series of incidents where local authorities took flak for incarcerating dissidents without the law even entering the equation. In August, Tang Hui, whose 11-year-old daughter was raped and forced into prostitution by seven men, petitioned the authorities in her hometown in Hunan province repeatedly to hand out death penalty, only to be sentenced to 18 months in a labor camp, which outraged Chinese netizens and prompted them into online activism.
Pu Zhuqiang, the attorney for Ren Jianyu, revealed on Sina Weibo that the Chongqing police applied for an arrest warrant despite that there was an absence of evidence against him that pointed to his subversive intent. After the prosecution disapproved the arrest warrant application on the grounds of lack of evidence, the Chongqing Public Security Bureau made the decision to sentence him to two years in labor camp. To incriminate Ren, the police submitted as evidence to court a T-shirt he bought over the Internet that reads “Giver Me Liberty or Give Me Death”.
The “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death T-shirt” the Chongqing police seized from Ren’s home as evidence against him.
A majority of the 100 plus “negative” messages Ren Jianyu was accused of are forwarded web posts written by others, including one by law professor He Weifang, one by Chinese-Australian political blogger Yang Hengjun, and one by legal expert Xiao Han. Ironically, none of the original authors of the posts that Ren forwarded has been punished for what they have written. Some of them are evening teaching government officials at party schools.
A female friend of Ren said, “Ren Jianyu is a straight arrow. He does not pander.”
Ren’s attorney, Pu Zhiqiang (left) and Ren’s father in front of the courthouse on October 10.
Ren Jianyu’s father, Ren Shiliu, is a brick mason. He received only two months of formal education in his life. When Ren Jr. was first arrested, he comforted his father by saying, “Don’t worry. It will take at most 20 years for charges against me to be cleared.”
As the pressure from the public mounted, the local authorities approached Ren’s family and wanted to settle the case in private, only to be turned down by Ren’s father, who insisted that Ren be exonerated in public, “How he got in will be how he gets out!”
Many comments Ren left on the web are critical of Bo Xilai, the former party boss of Chongqing, who had been a zealous advocate for revolutionary singing and dancing and Mao cult until he fell from disgrace amid a highly publicized scandal earlier this year. A college graduate in the city, Ren got a civil service position in a rural village administered by Chongqing as part of the scheme promoted by Chinese civil service administration that encourage college grads to bring their skill sets and vision to rural China.
“Chongqing has held high the banner of the second Cultural Revolution in China. Singing red songs, Great Leap Forward, Flamboyance, personality cult, contempt for the law. Everything looks so familiar. What can I save you, the people that are suffering from difficulties and hardships?”
“Our government now has this problem: it doesn’t manage what it should have managed, and when it does manage, it manages foolishly,” he wrote in another post.
In court, Pu Zhiqiang, accused Bo Xilai and his police chief Wang Lijun, who unleashed extrajudicial crackdown on organized crimes as well as dissent, of “Fascist reign of terror.” He said Ren got punished solely for his speech. “Ren was dissatisfied with the current system. Deng Xiaoping was also dissatisfied, hence the reform.”
In his closing argument, he said, “As for a bad political system, we won’t stomach it long,” which has been retweeted on Sina Weibo, one of China’s most vibrant social media, over 18,000 times.
The state-run media have also voiced their support for Ren on Sina Weibo. Beijing News, a daily newspaper based in the nation’s capital, wrote, “Who, among the 500 million net users in China, has never forwarded a web post that strikes the chord?…If you really want to frame someone, you can always find a charge.”
Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of Global Times, a Communist tabloid well-known for its nationalist editorials and pro-government slant, wrote, “I believe he (Ren) can win (the lawsuit). Because the era of getting punished for pure speech that does not bring personal harm or social impact – no matter how ‘anti-party’ or ‘anti-socialism’ they are – should be over. Truly hope redress of his case can be the last straw on the thousand-year-old political tradition of punishment someone for his speech.”