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Opposition magazine editor sentenced to six years in prison for "subverting state authority"

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders deplores the six-year prison sentence that a court in Hangzhou (in the eastern province of Zhejiang) passed on 8 January 2009 on leading dissident Wang Rongqing for continuing to organise the China Democracy Party after it was banned, publishing an opposition magazine and posting many outspoken articles online. Convicted of "subverting state authority," Wang is in poor health, his family says.

"We firmly condemn the imposition of such a heavy sentence on a pro-democracy activist who was arrested in the run-up to the Olympic Games," Reporters Without Borders said. "He was clearly convicted because of his pro-peace activities, the role he played in the China Democracy Party's creation and his dissident views."

The press freedom organisation added: "The Chinese government is violating his freedom of expression and association, which are guaranteed by articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a covenant that China signed but has not yet ratified. These two rights are also guaranteed by the Chinese constitution."

Taken from his home by Hangzhou Public Security Bureau police in June 2008, Wang was not formally arrested until 31 July 2008, a week before the start of the Olympic Games, when he was charged with subversion for organising the China Democracy Party's first national meeting, for editing a publication called "Opposition Party" and for posting many articles on the Internet. The China Democracy Party was outlawed by the internal security ministry in 2002.

According to the organisation Chinese Human Rights Defenders, the police told the Wang family after his arrest that if they said nothing and accepted the state-appointed lawyer, he would get a milder sentence. The family accepted state lawyer Liu Yong and gave no press interviews, but Wang nonetheless ended up getting one of the harshest sentences given to a Zhejiang dissident in recent years.

Wang's brother, Wang Rongyue, his only close relative in Hangzhou, told Radio Free Asia before the verdict that Wang would not be able to endure a lengthy period in prison. "Wang Rongqing suffers from many ailments." He also said: "I personally think he is not guilty. I question the legitimacy of this court and for this reason I will not attend the sentencing."

An activist for the past 30 years, Wang has played an important role in China's democracy movement. According to the BBC's Chinese-language service, he took part in the Democracy Wall Movement in 1978, he joined the students demonstrating on Tiananmen Square in 1989 and helped found the China Democracy Party in 1998.

He was detained for two weeks in November 2004 for drafting a proposed law for the legalisation of political parties and submitting it to the government. He was jailed for six months in 2005 for organising a China Democracy Party branch in Zhejiang province. He was detained again for a month in August 2006 for writing articles criticising a crackdown on religious freedom in Zhejiang.

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