China’s ‘first cyber-dissident’ sentenced to 15 years in prison

Pro-democracy protesters demanding Huang Qi’s release in Hong Kong. Image: Getty

DHARAMSALA, 30 July: A civil rights activist in China, widely referred to as the country’s ‘first cyber-dissident’ has been sentenced to 12 years in jail by the Chinese Communist Regime.

Huang Qi, a Chinese cyber dissident who founded the 64 Tianwang Human Rights Centre, a news website blocked in mainland China that covers alleged human rights abuses and protests was pronounced the severe sentence by the Mianyang Intermediate People’s Court on 29 July according to various news reports.

Huang founded the 64 Tianwang Human Rights Centre named after the bloody 4 June 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protesters and its accompanying website to chronicle the stories of people alleging abuses by authorities in 1998.

According to the Chinese court’s official statement, the 56-year-old has been charged with “leaking national state secrets and providing state secrets to foreign entities,” more than two years after his arrest.

Further, he has been deprived of his political rights for four years and fined of 20,000 yuan ($2,900) by the court.

The brief statement on the website of the Mianyang Municipal People’s Intermediate Court in Huang’s native Sichuan province, however, did not provide any details on the nature of the secrets he allegedly leaked or who the recipients were.

The Guardian has reported that his sentence is one of the harshest meted out to a dissident since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

Xi’s drive to tighten the restrictions on civil society that led to the imprisoning of human rights activists, as well as the lawyers who defend them, has resulted in many Chinese dissidents to fall gravely ill during their imprisonment.

Liu Xiaobo, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government and China’s lone Noble Peace Prize laureate died of liver cancer in Chinese custody on 13 July 2017 while serving an 11-year sentence for inciting ‘subversion of state power’.

Foreign officials and international human rights organizations have reportedly campaigned for the release of the prominent activist over the last two years.

The Chinese cyber dissident’s website was awarded the Cyber Freedom Prize by the Reporters Without Borders prize in November 2016.

The press freedom group has called on President Xi Jinping to “show mercy” and issue a pardonand likened his sentence to that of a death sentence, considering Huang Qi’s health has already deteriorated from a decade spent in harsh confinement.

Amnesty International has called the sentence “harsh and unjust”.

Huang became the first person to be put on trial for internet crimes in Chinain 2003 after he allowed articles, written by others, about the brutal crackdown of 1989’s Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests to be published on the site he founded primarily to help people search for friends and family who had disappeared. But gradually began covering allegations of corruption, police brutality and other abuses, the BBC reported.

This led to a five-year sentence, and He was subsequently sentenced to a further three years in prison, in 2009, after giving advice to the families of children who had died in an earthquake in Sichuan the previous year, the report added.

Huang was detained again in 2014, and later in Nov 2016 with the accusation of “inciting subversion of state power”, since when he has been incarcerated.

Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities have kept Huang Qi’s mother, Pu Wenqing, 85, who has been advocating for her son under police surveillance.

It is being reported that Pu has recently been diagnosed with cancer and is in poor health.

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