Poet Jailed For 12 Years
Chinese rights activists say the jailing is part of Beijing's strategy to pin down activists on fabricated "economic crimes."
Photo courtesy of Li Bifeng's family.
An undated photo of Li Bifeng.
A court in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan on Monday handed a 12-year jail term to dissident poet Li Bifeng for "contract fraud," his relatives and lawyer said.
Aside from the imprisonment, Li Bifeng, 48, was imposed a fine of a 30,000 yuan (U.S.$4,800) by the Shehong County People's Court in a trial that lasted just over one hour, his lawyer Ma Xiaopeng said.
"He wouldn't let his family come to the trial because he had a feeling that this would be the result," Ma said, adding that some of Li's friends had attended the hearing as spectators. "I had expected a sentence of 15 years, so at least it's somewhat lighter," he said.
But he rejected the charges against Li. "Whatever the sentence, it's still unacceptable," Ma said. "[Li's actions] in no way add up to a crime."
"There was nothing in his affairs that had anything to do with contracts," he said. "The only contracts he had signed had long since expired."
Ma, who visited Li shortly after the sentence was handed down, said he was "disappointed" with the sentence, but thought an appeal might be a waste of time.
"He said he would think about it for a couple of days, but my feeling was that he probably didn't want to appeal, because he thought it wouldn't do much good."
"He said it would be better to use the next 12 years to produce some serious writing."
Li's wife Jiang Xia, who was unable to attend the trial, said the court had not yet informed the family of the sentence.
"I was very surprised, because I thought the only thing for them to do today would be to release him," she said. "Our son is 17 years old this year, and he cried when he heard the news."
Jiang said she hoped Li would decide to appeal, because the charges weren't straightforward.
"This is totally unacceptable, because the charges of contract fraud simply don't stand up," she said. "I think there must be some other factors involved here."
Germany-based exile author Liao Yiwu, who is a close friend of Li's, said the sentence was "evil."
Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, said China's crackdown on dissent was continuing unabated, even after the leadership transition at last week's 18th Party Congress.
"The authorities haven't let up their crackdown on dissidents in many long years," Huang said. "Now, because of concerns about China's human rights image overseas, they are taking measures to dress it up as something else."
"The use of 'contract fraud' as a charge to deal with Li Bifeng is quite ridiculous, because there weren't even any victims," he said. "We strongly condemn this sentence."
Li was detained in September 2011 after being asked to report to a police station in Sichuan's Mianyang city about his "economic problems."
Chinese rights activists say it is an increasingly common practice by the authorities to fabricate various "economic crimes" as a way of keeping a lid on dissent.
Prominent Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei was detained in June 2011 and was released almost three months later, before being fined for "tax evasion," a charge he maintains was politically motivated.
Rights groups believe Li was held as part of a wider clampdown on activists following online calls in February for a "Jasmine" revolution inspired by uprisings in the Middle East.
Li is a prominent Sichuan poet and rights activist served five years in prison for his involvement in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, followed by a seven-year jail term in 1998 for reporting on a workers’
protest in Mianyang.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.
Radio Free Asia
2025 M Street NW, Suite 300
Washington DC 20036, USA
Li Bifeng (李必丰）
Photography: Piao Yingmei 摄影：朴樱梅
Reporting: Xu Yishu 报道：许逸舒
On November 20, 2012, "Chinese Coalition for Citizens Rights" held a rally at the United Nations Square in protest of the 12-year prison sentence for Li Bifeng, a rights activist who was sentenced yesterday on charges of "contract fraud" for calling for freedom and democracy in China.
Mr. Li Bifeng is a veteran democracy activist in Mianyang, Sichuan Province, China. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison in 1989 for his role in the 1989 student democracy movement. Later, he was sentenced to another 7 years in prison for advocating worker's rights.
In November 2012, a court in Sichuan Province, China gave a 12-year prison sentence on Mr. Li for his role in continuously promoting freedom and human rights in China, as well as his role in the escape of renowned dissident writer Liao Yiwu to Germany.
At the rally, members of "Chinese Coalition for Citizens Rights" strongly protested the unjustified prison sentence for Mr. Li Bifeng and called for his immediate release.
Jiang Jiantian said at the rally that by speaking out for freedom and democracy in China, Mr. Li was only exercising his citizen's rights to freedom of speech, and he did not commit any crime by doing so.
Xu Yishu said that from Li Bifeng's case, we can see that human rights conditions in China are getting worse and worse. Although the Chinese Constitution says that Chinese citizens are entitled to freedom of speech, in reality, this freedom is non-existent. She called on the Chinese government to release Li Bifeng immediately.
Yu Jie said that Li Bifeng is innocent, because he was only expressing his political views by peaceful means, and that it is not fair to sentence him to such a heavy prison term.
At the rally, members of "Chinese Coalition for Citizens Rights" also called for the release of all political prisoners, such as Liu Xiaobo.
Members of "Chinese attending today's rally include: Zheng Jinghua, Dong Zhenghu, Guo Qing, Wei Jian, Jiang Jiantian, Li Jie, Shen Xuehua, Jin Lianji, Jin Hualin, Jiang Jiongri, Piao Xiangshun, Li Chenghao, Ming Jian, Xu Yingyu, Xu Yishu, Cao Jintao, Lin Rong, Zhang Xiangdun, Yu Jie, Piao Yingmei.