May 17, 2006

China Jails Dissident Blogger For Twelve Years

The repressive government of China continued its battle against on-line efforts at democratization and intellectual freedom yesterday by jailing a blogger for twelve years. Yang Tianshui provoked the regime's ire by posting essays to his website supporting free elections and calling for a velvet revolution:

CHINA sentenced a veteran dissident writer to 12 years in jail for subversion yesterday, after he posted essays on the internet supporting a movement by exiles to hold free elections.

The sentence on Yang Tianshui, 45, is one of the harshest to be handed down to a political dissident since the trials that came after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on students demanding greater democracy. It underscores the determination of the ruling Communist Party to brook no opposition and to maintain a tight grip on the internet.

Yang is one of several writers and dissidents to be tried over the content of internet postings. He has no plans to appeal because he regards his trial as illegal. Li Jianqiang, his lawyer, said: “He is most dissatisfied but he had expected such a sentence. He refused to answer questions because he does not recognise the legality of the court.”

Yang was detained after he posted essays on the internet in support of Velvet Action of China — a movement named after the Velvet Revolution that overthrew the Communist Government in the former Czechoslovakia. “He was freely expressing his opinion and posed no threat to state security. We argue that his actions were entirely within the Constitution,” Mr Li said.

China has a history of repression against dissenters, and it has attacked Internet accessibility in order to ensure that these voices of freedom get identified and silenced. American-based companies unfortunately have proved willing collaborators in these efforts; Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo have cooperated with Chinese censors to either block access to dissident writings or to identify the authors for prosecution. Chinese freedom advocates may well wonder at American collaboration with their oppressors; history will not judge that kindly, nor will the first generation of China's free rulers when their liberation comes.

Yang proves that their systems cannot withstand democratic impulses forever. He has already served ten years for his public opposition to Beijing's brand of communism, and has spent the past six years continuing that work. Prison has not deterred him from pursuing freedom, nor will the regime have the resources to jail everyone who accesses these writings or adds to them. Even with American ingenuity ironically turned against them, voices such as Yang's will continue to rise to the fore, and the Internet will bring those voices and their democratic activism to the oppressed people of China as the information age gradually dawns on the world's most populous nation.

In the meantime, we can show our solidarity by at least noting the muzzling of one of our own, and reminding everyone of the complicity of those firms that assist China to achieve the silence that will never come.


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