Cablegate: Sw China: Blogs, Twitter Alert Public to Dissident's Trial

Published: Wed 26 Aug 2009 05:05 AM
DE RUEHCN #0168/01 2380505
R 260505Z AUG 09
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A) CHENGDU 141; B) CHENGDU 157; C) 08 CHENGDU 98;
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1. (SBU) Summary and Comment: Supporters of Chengdu
environmentalist Tan Zuoren, put on trial for incitement to
overthrow state power on August 12, used blogs and twitter text
messages to raise public awareness of the case. Tan's two
lawyers, both active bloggers, and other supporters put the
indictment, defense plea and other defense and prosecution
materials that were presented in open court online (ref A).
Censors deleted defense and prosecution materials from the web,
including from search engines. Meanwhile Tan's supporters
constantly repost these materials. The Communist Party
Propaganda Department's difficulties in erasing public
materials, including their own accusations against Tan from the
internet, demonstrate that defending the indefensible -- their
use of Chinese law to bring purely political prosecutions -- has
become much harder. No verdict has been announced in Tan's and
two other on-going political trials in Sichuan. Tan's defense
plea translated in appendix. End Summary and Comment.
Blogs and Twitters Raise Public Awareness of Tan Zuoren Case
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2. (SBU) The indictment and August 12 trial of Chengdu
environmentalist Tan Zuoren inspired an internet-based "Set Him
Free" information campaign and the release online of both the
indictment and the defense arguments of Tan's attorneys. Tan's
supporters in Chengdu and elsewhere posted or copied postings
from other blogs about the case on many PRC websites often just
a mouse click ahead of website managers who deleted many of
them. Supporters standing outside the Chengdu courtroom used
their cell phones to post a stream of short messages online
through Twitter, including what they were hearing about the
courtroom action, reports of witnesses briefly detained by
Chengdu police so they could not appear in court, and the short
statements that Tan's wife and his attorneys made after the
trial. Some of the Twitter messages also detailed online
articles about the case in China or on foreign websites out of
the reach of PRC censors. The online search function at made it easy to follow this cyber-scene by searching
on the defendant surname Tan or by subscribing to the comment
stream of twitterers on the scene.
Bloggers Post Multiple Blogs and Keep Reposting as Censors Delete
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3. (SBU) Like many Chinese bloggers that the authorities
consider controversial, Professor Xiao Xinhui of Chengdu's
Southwest Nationalities University has a dozen or more nearly
identical blogs. Xiao has been kept on basic salary but has not
been allowed to teach since she took part in the large June 4,
1989 protests in Chengdu. Chinese blog hosting services vary
considerably in their standards for deleting materials, so
postings on some websites stay up much longer than on others.
On one of her blogs, Xiao posted photographs of the text of the
Tan indictment and defense plea so that web censors could not
find the article with their search engines. Some blog services
such as deleted copies of the indictment and defense
plea while another,, did not delete them, but instead
marked certain entries so that they would not show up on search
engines. When the web censor deletes article on a blog at, the blogger gets a polite message "the web manager has
deleted article X, we regret any inconvenience this causes you."
Bloggers Keep Bouncing Back
4. (SBU) When a blogger is too persistent, hosting service
censors will close it down, but bloggers can simply open
another blog on the same or another blogging site. Both of Tan
Zuoren's lawyers blog. Tan lawyer Pu Zhiqiang entitles his Sohu
blog "The Eighth Sohu Blog of Pu Zhiqiang" (see URL Presumably when this one gets
deleted too, we will see his "Ninth Blog." The two lawyers have
been posting on their blogs prosecution evidence against Tan
such as a list of his articles, mostly published in PRC media,
that allegedly libel the Party and government, and his public
statement of January 20, 2009 criticizing the Pengzhou
petrochemical plant now under construction north of Chengdu.
Tan Zuoren: Only One of Three Political Trials in Sichuan
CHENGDU 00000168 002.2 OF 008
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5. (SBU) The August 12 Tan Zuoren trial was only the second of
three recent political trials in Sichuan. In the first two,
Tan's trial and Huang Qi's trial for possession of state secrets
in Chengdu on August 6, some Chengdu intellectuals see Sichuan
authorities as using state security charges to both silence
local environmental and rights activists and to win the
acquiescence of higher authorities to the prosecution. In the
trial of U.S. permanent resident Yungjun Zhou (aka Zhou Yongjun)
in Suining on August 21 for a fraud perpetrated outside mainland
PRC jurisdiction in Hong Kong, fraud charges are apparently a
pretext to hold a prominent June 4th 1989 activist (ref B).
Chengdu intellectuals widely believe that Huang Qi and Tan
Zuoren are being prosecuted for their investigations into shoddy
school construction that raised the death toll of the May 12,
2008 earthquake, their support for protests by bereaved parents,
and their protests against the multi-billion dollar Pengzhou
petrochemical plant (ref C).
6. (U) Appendix: Defense Plea in the Tan Zuoren Case on
Incitement to Overthrow State Power from the Xiao Xiehui Blog
Defense Plea in the Tan Zuoren Case
Xiao Xuehui blog
August 17, 2009
[At the request of Ms. Wang Qinghua, [note: the wife of Tan
Zuoren] the first instance plea of lawyers Xia Lin and Pu
Zhiqiang has been released. The two lawyers faced many
obstacles and put up with humiliation in order to carry out
their important work with rare perseverance to complete their
plea, stopping and starting because they were interrupted many
times. The first instance plea should have been published as an
exact copy of the original document. This is not possible,
however, because of web filtering and so in order to defeat the
control of the web, we made technical changes in some of the
keywords. This is a very precious legal document. Everyone
concerned with the case of Tan Zuoren should read it.
--- Xiao Xuehui made this explanation and requests that this
document be reposted on other websites.]
The case of Tan Zuoren Accused of Incitement to Overthrow State
Defense Plea
To the Panel of Judges of the Tan Zuoren case:
The Beijing Huayi Law Office, which was commissioned according
to law by the defendant Tan Zuoren, designated the lawyers Xia
Lin and Pu Zhiqiang to make the first instance plea. After
receiving this commission, we reviewed the case files,
interviewed the defendant, conducted many interviews, and
conducted many investigations. We believe that after being
reviewed by the court, the accusations brought by the
prosecution against Tan Zuoren cannot be proven. Based on the
indictment and evidentiary materials exchanged with the
prosecution before the trial, we make the following defense:
I. With regard to the nature of the article "1989: The Last
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Beauty I Witnessed -- the Tiananmen Diary of an Eyewitness"
written by the defendant Tan Zuoren:
The prosecution states that "The accused Tan Zuoren is
dissatisfied with the way the Central Committee of the Chinese
Communist Party handled the " June X Incident" and the
conclusions it drew about that incident. For many years, he has
been carrying out in many ways "June X" commemorative
activities. On May 27, 2007, Tan Zuoren concocted an article
entitled "1989: The Last Beauty I Witnessed -- the Tiananmen
Diary of an Eyewitness" and distributed it through the internet
to the website outside of mainland China's borders "The Torch of
Liberty" as well as to other websites. The main points of this
article provide a distorted account of the "June X Incident" and
libel the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee's handling
of it".
The definition of "libel" in the dictionary is "making something
out of nothing, saying bad things about a person, damaging a
person's reputation, slandering someone" (See Modern Chinese
Language Dictionary, Second Edition, P. 315, published January
1983.) The prosecution's charge that the defendant Tan Zuoren
"made a distorted account and committed libel" is a matter to
evaluate according to the facts and as to whether the contents
of Tan Zuoren's article are true.
The court investigation has already determined that "1989; The
Last Beauty I Witnessed -- the Tiananmen Diary of an Eyewitness"
was written on May 27, 2007 and is his personal response to
statements about the "June X Incident" by Ma Li, Chairman of the
Hong Kong Popular Alliance. The purpose of the article was to
make the facts clear (see interrogation record).
However, after Ma Li made that statement, the Vice Chairman of
the Hong Kong Popular Alliance, Liu Jianghua said that Ma Li's
statement did not represent the views of the Popular Alliance
and wanted to apologize on his behalf. Tan Zuoren wrote this
article based upon his memories as an eyewitness of the period
leading up to and following the "June X Incident". The
prosecution in its accusation states that Tan Zuoren "made a
distorted and libelous account" but has not presented evidence
to support that accusation. Nor has it in court "made an
accurate account", so how can Tan Zuoren be accused of writing
According to the indictment, Tan Zuoren has "for many years in
many ways conducted activities commemorating "June X" but has
presented no evidence to support this charge. Moreover,
according to Tan Zuoren's own account during interrogation in
court, before the 2007 statement of Ma Li, he had not conducted
any commemoration of "June X". So what is the basis of "for
many years" and what is the basis of "in many ways"?
The defense believes that this prosecution charge against the
defendant Tan Zuoren is vague, untrue and not supported by the
The charge cannot be proved according to law and so should
clearly be rejected.
II. With regard to the prosecution's accusation that Tan
Zuoren communicated with the "enemy element outside China's
borders" Wang Dan and suggested that voluntary blood donation
drives be conducted.
According to the prosecution's accusation, "Shortly after the
article was published, the enemy element outside China's borders
Wang Dan contacted him by e-mail and on several occasions sent
him propaganda materials about the "June X" incident.
On June X, 2008, the accused Tan Zuoren together with others in
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Chengdu's Tianfu Square conducted a voluntary blood donation
drive to commemorate "June X" by donating blood. Shortly
thereafter, he was interviewed by the telephone by the media
outside mainland China's borders "Voice of Hope". Since
November 2008, Wang Dan on several occasions sent him materials
on activities to commemorate the so-called twentieth anniversary
of the "June X" incident. On February 10, 2009, the accused Tan
Zuoren sent Wang Dan an email "Suggestions on the Twentieth
Anniversary of June X" suggesting that during this year's "June
X" period conducting so-called "June X Worldwide Chinese
Voluntary Blood Drives" in order to commemorate the twentieth
anniversary of "June X".
With respect to this charge, the defense believes:
1. Criminal methods of incitement to overthrow state power
involve the open encouragement of a group of two or more people.
The facts presented in this accusation involve a private email
between Wang Dan and Tan Zuoren. This is not in accord with the
open nature of this crime and that the incitement be directed at
a group of two or more people.
2. The designation of Wang Dan as an "enemy element outside of
China's borders" has not been officially announced by the state
and the defendant is not aware of this. Moreover, a search of
PRC criminal law did not turn up a crime of "communicating with
enemy elements outside of China's borders". The prosecution has
already determined that Wang Dan is "an enemy element outside of
China's borders" and according to the accusation statement, Wang
Dan took the initiative to send to a mailing list materials on
"June X". Considering the political attitudes and behavior of
the two people involved in the communication, it could be
claimed that Wang Dan was inciting Tan Zuoren but surely it
would be nonsense to suppose that the accused Tan Zuoren sought
to incite Wang Dan. This is clearly absurd nonsense. This
accusation by the prosecution is obviously mistaken.
III. With respect to the prosecution charge that Tan Zuoren
made statements about the May 12th Earthquake.
The court investigation states that after the May 12 earthquake,
the accused Tan Zuoren was interviewed several times by media
from both inside and outside China's borders and on many
occasions acted as a guide to assist them in their interviews
and investigations. These media included Xinhua, Liaowang
Oriental Weekly, First Financial Daily, Humanity and the
Biosphere, etc. as well as Hong Kong broadcasters under the Hong
Kong government. No matter whether he was interviewed by media
from inside or outside China's borders, he said the same thing.
However, the prosecution accusation stresses only that "Tan
Zuoren on several occasions was interviewed by media from
outside China's borders, and make statements that severely
damaged the image of our Party and government" clearly takes
things out of context to make these activities look suspicious.
The defense response to these accusations:
1. The prosecution's accusations are abstract and empty. The
prosecution presented 22 articles that total several tens of
thousands of words as evidence. Looking over these articles,
one finds some discussion of the work of the Party and
government in earthquake relief. Tan Zuoren praises them where
praise is due but not excessively. He does not pass over their
shortcomings in silence but discusses them. Just which chapters
and which words have anything to do with subversion? I really
do not know.
These 22 articles were collected by the prosecution from the
private computer of Tan Zuoren and were edited by Tan Zuoren
himself on his computer in the "My Documents" folder. None of
them are transcripts of media interviews. This being such an
"important case" how could it have been handled so sloppily?
CHENGDU 00000168 005.2 OF 008
How can these documents be taken as manuscripts that are used as
evidence in a criminal case?
2. The court investigation determined that Tan Zuoren is the
deputy secretary-general of the Green Rivers environmental NGO
and has long been concerned about the construction of
hydroelectric power plants in southwest China. His statement
about the earthquake, involving an analysis of the causes of the
earthquake and how it could have been prevented, was from the
perspective of an expert. This analysis is based upon a
considerable amount of scientific evidence. The defense has
already provided these materials to the court. Moreover, two
experts on the subject, Fan Xiao, an engineer from the Sichuan
Province Mining Bureau Geological Survey Team and Professor Ai
Nanshan of the Sichuan University Construction and Environmental
College are willing to testify as defense witnesses in court.
They are now waiting outside the court because unfortunately the
court arbitrarily refused to hear them. We regret this decision.
3. According to the court record of interrogation, Tan Zuoren
after the May 12 earthquake made 23 trips to determine the
number of students who were killed in the earthquake as well as
the number of school and dormitory buildings that had collapsed.
He spent over 50 days on these survey trips and collected much
first-hand material. He made an objective description of the
situation based on these trips.
His surveys showed that for many of the schools in the
earthquake zone, poor construction quality led to their
collapse. The problem of "bean curd construction" that Tan
Zuoren describes certainly exists. Tan Zuoren urges now that
the cause of the collapse of the schools and dormitories be
thoroughly investigated, that the people responsible face
criminal prosecution, and that a natural disaster should not be
an excuse to hide a man-made calamity. What is wrong with
saying this? And how can anyone be accused of committing a
crime by saying this?
Provoked by the deaths of so many students, Tan Zuoren may have
said some words in anger and criticized the Ministry of
Education. But the defense wants to remind the prosecution: to
criticize is not to incite to overthrow the state. The Ministry
of Education has never represented state power. Therefore
nothing could be as ridiculous as this accusation against Tan
Zuoren for incitement to overthrow state power.
IV. The prosecution's accusation on the legal nature of Tan
Zuoren's behavior.
The prosecution believes that "the indicted Tan Zuoren, in order
to achieve his goal of subverting state power and overthrowing
the socialist system fabricated things out of whole cloth,
distorted news, and spread speech that is injurious to state
power and the socialist system in order to hurt the image of
state power and the socialist system in the eyes of the people.
This constitutes a crime under article 105 of the Criminal Code
of the People's Republic of China. The crime is clear, the
evidence is certain and abundant. Tan Zuoren should be
prosecuted and convicted of the crime of inciting subversion of
state power".
The defense again reminds the panel of judges that the accused
Tan Zuoren, who has made an accurate description of many
matters, is accused of "fabricating things out of whole cloth
and distorting news". However, the prosecution has not yet
presented any evidence to contradict what Tan Zuoren has written
nor any evidence supporting the accusation. If the prosecution
is unable to present relevant evidence, then some of the matters
it has presented as fact are not credible.
The defense presents three opinions on the legal validity of the
accusations brought by the prosecution:
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1. Tan Zuoren's speech related to this case is a matter of a
citizen exercising his right to make suggestions and criticisms.
That speech does not constitute incitement to overthrow the
state and does not fit the criteria for that crime.
This crime is found in the first chapter of the criminal code,
"Crimes Against State Security". Examining that section of the
law, it is clear that the definition of this crime is limited to
threatening state security.
How can speech threaten state security? We can find an
explanation in "The Johannesburg Principles on National
Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information" which
are widely accepted by international society. Principle Five
holds that "Subject to Principles 15 and 16, expression may be
punished as a threat to national security only if a government
can demonstrate that: (a) the expression is intended to incite
imminent violence; (b) it is likely to incite such violence; and
(c) there is a direct and immediate connection between the
expression and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence".
In China's legal system no legal or administrative explanation
accompanies the legislation on this crime. Therefore, widely
accepted international principles can provide an important
reference point for judging this case. The speech of Tan Zuoren
relating to this case had no language inciting to overthrow the
state or to violence. On the contrary, Tan Zuoren's political
views favor gradual and peaceful social progress. The objective
effect of his views does not harm but actually supports state
security and so of course do not fall with the legal definition
of this crime.
Article 41 of the PRC Constitution stipulates: "Citizens of the
People's Republic of China have the right to criticize and make
suggestions to any state organ or functionary". The defense
believes that Tan Zuoren's speech involved in this case was the
normal exercise by a citizen of their right to criticize and
make suggestions, and should therefore be protected by the PRC
Constitution. How can it be construed as "incitement to
overthrow the state"?
2. Tan Zuoren did not have any subjective intention to incite
to overthrown the State.
This crime in its subjective aspect relates to intention, the
person committing the act must have the motive of inciting two
or more persons to act to overthrow state power and to overthrow
the socialist system.
The defense believes that in order to determine the subjective
motive of a personal act, one needs to do a historical study of
it objective manifestations over a long period. The court
investigation shows that the indicted freely confesses without
reservation that he is passionate about the well-being of
society and that he has for a long time been making outstanding
contributions to political science and administration.
The principal facts are these:
-- During 1996 - 1997, he served as the chief planner of the
Chengdu City government's Fenghuang Mountain development project
and later led the planning work for the Sichuan International
Rehabilitation Center and the Chengdu Rest Home and Assistance
Center for the Elderly, the Chengdu City Temporary Residence
project, and was asked by the Pi County government to design the
Jinguancheng Recreation Area, the Shudu Rear Garden and other
-- In 1998, he was asked by the Sichuan Province Academy of
Social Sciences to plan the "Great Turn of the Century Human
Talent Project".
-- In 1999 he participated in the Yangtze River Environmental
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Memorial Construction Project.
-- In 2000 he planned the Sichuan Exhibition Center
transformation project;
-- In 2001 he was chosen by the Chengdu Daily as an outstanding
citizen of Chengdu;
-- In 2002 he planned and implemented the "Century of Great
Changes - Chengdu's Big Transformation" a major photo
exhibition; at the Sichuan Provincial People's Congress
consultative conference his proposal to enact a law to protect
the Great Panda was adopted. He also participated in the
planning for the construction of the "Deng Xiaoping Old Home
Tourism District";
-- In 2004 he was invited by the Chengdu Jinniu District to
devise a plan for the Jinsha Ruins Park. His proposal for the
"Tianfu Gourmet Park" was adopted and became a key project for
Chengdu. On behalf of the Sichuan Cultural Bureau he designed
and organized a "Culture and the Creative Industries Forum";
revised and made new suggestions for the "Chengdu City Cultural
Tourism Industry Plan", participated in several important
meetings organized by the Chengdu City Propaganda Department,
participated in the survey and review of the "South to North
Water Diversion Project".
-- In 2006, he was asked to design the "Chengdu City Eastern
Suburbs Creative Industries Park" concept;
-- In 2007 he led the "Chengdu Citizen Ethnic Culture Tourism
Development Plan". His Botiao River Research Project and the
research on the "Small Scale Western Waters Diversion" won the
approval of Premier Wen Jiabao.
-- In 2008, he designed the Cultural Tourism Street project for
the Xichang City government. He wrote and distributed an
academic report on the issues of the Pengzhou City petrochemical
plant project entitled "A Citizen's Suggestion on the Pengzhou
City Petrochemical Project" and sent it to the departments
-- In 2009 he participated in the "May 12 Student Deaths
The facts above demonstrate that Tan Zuoren has contributed for
the past twenty years to the construction of Chengdu and of
Sichuan Province, to scientific planning and to economic
planning, all of which have greatly improved the image of the
government. In his capacity as Chinese citizen or as an
outstanding expert, Tan Zuoren has also of course criticized
some improper administrative actions of the government. How
could these well-intentioned and honest criticisms be
maliciously understood as incitement to overthrow state power?
3. The behavior and speech of Tan Zuoren do not constitute this
As everyone knows, the character of the PRC government is a
"people's democratic dictatorship", that is to say the great
majority of the people through democratic means hold state
power. Overthrowing state power, then, means having the
intention to use anti-democratic methods to destroy the system
of people's democracy. By looking through all of Tan Zuoren's
writings, one can see that he is a person who passionately loves
the people, supports democracy, and is opposed to autocracy.
Mr. Tan Zuoren is a pioneer of people's democracy and its
guardian, not one who would overturn it and destroy it. To
convict him of incitement to overturn state power contradicts
the basic character of PRC state political regime.
V. Summation
The matters described above are sufficient to prove that none of
the accusations of the prosecution about the speech and actions
of Tan Zuoren constitute the crime described in Article 151 in
the PRC Criminal Code of "incitement to overthrow state power".
The accusation that Mr. Tan Zuoren committed this crime fails
for lack of evidence.
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Sichuan since ancient times has been a place where cultured
people gather. Many heroes have arisen throughout the history
of Chengdu. We are confident that Sichuan has sufficient
political wisdom to handle the Tan Zuoren case. Let us quote
here a couplet from the Wuhou Temple of Chengdu for the people
involved in this case:
"Those able to win people's hearts are able to eliminate their
doubts and their worries; from ancient times people
knowledgeable in military affairs have avoided fighting whenever
possible; those who are not able to judge situations will make
mistakes no matter whether they are strict or lenient. Those who
govern Sichuan in the future should deeply reflect upon this".
The defense earnestly requests that the panel of judges reflect
deeply and according to Article 162 of the Law of Criminal
Procedure of the PRC, and that they find and proclaim the
defendant Tan Zuoren not guilty.
Defense attorneys: Xia Lin and Pu Zhiqiang
Beijing Municipality Huayi Law Firm
August 12, 2008
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