PEN International is shocked by the heavy sentencing of Hong-based publisher Yao Wentian on 7 May 2014. Yao, who has been held in Shenzhen since 27 October 2013, was convicted by the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court on the charge of ‘smuggling prohibited items’ and sentenced to a 10-year jail term. At the time of his arrest he was preparing to publish a book by US-based dissident writer Yu Jie, entitled Chinese Godfather Xi Jinping. PEN believes the trial and conviction to be politically motivated. Yao suffers from asthma and a heart complaint and there are serious concerns for his health.
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- Expressing serious concern for the heavy sentencing and health of publisher Yao Wentian, and calling for his immediate and unconditional release if, as feared, he is being persecuted for his professional activities through politically-motivated criminal charges;
- Protesting the renewed crackdown on government critics, and reminding President Xi of his commitment to tackle official corruption;
- Reminding the Chinese authorities that Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China provides for freedom of speech and that as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for freedom of legitimate expression, the right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right to a fair trial, they are obliged to “refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose”.
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According to PEN International’s information, Yao Wentian (also known as Yiu Mantin) was arrested on 27 October 2013 at a friend’s house in Shenzhen whilst delivering industrial paint. The paint in question is legal, although an import duty is required for industrial usage, of which Yao was reportedly unaware. He was initially accused of ‘carrying prohibited items’, later changed to the more serious charge of ‘smuggling ordinary goods/ items’, which carries a sentence of between three years or life imprisonment or even the death penalty, depending on the amount of tax evaded.
PEN International believes that this is very likely to be a politically-motivated charge and that his arrest and imprisonment are connected to his professional activities as a publisher, in particular his collaboration with dissident writer Yu Jie. According to Yu, Yao had received a threatening telephone call prior to his trip, in which the caller warned him not to go ahead with the publication of Yu’s latest book and alerted him to the possible consequences for his and his family’s personal safety should he ignore the warning. His son reports that Yao had previously been harassed for his collaboration with Yu, notably for his role in the publication of Hu Jintao: Harmony King, a critique of the former president’s concept of “harmonious society”. In September 2012, Yao reportedly wrote to Google complaining that his Gmail account had been hacked while he was preparing to print the book. According to his son, when his father was arrested, one of the customs officials told him, “We finally got you; you’re a big fish.”
Yao was initially taken to a detention centre in Guangzhou but was quickly hospitalised following a deterioration of his health. On 12 November, he was formally arrested under an order of the prosecution and transferred to the No. 2 Detention Centre of Shenzhen City, where he has since been held at the prison medical facility. His lawyer submitted an application for medical parole in December 2013, which has been rejected. At his trial in March, Yao’s defence team reportedly acknowledged some wrongdoing, but sought a light sentence claiming that he was not the main culprit. On 7 May 2014, Yao was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court; it is unclear whether he was present at the court at the time of his sentencing. He is reported to have until 17 May to lodge an appeal.
Yao Wentian, aged 73, is publisher and former chief editor of the Hong Kong-based Morning Bell Press. Since 2007 he has worked closely with dissident writers, including many members of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), to publish books which have been banned in mainland China. His publications include the Collected Literary Works of Chinese Writers in Prison and an ICPC Membership Literature Series, of which more than a dozen volumes have been published. More of his publications can be found here http://morningbellpress.blogspot.se/.Yao’s arrestand conviction come amidst a reported crackdown by mainland censors on Hong Kong and Taiwanese works deemed “vulgar” or “politically harmful”.
Several activists are currently on trial for their involvement with the New Citizens’ Movement, a grassroots network of activists in China. They include Zhao Changqing, a Beijing-based freelance writer and political essayist, who was reportedly sentenced to two years and six months in prison on charges of disrupting social order on 18 April 2014. Zhao has been previously detained twice for his dissident activities and writings, and has served a total of eight years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” since 1998. He is a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre. Zhao, aged 45, is married with a 20-month-old son and his detention is placing huge economic and emotional strain on the family.
The movement’s leader Xu Zhiyong was arrested in July 2013 and sentenced to four years imprisonment on 26 January 2014 on charges of ‘gathering crowds to disrupt public order’ after a four-day trial. He is known for his campaigning against official corruption and in support of children’s rights, and he is widely believed to be targeted because of his growing presence on Chinese social media platforms. Xu is an honorary member of ICPC.
Since 24 April 2014, in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the brutal crackdown on 4th June 1989 pro-democracy protests, six dissident writers have been detained and charged for their dissident activities and writings.