All In A Day’s Work

Accidents are all too common at Chinese coal mines.

What comes to mind when you think of the most dangerous professions? I think of the enormous risks that soldiers, coal miners, fishermen, police officers, and fire fighters take every day to do their jobs and to keep us safe. I’m very thankful my daily routine does not involve wrestling with Alaskan king crabs or running into burning buildings. Coal mining is one of the most dangerous jobs of all and the statistics in China are grimmer than anywhere else on earth. According to numbers released by People.com.cn, at least 1.3 million coal workers died in coal mine accidents from 1995 – 2008. Although coal deaths have curbed mildly, on average, over 7 miners are killed in China coal accidents each day, while 18 died in U.S. mine accidents during all of last year.

Another extremely dangerous profession in China is being a journalist. And unlike the improving occupational hazard situation for coal miners,  it’s not getting any better for journalists inside China. Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Barometer 2011 calls China “the world’s biggest prison for journalists, bloggers and cyber-dissidents.” Most of the around 100 prisoners have been sentenced to long jail sentences for “subversion” or “divulging state secrets” and are held in harsh conditions, with journalists often being put to forced labor. The local authorities, fearful of bad publicity from reports on corruption and nepotism, continue to arrest journalists.

Human Rights Defenders began an urgent e-mail appeal today to release imprisoned Chinese journalist Qi Chonghuai who was recently sentenced to a further eight years in prison two weeks before his scheduled release date of June 25th.

China journalist Qi Chonghuai before his arrest in June 2007.

A veteran journalist for 13 years prior to his arrest in 2007, published stories by Qi have ranged from family planning, unemployment and labor violations, as well as on Communist Party and State media control and censorship. On June 14th, 2007 Xinhuanet (the website of China’s official news agency Xinhua) published a story by Qi exposing gross corruption by the Tengzhou (Shandong province) city government, in particular the use of tax money to construct a new luxurious government office. Earlier the same month the Epoch Times published a story by Qi on a local party cadre beating up a woman for being late to work. On June 25th, 11 days after the story on Xinhuanet, Qi was apprehended in his home in Jinan city by police officers.

The Epoch Times published this interview with him on June 12th 2007, his last public statement before he was arrested. During the interview Qi exposed that China’s Ministry of Publicity once released a regulation stating 27 types of events that “are not allowed to be reported including emergency accidents, Falun Gong issues, birth control issues, laid-off worker issues and farmers deprived of their lands.”

According to the PEN American Center, Qi was formally charged with “blackmail” on August 2nd, 2007, and his case was handed to the Tengzhou People’s Procuratorate on November 2nd, 2007—one month later than the law permits.

After Qi was detained and charged in 2007 Chinese news media such as New Beijing News and Nanfang Dushi Bao reported on it, and called Qi an “anti-corruption journalist” and the “conscience of reporters”. He was tried by the Tengzhou City Court in Shandong Province on May 13th 2008. Immediately following the 11-hour proceedings, Qi was convicted of “extortion and blackmail” and sentenced to four years in prison. He was subjected to abuse at the Tengzhou City Detention Center, where he was held until his appeal was rejected. Qi spent a total of 408 days in the detention center before being moved to Tengzhou prison on August 8th 2008, the opening day of the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games.

Due for release next week, Mr. Qi Chonghuai was just sentenced to a further eight years’ imprisonment for “embezzlement” and “extortion and blackmail” on June 9th 2011. He had almost completed his entire four year sentence for “extortion and blackmail” which was handed down on May 13th 2008 and backdated to his initial arrest on June 25th 2007.

Qi has been extremely mistreated during his time in police custody and in prison. China Urgent Action Working Group — a team of human rights defenders working in mainland China composed of Chinese academics, lawyers, and political professionals who assist fellow human rights defenders in distress — says that Qi had a number of letters smuggled out of Tengzhou Prison in 2009 in which he described regular beatings at the hands of prison guards and of other inmates. One such incident left him unconscious for three days after he was thrown down a mineshaft: “On April 30th 2009 a prison guard, Liu Huanyong, severely beat Qi in the process of confiscating several manuscripts he had been working on. Qi had written several hundred thousand words of reports on the deplorable and inhuman conditions of the prison. Later Liu would try to have Qi killed. Some of these writings were smuggled out and can be found on the web.” He has been deprived of food, water and rest.

On April 27th 2011 there were indications that Qi may not be released as scheduled when he was interrogated by the police. A second interrogation occurred a week later, during which Qi was denied access to his legal counsel. Qi’s lawyers, Liu Xiaoyuan and Wang Quanzhang, were given 12 days to prepare his defense before a new trial, which took place on June 9th 2011. A guilty verdict and sentencing were delivered that same day at approximately 3pm.

According to one of his lawyers, Qi Chonghuai pleaded not guilty to the charges of “embezzlement” and “extortion and blackmail”, and stated that he was being punished for continuing to write exposés during his time in jail. 

You can visit Front Line’s website to sign the appeal, urging Chinese authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Qi Chonghuai;
  • Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Qi Chonghuai;
  • Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in China are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

The PEN Writers In Prison Committee documents 121 writers in prison in China currently, with renowned artist Ai Weiwei the most recent to join the ranks.

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