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China: Release of Blogger After Trial for Online Slander

(Aug. 6, 2009) Reporters Without Borders reported that on July 24, 2009, Duan Lei, a blogger in China, was released for lack of evidence after being tried in a county court on charges of defamation and disrupting public order in Shandong Province. Duan had been detained for five months after posting online an accusation of corruption against a local official; he was charged on April 4 with defamation and on July 3 with “having a harmful influence and disturbing the social order.” (Blogger Freed for Lack of Evidence, Reporters Without Borders website, July 24, 2009, available at

Duan had been accused in February 2009 of having published a blog message (on the websites, and alleging that Guo Feng, Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party committee of Zhuangzhai town, “took bribes and used his position to ensure his family won construction contracts,” and that his son “traded drugs, organized prostitution and kept mistresses while running a local KTV nightclub.” (Lan Tian, Netizen on Trial for Onine Slander, CHINA DAILY, July 20, 2009, available at Despite Duan's release, his family reportedly was made to issue a public apology for the allegations he made about Guo. In the view of Li Yong, an attorney for Duan and “a well-known online writer” and former LEGAL DAILY reporter, “the government was using the case to prevent citizens from criticizing officials.” Li stated, “[t]he local police and procuratorate's act of accusing Duan of slander abuses government power to protect local officials' prestige.” (Id.)

During the trial, which began on July 17, Duan's family and reporters were told to leave the court. Prominent defense attorney Pu Zhiqiang protested the action, calling it “absurd” to have a closed-door trial, because Duan's postings had “nothing to do with personal privacy,” one of the procedural reasons for not hearing a trial in public. Pu also pointed out that Duan's postings “were not a harmful influence,” having been found by the local police to have been viewed only 79 times. (Id.)

In reporting on Duan's case, CHINA DAILY noted that in 2008, a “netizen” from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Wu Baoquan, was given a two-year prison term for slandering the government after he posted a message exposing illegal land occupation by the Erdos municipal government. In March 2009, Wang Shuai, of Henan Province, was detained for having revealed online an illegal land acquisition by a local government. (Id.)

There are many other cases of detention of online rights activists. For example, Hu Jia was sentenced to three and a half years of imprisonment and deprivation of political rights for one year thereafter on April 3, 2008, in a Beijing Intermediate People's Court, for the crime of “inciting subversion to state power” by means of publication of certain articles and interviews. (Another Birthday in Prison for Rights Activist Hu Jia, Reporters Without Borders website, July 23, 2009, available at; Jerome A. Cohen & Eva Pils, Hu Jia in China's Legal Labyrinth, FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW (May 2008), available at

Dissident Liu Xiaobo was only formally arrested by Chinese authorities on June 23, 2009, on charges of subversion, after having been in detention without charge at an unknown location since December 8, 2008. Liu signed Charter 08, a document calling for greater democracy in China that was widely circulated online. The crime of subversion carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. (Press Release, Amnesty International, Liu Xiaobo Should Be Released Immediately (June 8, 2009), available at
; China: Critic's Arrest Signals Hardening of Political Climate, Human Rights Watch website, June 24, 2009, available at

In addition, cyber-dissident Huang Qi, arrested on charges of “illegal possession of state secrets” on June 11, 2008, in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, after having posted accounts of the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake on his human rights-related website, remains in detention awaiting trial. (Authorities Postpone Trial of Cyber-Dissident Huang Qi Charged with “Illegal Possession of State Secrets” in Attempt to “Silence Him at All Costs,” Says RSF, International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) website, Feb. 5, 2009, available at; Cyber-Dissident Huang Qi Still Detained, in Very Poor Health, IFEX website, June 15, 2009, available at