China - Defence witnesses and journalists held in hotel while blogger's trial takes place



    MONTREAL, Aug. 13 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders deplores the
behaviour of the authorities on the first day of blogger Tan Zuoren's trial
yesterday in Chengdu (in the southwestern province of Sichuan), preventing two
Hong Kong journalists and would-be defence witnesses, who included leading
dissident artist and blogger Ai Weiwei, from getting to the courtroom.
    Held since 28 March, 55-year-old Tan faces a possible five-year sentence
on subversion charges for criticising the government online, especially in
connection the 12 May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.
    "The charges against Tan are baseless and the trial is meaningless after
the police intervened to prevent him defending himself," Reporters Without
Borders said. "This is not due process. It is a parody of justice. We are also
shocked that two journalists from Hong Kong-based NOW TV were held in their
hotel room for seven hours."
    Joint writer of the 64Tianwang blog with fellow dissident Huang Qi (who
is also detained), Tan often tried to draw attention to the 4 June 1989
crackdown on the pro-democracy student moment and organised a blood donation
campaign in Chengdu on last year's anniversary of the crackdown, three weeks
after the deadly earthquake.
    Supported and relayed by artist and designer Ai Weiwei, Tan's blog
entries also tried to establish the number of children who were killed in the
earthquake, especially in schools that collapsed while nearby government
buildings survived intact, fuelling civil society allegations about "tofu"
(poor-quality) materials and methods used in the construction of the schools
    Tan said the attempt to establish the facts about "tofu" building methods
posed a threat to local officials as it could expose corruption. The results
of the investigation were to have been released on the first anniversary of
the quake on Ai Weiwei's blog, which was finally blocked (see the blocked
page: http://profile.blog.sina.com.cn/u/1195348141). It was only a year after
the quake that the government published its estimate that 5,335 children were
killed.
    Armed police prevented Ai Weiwei and ten other people from going to the
courthouse yesterday morning. They were forced to stay in their hotel until
one hour after the hearing was over. Tan's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said it was
because the police did not want to let anyone testify in his client's defence.
    Like Tan, Ai Weiwei has been a critic of the ruling Communist Party of
China since well before the May 2008 earthquake. At the start of the 2000s, he
was a consultant in the design of the Bird's Nest stadium for the Beijing
Olympics but he ended up breaking with the project, saying that it projected a
"pretend smile" and that only the powerful would benefit.
    The police not only prevented the would-be witnesses from attending the
trial but also prevented the two journalists from privately-owned NOW TV from
doing they work. They had come to cover the trial and were interviewing Ai
Weiwei in the hotel when the police burst in.
    "They did not show their police identity cards or search warrant," Wong
Ka-yu, one of the journalists said. "They simply said they could search my
room on suspicion that there was an illegal substance."
    NOW TV issued a statement condemning the "rude obstruction" of its
journalists' work and announcing that it had filed a complaint with China's
Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office requesting an official explanation.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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