Human Rights in China (HRIC) has confirmed that in early August the Heilongjiang Provincial Higher People’s Court upheld the “inciting subversion of state power” conviction of Yuan Xianchen (袁显臣), a “barefoot” lawyer and rights activist from Jixi, Heilongjiang Province, and that Yuan has been transferred to a prison to serve his sentence. The ruling was issued nearly a year and a half after Yuan filed his appeal in March 2009, when he was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment and five years’ deprivation of political rights.
Yuan’s defense lawyer, Li Fangping (李方平), said that the ruling was worse than he had feared, and that Yuan’s case is yet another example of conviction for a “thought crime.” Li also stated that the serious delay in issuing the appeal ruling is in direct violation of China’s Criminal Procedure Law.
Yuan was formally arrested on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” in June 2008, four months after he began helping thousands of laid-off workers from the Didao Coal Mine, part of the Heilongjiang Jixi Coal Mine Group (鸡西矿业集团), to prepare a lawsuit to seek fair compensation. In March 2009, the Jixi Municipal Intermediate People’s Court convicted Yuan. Among the evidence cited in the verdict was an article he wrote calling for democracy, which he disseminated in Beijing; over twenty other controversial articles or documents he authored, including one about the Didao Coal Mine workers; and three interviews he did with Epoch Times (大纪元), in which he urged the government to end the Communist dictatorship. The verdict convicted him of disseminating these materials on the Internet in order to incite subversion of state power; however, Yuan’s wife said that he never put them online. In his defense statement on behalf of Yuan at trial, Li argued that Yuan’s articles and interviews represented expressions of Yuan’s thoughts and opinions, which do not constitute criminal activities, as the right to free expression is protected under both the Chinese Constitution and international human rights conventions.
A former auditor, Yuan began working as a legal advisor after he received his license from the Ministry of Justice in 1995 to provide legal services to local communities. In 1998, Yuan and his wife founded the Dongxing Legal Services Center (东兴法律服务所) in Jixi’s Didao District. He has represented a large number of cases of the disadvantaged, including victims of forced eviction from their homes, farmers who lost their land, laid-off miners, and migrant workers.
In 2007, he helped gather signatures from miners and landless peasants for a campaign called “We Want Human Rights, Not the Olympics,” which was initiated by fellow Heilongjiang rights activist Yang Chunlin (杨春林). The campaign eventually garnered more than 10,000 signatures.
For more information Yuan Xianchen’s case (Chinese only), see: