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HRIC’s Statement on the Conviction of Zheng Enchong

November 5, 2003

On October 28 the Shanghai Second Intermediate People’s Court sentenced lawyer Zheng Enchong to three years in prison on charges of “illegally providing state secrets to entities outside of China.” The news media have reported that the judgment mentioned Human Rights in China (HRIC). HRIC has now obtained a copy of the court judgment against Zheng Enchong (Link to Translated Court Judgement), which refers to HRIC 12 times and makes clear that the “state secrets” Zheng Enchong leaked were communications he sent to HRIC. Under the circumstances, HRIC feels compelled to issue the following statement:

  1. HRIC received a message from Zheng Enchong concerning the Shanghai Yimin No. 1 factory (the message is attached in its entirety to this statement). This message refers to the dissatisfaction of workers over the dismissal of three-quarters of the employees, as a result of which more than 500 workers poured out of the factory to petition the municipal government and disrupted traffic at the corner of Siping Road and Guanzhong Road for three hours before being dispersed by more than 500 Shanghai police officers. The court determined that this information constitutes a state secret, and it is the basis on which Zheng Enchong was convicted. In addition, the judgment states that Zheng Enchong sent to HRIC an internal circulation document entitled “Reporters covering conflict sparked by forced removal come under attack.” HRIC never received this article, and the judgment acknowledges that this document never reached HRIC. Nevertheless, this is the second offense on which Zheng Enchong’s conviction was based.
  2. HRIC believes that this case raised two important issues:

    First of all, China’s State Secrets Law includes a catch-all provision under which state secrets are determined by the State Secrets Bureau, sometimes after the fact. Under these circumstances, people might easily circulate information that they reasonably believe to be in the public domain, only to be accused of leaking state secrets when exposure of that information proves problematic to the authorities.

    Secondly, this judgment highlights once again the Chinese government’s efforts to suppress the right to information and freedom of the press under the guise of protecting state secrets. In this particular case, both “secrets” referred to incidents that occurred in public, and of which countless ordinary citizens were already fully aware. As a lawyer who specialized in helping people who had suffered personal injury or loss of property as a result of forced removal in urban redevelopment projects, Zheng Enchong took upon himself the responsibility of raising awareness inside and outside of China of the serious problems connected with these redevelopment projects and other instances of social injustice. The authorities’ persecution of Zheng Enchong for his courageous and conscientious actions sends a chilling message to other defenders of social justice, as well as giving a green light to those officials and business interests who conspire with impunity against the welfare of displaced residents and other underprivileged people.

  3. While in Geneva attending the International Symposium on Information Society and Human Dignity convened by the People’s Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE), HRIC’s executive director, Sharon Hom, raised this case and presenting these issues at the expert meeting and to UN officials, including the new Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers. HRIC plans to make a formal submission to relevant UN bodies and concerned governments regarding this case and the serious issues it raises regarding development of the legal system in China.
  4. Links to English translations of the following documents: 1) the message that Zheng Enchong sent to HRIC; 2) the Shanghai Second Intermediate Court’s judgment against Zheng Enchong; 3) the defense statement submitted by Zheng Enchong’s legal counsel, Zhang Sizhi. The Chinese versions of these documents are linked to the Chinese statement.