Chinese state media reported yesterday that Hu Lianyou (胡连友), a resident of Hunan’s Dong’an County (东安县) with a long history of rights defense actions against alleged abuses by local officials, was sentenced to two years in jail by a Dong’an court on the charge of defaming the local police chief.
The allegations against Hu Lianyou by Dong’an police chief Zheng Hang (郑航) stemmed from comments Hu allegedly posted to Sina.com and other websites in September 2010. The comments were reportedly directed at Zheng Hang and another officer, Qin Liangbei, and detailed violent enforcement actions, corruption and other issues. Zheng Hang responded by filing a defamation case against Hu and another local resident, Wei Aiguo (魏爱国), in the local court.
Hu Lianyou reportedly applied for a change of venue, arguing that a fair verdict could not be rendered in the local court when the plaintiff was the local police chief. But Hu’s request was denied.
[ABOVE: Dong’an police chief Zheng Hang (郑航) alleges that he was defamed through Sina.com and other websites in 2010 by local petitioners accusing him of violent enforcement tactics.]
In today’s edition of The Beijing News, three separate Chinese legal experts raised a range of issues stemming from the Hu Lianyou case.
Zhang Shuyi (张树义), a professor at China University of Politics and Law, warned against the use of defamation as a “weapon” (武器) by public officials. Zhang suggested that public officials bringing defamation cases against individual citizens over matters of public affairs could constitute an abuse of power.
“If [an official] is dealing with a private matter as a private citizen, then a charge of ‘defamation’ may hold,” Zhang wrote. “But can’t acting in the capacity of a citizen over a public matter be seen as another form of ‘abuse of official power’?”
Zhang Qianfan (张千帆), a professor of law at Peking University, voiced concern that the guilty verdict in the Hu Lianyou case could have a “chilling effect” (冷缩效应) on other citizens trying to exercise their constitutional right to criticize the government.
According to Article 41 of China’s constitution, all citizens in China “have the right to criticize and make suggestions to any state organ or functionary.”
Citizens have the right to make to relevant state organs complaints and charges against, or exposures of, violation of the law or dereliction of duty by any state organ or functionary; but fabrication or distortion of facts with the intention of libel or frame-up is prohibited. In case of complaints, charges or exposures made by citizens, the state organ concerned must deal with them in a responsible manner after ascertaining the facts. No one may suppress such complaints, charges and exposures, or retaliate against the citizens making them. Citizens who have suffered losses through infringement of their civil rights by any state organ or functionary have the right to compensation in accordance with the law.
Yang Tao (杨涛), a Chinese prosecutor and frequent media commentator on legal issues, questioned too whether the decision by the Dong’an county court had been influenced by the local government’s past dealings with Hu Lianyou, who had a long history of petitioning over various rights issues and was therefore regarded as a “troublemaker” (头疼人物).