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(New York) -- A Shanghai court’s conviction of a tenant rights advocate shows the arbitrary nature of the justice system in China, Human Rights Watch said today.

On December 18, a Shanghai appeals court upheld the three-year sentence of lawyer Zheng Enchong on charges of circulating state secrets. Zheng had sent information advocating the rights of evicted tenants to an international human rights group.

“Even the official People’s Daily criticizes judicial mistreatment of evicted tenants and calls for their rights to be protected,” said Sara Davis, researcher for China at Human Rights Watch. “Why is Mr. Zheng in jail for saying the same thing?”

Zheng Enchong was representing residents facing evictions as part of an urban redevelopment project in one Shanghai neighborhood. Police reportedly arrested 85 of the residents who attempted to petition Beijing. Zheng himself was arrested in June after faxing Chinese news reports about the cases and local labor protests to Human Rights in China. Zheng apparently became a target of local officials after filing a suit alleging corruption between developers and officials.

On October 28, Zheng was sentenced to three years in prison for “illegally providing state secrets to a foreign organization.” A Shanghai appeals court this week upheld the sentence. Human Rights Watch said Zheng should be released immediately.

Article 2 of China’s Protection of State Secrets Law (Baoshou guojia mimi fa) lists seven categories of state secrets, including matters having to do with national construction projects and military strength.

“The Shanghai developers are building condos, not airfields,” said Davis. “Local courts are using the state secrets law to protect local business interests. Beijing should intervene to stop this misuse of the law.”

As China continues its rapid development, forced evictions by developers are on the rise around the country. Tenant protestors often complain of low compensation for their homes, lack of due process, and lack of legal recourse. As protests have grown around the country, even state-run media have weighed in with editorials calling for legal reform, openness and for investigations into local corruption.

Official statistics show that 850,000 households and 2,500,000 residents were relocated in Shanghai during the past decade. Since 2000, at least 80,000 Shanghai households have been relocated every year for renovations to the old city district. A report by the Southern Daily newspaper also says that the majority of demolition companies in Shanghai are connected with government-owned businesses.

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