A Chinese Communist supporter (L) hurls insults to protesters as they began a march in Hong Kong January 1, 1999 calling for more democracy in China. The rally was first of a series of activities planned by pro-democracy activists in the territory to mark the 10th anniversary of Beijing's Tiananmen Square massacre. The protestor at right is carrying a portrait of jailed Chinese dissident Qin Yongmin.

© 1999 Reuters

(New York) – The Chinese government should immediately and unconditionally release veteran democracy activist Qin Yongmin, Human Rights Watch said today. On July 10, 2018, a court in Wuhan sentenced Qin to 13 years in prison for “subversion of state power.” Qin, 64, has previously spent a total of 22 years in prison or in Re-education Through Labor.

“Qin Yongmin’s only ‘crime’ was to organize a human rights monitoring group to peacefully push for reform in China,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The unjust prosecution and appallingly harsh sentence demonstrate the Chinese government’s contempt for fundamental rights and the rule of law.”

In January 2015, Wuhan police detained Qin Yongmin along with his wife, Zhao Suli, from their home. The police held Zhao, who was never officially accused of a crime, in an unknown location for over three years, during which she was denied access to family and lawyers. After releasing her in April 2018, authorities continued to guard Zhao’s apartment closely and tightly restrict her movements. While initially also held in an unknown location, Qin was later transferred to a detention center in Wuhan. In June 2016, prosecutors indicted Qin on charges of subversion. However, Qin was denied access to a defense lawyer  until August 2017.

In 2014, Qin and other human rights activists founded the “Rose Group,” a human rights organization. Comprised mostly of people who have sought redress for abuses by local officials, the group operates the human rights news website Rose China. The organization also published a series of open letters to President Xi Jinping, urging him to hold political dialogues with Chinese citizens. In the indictment letter, the prosecutors’ office alleged that the articles Qin published, such as “On China’s peaceful transition to constitutional democracy,” and the online and offline political discussions and petitions he organized, constituted “activities intending to subvert state power.” In February 2018, police detained another key member of the group, Xu Qin, alleging her of “inciting subversion.”

Qin Yongmin is considered a veteran among democracy organizers in China. In 1980, he participated in the preparations to establish the China Democracy Party. As a result, he was arrested in 1981 and sentenced to eight years in prison for “counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement.” Qin was released in 1989, after serving the full sentence.  In 1993, in the run-up to the 45th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Qin helped draft and launch the Peace Charter, a manifesto calling for freedom and democracy in China.  In December that year, Wuhan authorities detained Qin for “disrupting social order” and sent him to two years in Re-education Through Labor, an administrative detention system that was abolished in 2013.

After being released in 1995, Qin continued his pro-democracy activism, including creating the China Human Rights Observer Bulletin, a newsletter on human rights issues in China, and publishing an open letter urging the Chinese government to initiate political reforms. In 1998, Qin and other democracy activists established the China Democracy Party Hubei branch. Later that year, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for subversion. He was released in December 2012.

“Having spent over two decades in prison, Qin Yongmin has already paid an astronomical price for exercising his basic rights to advocate peacefully for political reforms,” Richardson said. “The Chinese government should reverse the latest judgment and release him immediately.”