Recent Defamation Cases and Abuse of Local Power

In a number of recent cases, local officials have brought defamation or libel charges against citizens who criticized them. In discussing these cases on their blogs and in their writing, Chinese journalists and academics have brought up broader issues of freedom of information and local power. China Media Project translates a blog post by People’s University Professor Zhang Ming about the recent cases:

After reading about Henan’s Wang Shuai (王帅) case and Inner Mongolia’s Wu Baoquan (吴保全) case (both were accused of crimes after criticizing the government), my initial response was that these were classic cases of wenziyu (文字狱), [or being jailed for one’s words]. But when I thought more carefully about it, these cases are a bit different from ancient cases of wenziyu [in China]. Ancient cases of wenziyu were generally initiated on the behalf of rulers at the highest level [such as the emperor], and the goal was to strive for uniformity of thought and opinion. Clearly, those who pursued and persecuted Wang Shuai and Wu Baoquan did not have such lofty priorities. What they wanted, first and foremost, was to ensure that information did not leak out, and secondly, that the dignity of the [local] ruler was preserved . . . We have every indication that this first priority was the most pressing of all.

We must admit that some of our local officials have made progress, and if the people, having had a bit too much to drink, criticize those who govern them, most will be spared revenge so long as they don’t publicly shake a finger at a leader’s nose. And there are even those [leaders] who might hear [the insults] but pretend not to. But when [local officials] mobilize police strength to conduct a manhunt for Wang Shuai over vast distances, when they direct the courts to sentence Wang Baoquan, answering his subsequent legal appeal by upping the severity of his sentence, when they march to war, when they break a butterfly on the wheel — this, certainly, is about expending every possible effort in the shortest space of time to keep a lid on information. It is about silencing the crowd with a single act of violence, so that they think twice before following the example.

The Siweiluozi blog has been following these cases as well. Most recently, the blog posted a translation of a piece by writer Ran Yunfei titled “The Shameless, Hidden Facts of the Deng Yonggu Case,” about the case brought against a Sichuan forestry bureau worker who alleged misconduct in a reforestation project:

For making a signed accusation of corruption in the reforestation work being done in Gaosheng Township, Deng Yonggu has been falsely accused by the Pengxi County Procuratorate of defamation. Considering the principle under which there should be no crime if no one brings suit, for the public prosecutor to bring suit in this case is, from one perspective, a colossal joke. Even if one’s criticisms of the government turned out not to be factual, it should never constitute defamation—this is basic common sense. If the officials who were criticized feel that they were libeled, why shouldn’t they bring suit themselves and, at the same time, allow neutral investigators to examine whether what Deng Yonggu alleged is true? By not making the truth public and not discussing the truth of what Deng Yonggu alleged, prosecutors have taken it upon themselves to exonerate and illegally shield these few officials tagged as “scum.”

April 30, 2009 9:49 AM
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Categories: Law, Politics