“If I Have Some Accident, Bury Me Under a Tree”

In a translation posted at chinadialogue, Southern People Weekly’s Hai Pengfei reflects on last month’s trial of environmentalist Liu Futang for illegal publishing. Liu, a former official, had written and distributed several books documenting local environmental abuses, but gave most copies away and insists that he never regarded this as a business venture.

“That’s why I feel so unfairly treated. If I had wanted to make money I would never have published the books,” sobbed Liu, shaking as he clung to the metal bench. For over 10 years, Liu said, he had bought, printed and sent out books to promote and research environmental protection – and spent 200,000 yuan (US$32,000) of his own money. “They say I made over 70,000 yuan in profit, but that’s nowhere near what I spent. I made up the rest from my own salary. If I wanted to make a profit, I would never have done anything so daft.”

[…] Gesturing and smiling, the prosecutor retorted that “there is no requirement for an operation to be run for profit for it to be an illegal business – not all businesses are run for profit.”

[…] Liu broke down again at the end of the hearing, as he complained of the injustice of being imprisoned with robbers, murderers and fraudsters. “And the so-called crime was mine, I’m very sorry that others have been dragged in.” With that he stood and bowed deeply to his three co-defendants, managers and employees of the printers.

[…] Before he was arrested, Liu wrote on his microblog: “If one day the authorities speak to me, please don’t worry, as I have only spoken the truth. If one day I am detained, please don’t protest, as I have not broken the law. If one day I have some accident, please don’t be sad, just bury me under a tree and let me fertilise the seeds of truth.”

Supporters believe that Liu has fallen victim to a political prosecution and overly broad law. From Caixin:

A wide interpretation of illegal businesses has resulted in the prosecution of other well-known activists in the recent past. Prior to Liu’s indictment, the author Xie Chaoping had been charged for illegal business activities upon publishing his own book The Great Relocation. Under scrutiny from the media, officials of Weinan, Shaanxi Province, dropped the charges after public ridicule.

“Even while the memory of Xie Chaoping’s case remains fresh in our minds, here comes charges against Liu Futang,” said Zhan Jiang, media professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University. More than this, the extent of activities falling under “illegal business” in the Chinese Criminal Law is far too broad, said Zhan.

While the Haikou prosecutor’s office is calling this a case purely related to economic crimes, many believe that Liu’s persistent environmental campaigning may have led to his prosecution.

[…] “The government first dug through his past, primarily scouring the projects he had approved before retiring to see if he had left loopholes, but they couldn’t find anything incriminating,” a friend of Liu’s said.

South China Morning Post reported last month that environmental activists have rallied around Liu. 26 NGOs and 96 individuals signed a statement which read, in part: “How the court handles this case serves as a test for the wisdom and conscience of Hainan, and will also decide the public’s willingness to be involved in environmental protection in the future”.