The US House of Representatives on Saturday threw its support behind two Chinese activists put on trial after investigating whether shoddy construction led to children’s deaths in last year’s Sichuan earthquake.
In a nearly unanimous vote, the House approved a resolution saying it “expresses its support” for activists Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren and calling on China to guarantee their rights to free speech and fair trials.
Huang and Tan went on separate trials in August on respective charges of possessing state secrets and subversion, although human rights groups believe they were targeted due to their activism after the Sichuan earthquake.
Huang, the founder of a human rights website, posted parents’ demands for an investigation and spent nearly 14 months in detention before going on trial. Tan, a writer, led calls for an independent probe into school construction.
The resolution H.RES.877 is sponsored by Congressman Wu, David [OR-1] and cosponsored by 176 bipartisan members of Congress, including nine House committee chairmen. Title: Expressing support for Chinese human rights activists Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren for engaging in peaceful expression as they seek answers and justice for the parents whose children were killed in the Sichuan earthquake of May 12, 2008. One can find the full text of the resolution on the Library of Congress’s Thomas website.
Here is the full text of Congressman Wu’s statement on the House floor follows:
“Mr. Speaker, it is a tragedy when any child is killed. It is an abomination when the act of asking questions about one’s child’s death leads to harassment or persecution by one’s own government.
“We all remember when a major earthquake struck Sichuan province, China, on May 12, 2008. It was the most devastating natural disaster to hit China in more than three decades.
“That day, I was the first personally to present condolences to the Chinese people for their loss.
“Particularly heartbreaking were the stories of the children who were killed as their school buildings collapsed around them, and the images of parents overwhelmed with grief. In the aftermath of the earthquake, these parents started questioning why school buildings collapsed at a much higher rate than other types of buildings. They allege that poor construction and corruption among local officials and builders contributed to the school building collapses.
“These allegations have been stonewalled, or worse, resulted in the harassment of the complainants. Chinese courts have refused to hear lawsuits brought by the parents. Local officials have even kept some complaining parents in arbitrary detention.
“As a parent myself, I find it a tragic failure of justice to have these grievances go unaddressed—especially if a society chooses to enforce a one child policy.
“Two human rights activists from Sichuan’s capital city of Chengdu attempted to stand up for these grieving parents and give voice to their concerns.
“Soon after the earthquake struck, Mr. Huang Qi posted articles on his website, the Tianwang Human Rights Center, about the parents’ demands for an investigation into the school building collapses.
“Separately, in February of this year, Mr. Tan Zuoren issued a proposal on the Internet calling for volunteers to travel to Sichuan to compile lists of students killed in the quake, to document the parents’ treatment, and to conduct an investigation of the quality of school building construction. Mr. Tan’s report criticized officials for failing to follow through on commitments to fully investigate the role that inferior construction played in the school building collapses and for failure to deal with the parents’ demands.
“For these actions, the local Chengdu municipal government charged both Mr. Huang and Mr. Tan with endangering national security. Mr. Huang was charged with illegally possessing state secrets and Mr. Tan was charged with inciting subversion of state power.
“After months of being held in prison—Mr. Huang for over a year—both of these men were put on trial in August of this year. There are allegations that both trials were fraught with numerous substantive and procedural violations.
“In the case of Mr. Tan, the parents of the earthquake victims said they were detained to prevent them from attending his trial. The court reportedly rejected requests from Mr. Tan’s lawyers to call three witnesses, including the noted architectural designer Ai Weiwei, who helped design the Beijing Olympics’ Bird’s Nest Stadium and who was also investigating student deaths in the Sichuan earthquake. According to Mr. Ai, police came to his hotel and used force to prevent him and 10 others from leaving the premises until after the trial ended.
“Mr. Huang’s trial was allegedly fraught with similar violations, including the detention of a volunteer from the Tianwang Human Rights Center to prevent him from testifying on Mr. Huang’s behalf.
“To date, judgments have not issued in either Mr. Huang’s or Mr. Tan’s trial. The trials have been suspended or held open. Both men continue to be held in prison.
“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to urge my colleagues to pass House Resolution 877 to express their support for Mr. Huang and Mr. Tan’s peaceful request for answers and justice on behalf of the parents whose children were killed in the Sichuan earthquake.
“This bipartisan resolution, with 176 cosponsors, calls on the Chinese government to adhere to its own constitutional guarantees, its own criminal procedure laws, and its own recently issued National Human Rights Action Plan to ensure that Mr. Huang, Mr. Tan, and all Chinese citizens are accorded the right to free speech and the right to criticize and make suggestions to the government, as guaranteed by their own constitution.
“Mr. Speaker, no one who suffers the loss of a child deserves abandonment by or punishment from his or her own government.
“Let us pass this resolution today for the thousands of parents in Sichuan who remain without answers about the death of their son or daughter, and for the two men who have courageously spoken out on their behalf.”