As China celebrates its “first” Nobel Prize for Literature, former official Liu Futang was tried in Hainan this week for illegally publishing books on local environmental conflicts. Liu gave away many more copies than he sold, but now faces years in prison for wrongfully obtaining 78,000 RMB ($12,450).
His trial opened in Longhua, Haikou city, on Thursday morning. He is accused of “conducting illegal business”, and supporters say he could face five years or more in jail. They believe that his last book, The Tears of Hainan II, particularly angered authorities. It highlighted a project to build a coal-fired power plant at Yinggehai, which met fierce opposition from residents.
[…] Liu won the citizen journalist prize in the China environmental press awards this spring after he revealed that developers of a yacht marina had destroyed one of the world’s last groves of water coconut trees. He told the Guardian at the time: “The degradation is terrible … The local media hasn’t written a single word, but I’ve posted 40 articles that have been followed up by newspapers and TV from across the country.”
Liu’s activist career has followed an arc similar to that of “barefoot lawyer” Chen Guangcheng, initially attracting praise from official media before apparently falling foul of local interests. From Li Jing at the South China Morning Post:
Wu Zhu, a grass-roots environmentalist who tried to attend the trial but was prevented from doing so because of “limited space”, said: “Obviously such moves have offended both the company and the government. The charges against Liu are revenge for his outspokenness.”
Wu said the trial of Liu, once hailed as an “eco-guard” by state media including the People’s Daily and Xinhua, showed the limits of local government tolerance when their interests were undermined.
“They may tolerate you for a while if you yell against pollution, but you will be removed immediately once you become a stumbling block to their pursuit of vested interests,” Wu said.