Peasant leader given two years in labour camp
Re-education for activist who fought to recover seized farmland
A peasant leader who led a bold campaign to recover and privatise seized farmland in Heilongjiang province was sentenced to two years in a labour camp yesterday - ironically not for his campaign but for talking to foreign journalists.
Yu Changwu, 52, was sentenced to two years' re-education through labour on charges of endangering state security, said family members, who did not want to be named. Yu was convicted of endangering state security because he talked to foreign journalists, family members said, who were told by local officials as the verdict was read at a detention centre in Jiamusi .
Mainland police can sentence a person to re-education through labour for up to three years without a public trial.
The family members said they could not afford to hire a lawyer for Yu, who had been detained for about a month.
Yu and other farmer leaders from Dongnangang village in Fujin called a village meeting on November 28 and declared that 966 hectares of land which was seized by the local government 13 years before belonged to 900 villagers.
Another farmer leader, Wang Guilin, who had been on the run since Yu's arrest, was also detained after he returned to Fujin last week, sources said.
Legal experts cast doubts on Yu's sentence. Fu Hualing, a mainland criminal law specialist at the University of Hong Kong, said sentencing Yu to a labour camp meant his offence was not serious, otherwise he would have been charged with breaking criminal laws and put in jail.
'But how can endangering state security be a minor offence? It is ridiculous,' Professor Fu said.
According to the new regulations for overseas journalists during the Olympics period, effective from January 1 last year to October this year, foreign journalists are free to conduct interviews as long as they have the permission of interviewees.
But mainland lawyer Zhang Xingshui said that would not protect mainlanders from getting into trouble if they spoke to reporters.
'Those are two different concepts. The rights of reporting by journalists are guaranteed. But if an interviewee said anything that breaks the laws, they can still be charged,' he said.
Mr Zhang said the sentence would only aggravate tension between farmers and local authorities.
'The local government should understand the feeling of landless farmers and handle the issue more gently to resolve the tension.'
The sentence was obviously a warning to farmers not to speak to foreign media and it would affect freedom of expression.
'They cannot find ways to charge him with breaking criminal laws, so they just find an excuse and sentence him to labour through re-education,' Professor Fu said.