Activist's release put back 8 years

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 July, 2011, 12:00am


The wife of jailed whistle-blower journalist Qi Chonghuai ran from a courthouse wailing at the sentencing of her husband to eight more years in prison, just as he completed a four-year term behind bars.

As the tears subsided, Jiao Xia texted her husband's lawyers: 'Thanks for your help; I will return it in my next life. Wishing all is well with good people.'

The day was June 26. Jiao and her two children had been expecting to welcome Qi home on June 25.

She said: 'I felt my world collapse when a reporter who walked out of the court told me that they'd extended his sentence by another eight years.'

Jiao, 40, later made her way to the Tengzhou government building in Shandong province that she believes was the cause of her family's ordeal in the first place. Her intention was to jump to her death from the roof.

'My heart was trembling when I saw the building,' she said.

But she was refused entry to the government compound. This failed to stop her suicide attempt, however, and she made her way to a river and jumped off a bridge. A security guard saved her life.

'I thought I would never see my husband again and I was feeling so frustrated and resentful,' she said. 'I just wanted to prove his innocence with my own death. I had to accept my destiny.'

She learned in April that Qi, 46, would be charged with 'extortion and blackmail' a second time. He denied the charge, but Tengzhou People's Court found him guilty and sentenced him to a further eight years of imprisonment.

Jiao was thrown out of the Tengzhou courtroom after she said she had evidence to prove her husband was innocent.

The latest court case found Qi guilty of blackmailing three companies and stealing advertising revenue from a former employer in 2007 - four outstanding charges recycled from his first trial in 2008.

'In 2008, the court didn't convict him of those charges, which meant the prosecutor had lost the power to prosecute him on the same charges,' said Wang Quanzhang, one of Qi's two lawyers.

'The recent prosecution suggests the 2008 verdict has been totally ignored.'

Jiao said: 'It's too vicious. He hasn't committed new crimes in prison. Why are they bringing up the charges again?

'They are clearly taking revenge on him by not letting him out.'

Qi worked as a reporter at the China Work Safety News from 2003 to 2005, and was with the distribution section of the Legal Morning Post from 2006. He also wrote for the Shandong Weekly, People's Public Security News, Journalist Observer and Nanfengchuang Magazine.

He reported on cases of corruption and social injustice, including unemployment, labour violations and illegal demolitions.

In June 2007, Qi was arrested at his home in Jinan, capital of Shandong, after he and his friend, photographer Ma Shiping, were accused of posting on a Xinhuanet web forum photographs of a luxury government building in Tengzhou. The pictures had been intended to expose government corruption.

Qi was formally charged on August 20 with extortion and blackmail. His victims, according to prosecutors, were the factories and government agencies that had been the subjects of his corruption exposes. His wife and lawyer accept money did change hands.

'Qi was forced to accept hush money by either factories or local propaganda departments,' Wang said. 'But he didn't blackmail them.'

Wang added that Qi did not receive a regular wage. 'The money he gained through selling advertising space was his commission as he was not paid a monthly salary,' he said.

Jiao said she believed the photos were the real reason behind Qi's imprisonment, but was not sure if it was her husband or Ma who had posted the images. Ma was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for fraud. The Legal Daily quoted him as saying after his release in 2009 that it was Qi who had posted the photos.

Jiao said: 'I'm not denying he had accepted some hush money, some of which was given through propaganda departments. It's a moral issue but he didn't break the law by blackmailing.'

Since her husband's jailing, Jiao has suffered breathing difficulties that forced her to quit her job as a cleaner at a Jinan hotel.

'I have no idea how long I can hang on there,' she said. 'My children have kept me alive.' Living on about 1,000 yuan a month, the three of them share a flat with two other families.

At night, the communal lounge becomes a bedroom for Jiao and one of the children. There is no room for her son, who has to sleep on the balcony, even in winter.

Qi's lawyers said the trial was a mere formality.

'I am confident the jail term would be reduced if the court would conduct a retrial,' Wang said.

His colleague, Liu Xiaoyuan, said Qi's ordeal had not received enough attention from the media and legal circles as there was an unwritten rule that mainland journalists collected hush money when handling 'negative' news stories.

'It's possible that Qi was charged the second time because he said he wouldn't give up exposing corruption cases and he had his story of his experience in prison smuggled out,' Liu said.

His allegations of torture and hard labour in prison-run coal mines with little food and water can be found on websites outside the mainland.

Qi was transferred to Zaozhuang prison in June 2009, where his workload has reportedly become lighter.

Jiao described her husband's dedication. 'He was very determined and stubborn,' she said. 'He had been working as a journalist for more than 10 years but we still couldn't afford a flat.

'We nearly never dined at restaurants. Since we married in 1995, what my husband has given me are my children.'

She spoke of how good the children are, adding they avoided talking about their father and had become quieter lately.

'I feel sorry for them. They have suffered too much in this family. I wish they had been born into a different family.'


The number of years Qi faces in jail

- He was first detained in 2007 and jailed for four years

- He has now been jailed for eight more years