A former secondary school teacher, who was jailed for helping farmers in Shaanxi province fight illegal fees imposed on them by the local government, has filed a petition with the provincial high court to clear his name. Ma Wenlin submitted his application last month to Shaanxi Provincial Higher People's Court, asking for an exoneration of his 1999 conviction of 'disturbing social order'. He returned to the court last Tuesday hoping for a reply but the court was apparently closed for the 'golden week' holiday. In a telephone interview from his home in Yanan City yesterday, Ma said: 'I'm not a criminal and did nothing wrong except uphold the laws of this country. I am seeking justice.' The 63-year-old former teacher was jailed four years ago when he petitioned the State Council in Beijing against what he called illegal taxes and fees imposed on farmers by the Zizhou county government. A self-educated lawyer, Ma represented the farmers in Zizhou in an attempt to sue the government. He was released from Shaanxi's Shenmu prison in May after a series of petitions organised by the farmers he represented. Although he was freed, he was expelled from the Communist Party in June as well as losing his 1,500-yuan-a-month (HK$1,400) teaching job at Yanan City Number Three Secondary School. With no job and mounting debts from the legal action, he said his family was in dire financial straits and mostly dependant on his wife's retirement pension of only a few hundred yuan a month. Ma said that if his conviction was overturned, he hoped he could get his party membership and teaching job back but admitted that his chances were slim. He maintained that his conviction was wrong because he had not broken the law in helping the farmers in Zizhou. According to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Ma was sentenced in 1999 by Zizhou County People's Court for organising 'an illegal assembly and inciting farmers to oppose the government'. The charges referred to a meeting in November 1997, when Ma broadcast a tape-recording documenting a 1996 State Council's circular which mandated that local governments reduce levies on farmers. In his defence, Ma said he was informing the farmers of their rights and the government's policies and he was just exercising his right as a citizen. 'We all have the responsibility to publicise the central government's policies,' he said. 'This is not a crime.' When asked how he felt about his current situation, Ma replied: 'I'm just so furious about the corruption of the government and the justice system ... This is what our country has become.'