Well-known Chinese environmentalist Liu Futang has been convicted of carrying out “illegal business activities”, given a three-year suspended prison sentence and fined 17,000 yuan.
Liu Futang, named best citizen journalist in chinadialogue’s 2012 China Environmental Press Awards, has worked tirelessly to protect the ecology of Hainan island in south China. He has written numerous articles and reports exposing and criticising environmental destruction, made proposals to the People’s Political Consultative Conference, and published many blogs.
He also printed collections of his writing in book form, at his own expense, and presented these to the forestry authorities, environmental groups and those concerned about the environment. Some of those who received the book gave Liu some money to offset his expenses.
Zhou Ze, Liu’s lawyer, said that in March 2012 Liu reported in detail via his Sina microblog on protests by residents at Yinggehai on Hainan against the building of a coal-fired power station. The demonstrations lasted for more than a month and involved large-scale clashes with police. Liu, who is opposed to the building of coal-fired power stations on the island, had linked his Sina username, HainanLiufutang, with his real identity. As a result of his posts, he was given a warning by government leaders, and his microblog was later closed.
To bring the Yinggehai incident to greater attention, in May Liu compiled a collection of his articles and microblog posts, along with comments from other internet users, calling it Hainan Tears 2. He had this printed at his own expense and gave many copies away.
On July 20, 2012, Liu was detained by Haikou Public Security Bureau on suspicion of illegal business activities. On August 13, after approval by the Haikou prosecutors, he was remanded in custody to await trial. On September 12, the Haikou prosecutors passed the case down to the Longhua district prosecutors. On September 19, the district prosecutors brought their case against Liu, as well as Zhao Chaoqun and others involved in printing the books, in the Longhua district court.
Liu’s lawyer stressed that the crime of illegal business activities is one of severely damaging market and social order with the intention of making a profit. Liu paid to have the books printed to popularise protection of the environment – not to make money. And there was no damage, much less “severe” damage, to social or market order.
Although Liu’s case was heard in the run-up to the 18th Party Congress, when public debate was constrained, there was still widespread media attention, as well as high levels of concern from society as a whole. A statement from his lawyer calling for a fair hearing and the protection of the freedom of speech gathered signatures online. Hundreds contacted Zhou directly to confirm their support. Hundreds more added their support to a campaign by environmentalists to have Liu named “Hainan’s Environmental Ambassador”.
Zhou says that Liu is by no means a criminal, and that the guilty verdict is unacceptable.
After the verdict was announced, Liu was set free and reunited with his family. Zhou, writing on his own blog, commented on the reasons behind the verdict:
In the preface to his book Speaking the Truth, Liu writes that “when again and again I rise and speak in anger, the public are pleased. They tell me I say what they want – but do not dare – to say. When again and again I expose problems, the ‘leaders’ are angry, saying I have blackened their names and damaged their records.”