The sentencing of renowned Chinese environmentalist Liu Futang to three years’ probation has triggered doubts about China’s environmental commitment.
The veteran environmentalist was found guilty by a local court in South China’s Hainan province for “illegal business activities” and fined £1,700 last week, with prosecutors claiming Liu had profited illegally from self-publishing books – despite the fact Liu gave away most of his books for free.
The trial against Liu is seen as political retaliation for Liu’s books exposing environmental degradation caused by government-backed projects.
The verdict comes just weeks after the 18th Party Congress’s high profile advocacy of building a “Ecological Civilisation”, leaving many environmental activists worrying about China’s commitment to environmental progress.
Feng Yongfeng, founder of the Beijing-based NGO Green Beagle, regretted that the judicial authorities in Hainan still misjudged local green activists’ intentions.
“The judicial authorities in Hainan still badly underestimate local green activists’ role,” Feng said, “they have treated the people who care most about the local environment as the people who most hate local development. They have tried in every way to frame them.”
While Liu was on trial, the construction of the government-backed power plant project which Liu had previously spoken against resumed. The project near Yinggehai town sparked a month-long conflict between local residents and the government in March.
However, not all local green activists have lost confidence after Liu’s conviction.
Feng Yongfeng said Liu’s case had raised public concern about Hainan’s environmental issues, encouraging local green activists to continue to expose future environmental destruction.
“The government may not necessarily have learnt the lesson, but the public certainly have,” Feng added.
Liu Jianqiang, chinadialogue’s Beijing editor and environmentalist, still believes China’s leadership can bring progress.
“What the local officials do, such as convicting Liu Futang, does not necessarily mean that the party hierarchy’s advocacy of ‘Ecological Civilisation’ is empty talk.
“The party hierarchy has the determination to build an ecological civilisation, but they have just come into power and they need time to carry out their ideas,” he said.