HUANG QI, who has spent two decades documenting human rights abuses and corruption in China, is now enduring his third term in prison for his efforts. The Chinese penal system has a record of denying proper medical care to prisoners until they die, including Nobel Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and others. Mr. Huang is now in ill health, and, according to activists and his mother, his life is in danger. China should free him for medical care now and not add his name to the rolls of dissidents left to expire in a jail cell.
In 1998, Mr. Huang began using a website to publish reports about Chinese individuals who had been trafficked and disappeared. His website, 64 Tianwang, named after the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, took on a host of sensitive topics, including local corruption cases, police brutality and human rights violations. In 2000, he was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of state subversion for publishing articles on his website critical of the government, and, in 2009, he was sentenced to three years in prison, accused of “illegally possessing state secrets” after he called attention to the shoddy construction that led to the collapse of school buildings, killing thousands of children during the massive 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
His most recent arrest came on Nov. 28, 2016, this time on charges of illegally providing information to foreigners and possessing secret documents. The evidence was thin and absurd: He posted something citing a document from a local government official indicating plans for a crackdown on his website, and the posting was on a server that is situated overseas to prevent government hacking. His 85-year-old mother, Pu Wenqing, who has campaigned tirelessly for his release, says the information was fabricated to frame him. Mr. Huang has been held in pretrial detention for nearly two years; a planned trial this summer was canceled. He told his mother that he has been beaten by inmates and prison officials, interrogated endlessly and threatened with a long prison term if he did not confess. According to the website China Change, he told them that instead of a confession, they would get his dead body.
His mother, a retired doctor, has warned repeatedly this year that his health is deteriorating. According to a Nov. 5 statement by 14 nongovernmental organizations concerned with free speech and human rights, Mr. Huang suffers from a chronic kidney disease; from hydrocephalus, or accumulation of fluid in the brain; heart disease; and other illnesses. A lawyer who saw him in October said Mr. Huang told him that Sichuan prison authorities intentionally understated the dire state of his condition.
Mr. Huang has shown resilience and determination, refusing to abandon his principles through three jail terms handed down for nothing but expressing himself openly in a police state. He should be freed immediately. His next sentence must not be death in a Sichuan prison.