With­er­ing away in a Chi­nese jail

In Sichuan, an out­spo­ken hu­man rights de­fender is mal­treated and sick.

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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 prodemoc­racy 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.

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