HUANG QI, one of China’s most prominent human rights activists who has already spent nearly half of the past two decades in prison and state detention, was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison. His supposed crime was leaking state secrets, but in actuality his only offense was speaking out against government wrongdoing. The harsh punishment — which could amount to a death sentence, given his frail health — is the latest sign of the extreme lengths that President Xi Jinping’s Communist Party will go to silence political dissent.
In 1998, the veteran “cyber-dissident” set up 64 Tianwang, a website initially designed to investigate and report on Chinese citizens who had disappeared. Named for the violent June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, Mr. Huang’s website continues to use a nationwide network of volunteers to document the increasingly dire human rights situation in China, albeit it is blocked on the mainland. His tireless efforts landed him five years in prison in 2000 for “state subversion” and three years in 2009 for investigating the deadly collapse of poorly constructed schools during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
In addition to the prison sentence, Mr. Huang was deprived of political rights for four years and fined 20,000 yuan, approximately $3,000. After three years of pretrial detention, Mr. Huang’s medical condition continues to deteriorate, with reports of kidney and heart diseases, possible emphysema and inflammation in the lungs. He has, so far, been denied proper medical treatment.
The government’s harassment and abuse of Mr. Huang extend beyond him. His mother, Pu Wenqing, was detained incommunicado for several weeks in 2018 after appealing for her son’s urgent medical release. The 86-year-old has been under guarded house arrest since February. Additionally, two of Mr. Huang’s lawyers were disbarred for representing him in court — further isolating the ailing man.
Unfortunately, Mr. Xi’s broad campaign to silence critical thought shows no sign of slowing down. Mr. Huang is just one of countless individuals who have been abused because of their dedication to human rights and refusal to buckle to the propaganda of the Chinese regime. Among those who have died in state custody or soon after their release: 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, Cao Shunli, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and, in July this year, Ji Sizun.
More than a dozen international human rights groups, including the United Nations, have pushed for Mr. Huang’s immediate release. Instead of arbitrarily imprisoning Mr. Huang for baseless crimes for which he has suffered enough, China should heed the calls for clemency.