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China: Pro-Democracy Activist Sentenced to Ten Years’ Imprisonment on Eve of Obama Visit

(Oct. 26, 2009) Guo Quan, a democracy activist who is a former member of the China Democratic League (one of the eight state-sanctioned “democratic” political parties), founder of the non-state sanctioned “New Democracy Party of China,” and a former Nanjing Normal University assistant professor of literature, was sentenced on October 16, 2009, to a ten-year prison term and three-year period of deprivation of political rights. (Democracy Activist Gets Ten Years for “Subversion of State Power,”Human Rights in China (HRIC) website, Oct. 16, 2009, available at

Guo was charged with establishing an illegal organization, recruiting members, and publishing articles on the Internet in the name of helping groups with little power but with the purpose of overthrowing the socialist system of government. Guo was convicted of the crime of “subversion of state power” under China's Criminal Code. (Articles 105 ¶ 1, 55 ¶ 1, 56 ¶ 1, & 64, Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China (PRC), adopted July 1, 1979, extensively revised Mar. 14, 1997, as last amended Feb. 28, 2009 [in Chinese], Lawinfochina online subscription database, & Criminal Law of the PRC [in English translation], Lawinfochina online subscription database, (both last visited Oct. 23, 2009); Jiangsu Province, Suqian Municipality, Intermediate People's Court Criminal Judgment [hereinafter Guo Quan Decision] [in Chinese], HRIC website, (last visited Oct. 23, 2009).)

Guo was detained in November 2008 by the Nanjing Public Security Bureau; the case against him was accepted for trial on June 10, 2009, by the Suqian Intermediate People's Court; and the trial opened on August 7, 2009. The advocacy group Human Rights in China has pointed out that issuance of the verdict more than four months after acceptance of the case violated China's own Criminal Procedure Law, which stipulates in article 168 that the courts have one and a half months (extendable by one additional month under certain circumstances) to conclude a case. (HRIC, supra; Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC, promulgated Mar. 17, 1996, in effect Jan. 1, 1997 [in English], Lawinfochina online subscription database,
(last visited Oct. 23, 2009).)

In 2007 and 2008, Guo had published numerous articles pointing out China's social problems, such as expropriation of peasants' land and the laying-off of workers; some of the publications were open letters to President Hu Jintao and National People's Congress Standing Committee Chairman Wu Bangguo. Aside from founding a political party, Guo had called for “a multi-party, competitively-elected democratic system and nationalization of the military.” He was fired from his university position in late 2007 and expelled from China Democratic League. (HRIC, supra.) Before turning to academia, Guo himself had been a judge in the criminal division of Nanjing Intermediate People's Court, having received a Master of Laws degree in 1996 from Nanjing University. (HRIC, supra.)

Guo's lawyer called the sentence “indefensible from a legal perspective, because using peaceful and rational means to petition cannot be considered 'subversion of state power.'” He added that Guo's activities “were in complete compliance with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. 'Subversion of state power' can only be achieved by armed insurrection.” (HRIC, supra.)

According to the ruling, Guo had ten days, beginning from the second day after receipt of the judgment, to file an appeal with the High People's Court of Jiangsu Province. (Guo Quan Decision, supra.)