The trial of award winning citizen journalist and environmental activist Liu Futang began in Hainan on Thursday. Liu is being tried on criminal charges of “illegal expression” and “running an illegal business” over self-published books he gave away.
Reporters Without Borders, which lobbies for greater journalistic freedom, has released a statement condemning Liu’s treatment:
This citizen journalist is facing the possibility of being unjustly imprisoned for providing a service to the public by investigating and exposing environmental threats. Environmental issues are at the heart of any discussion on development in China. Liu’s only crime is trying to tell as many people as possible about what he has learned from his research. His trial is an attempt to deter all citizen-journalists and get them to censor themselves.
Liu, 64, was detained in July at a Haikou hospital where he was undergoing treatment for high blood pressure and diabetes. In recent weeks Liu has been barred from receiving any visitors, even his lawyer.
The Tears of Hainan II, Liu’s most recent book, is believed to have particularly angered local authorities. The book focuses on a project to build a coal-fired power plant at Yinggehai which met with fierce opposition from Hainan residents.
The Global Times reports:
Zhou Ze, a Beijing lawyer who participated in the hearing, told the Global Times the facts showed that Liu did not register his books with a publisher but directly found a printing house and then distributed the books to others. Liu’s niece sold 14 books on taobao.com.
“Liu did not intend to make a profit from his books. It is not a business activity if he gives them away for free,” Zhou said, adding that people gave Liu donations as a form of sponsorship.
“Based on my experience, Liu Futang is innocent. His books are like personal documents and his freedom of speech should be protected,” Zhou said.
Liu’s books are registered with an ISBN number in Hong Kong and have a total combined print-run of 18,000 copies.