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Zhang Shanguang


Zhang Shanguang
Suffering abuse in prison for seeking to help laid off workers



Zhang Shanguang is one of China’s most outspoken defenders of the rights of workers. On December 27, 1998, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence to hostile organizations overseas” and “incitement to overthrow the government,” charges stemming from his labor activism and contacts with foreign journalists and human rights organizations. Seeing through the political motivations of his sentence, Zhang immediately appealed, as he is allowed to do by law. However, while the law stipulates that the appeal must be heard within 45 days, Zhang was forced to wait nearly a year and a half until officials suddenly announced that the court was upholding the original verdict (translated below). While judging the appeal, the court did not conduct any investigation nor ask Zhang a single question about his case.

Now in prison, Zhang is frequently put in handcuffs and leg shackles and forced to do hard labor for up to 16 hours a day. He suffers from lingering tuberculosis, which makes him spit up blood, and has regular dizzy spells. He has lost a huge amount of weight and is often physically too weak to work. Despite this, prison authorities refuse him medical treatment and continue to give him the prison’s heaviest labor assignments. When he refuses, he is beaten.

A 46-year-old former teacher and native of Xupu County, Hunan Province, Zhang organized the Hunan Autonomous Workers’ Federation during the 1989 protests and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison with three years’ deprivation of political rights. While in prison, he contracted tuberculosis. Upon his release in 1996 he had a hard time finding work and eventually opened his own business. Despite suffering financial difficulties and ill health, he continued his activism by meeting with like-minded friends, contacting hundreds of laid-off workers and raising funds. He attempted to set up an anti-corruption group, but was prevented from doing so by various obstacles. When China Democracy Party members Wang Donghai, Wang Youcai and others were arrested, Zhang joined together with hundreds of dissidents around the country in petitioning for their release.

In the spring of 1998, Zhang initiated the process of official registration for a group he had founded, the Association to Protect the Rights and Interests of Laid-Off Workers, and worked to gather supporters. By July 1998 the association had more than 300 members from all spheres of society, including workers, peasants, intellectuals and cadres. Some local officials were initially supportive of the organization.

But then, on July 21, 1998, officials detained Zhang, searched his home and confiscated documents and correspondence related to the association. His wife, Hou Xuezhu, was questioned and threatened, and officials suggested that she divorce Zhang. Zhang’s many supporters rose to his defense, writing numerous appeals and staging hunger strikes demanding his release. One appeal stated that, “The work of Zhang Shanguang will surely encourage the people of Hunan and the whole country to wage an even wider-scale struggle to win democracy and freedom.”

Zhang was formally arrested on August 28, 1998. In the verdict of his trial, the judges stated that his conviction was related to an interview he gave to a reporter from Radio Free Asia, in which he provided information about a protest and a kidnapping case in Xupu County. The court stated that this interview violated the terms of his probation, which had not yet concluded. The verdict also claimed that he provided the interviewer with “intelligence” because the case Zhang described had not yet been made public by public security officials, even though it was common knowledge among citizens in the area. Zhang was also accused of illegally accepting contributions from Human Rights in China’s (HRIC) humanitarian assistance fund, and the $2,000 sent to him for urgent medical care was confiscated and turned over to national authorities.

From July 1998 until May 2000, Zhang was held at the Xupu County Detention Center, during which time he was not allowed to see his family once, nor accept clothes they sent to him. Prison officials claimed that while his appeal was being processed, he was not permitted any visitors, even though the courts had already far exceeded the legal time limit for the appeals process. In the detention center, he was put in solitary confinement and beaten so severely that his chest was covered with bruises. Officials also threatened to detain Hou Xuezhu. After his appeal was rejected in May 2000, Hou immediately requested to visit her husband, but three days later he was transferred to Hunan Provincial Prison No. 1, which is 700 kilometers away and very difficult to reach. On June 15, she was finally able to see him there.

This is the prison where Zhang served his previous sentence. His tuberculosis has worsened and he has contracted Meni?e’s syndrome, an inner ear disturbance which causes dizziness, nausea and ringing in the ears, yet all his requests for medical treatment have been refused. Even though regulations stipulate that inmates should not work more than eight hours a day, he has been forced to do hard labor for up to twice that amount of time.

In an open letter protesting her husband’s arrest, Hou Xuezhu wrote, “There are no words to describe the injury inflicted on my husband’s body and spirit. Even more importantly, as this illegal detention continues unchecked, the spirit of our entire family is slowly being destroyed…. The NPC has written ‘ruling the country by law’ into the constitution and has clearly expressed to the people of the world that the law is sacred and should be respected absolutely; every individual, group, political party, or national body needs to strictly adhere to the standards of the law. What is heartbreaking is that in today’s China, the minority that holds power uses every possible means to turn regulations which legally protect citizens’ rights and interests into pieces of scrap paper. Meanwhile, regulations which benefit those in power are displayed everywhere like an imperial edict and taken as infallible law. This makes it very difficult for common citizens to receive effective legal protection, and leaves only two options: to obediently keep within the bounds of the [so-called] law or to suffer the authorities’ arbitrary punishments.”

Hou’s assessment is astute. Zhang’s conviction confirmed HRIC’s worst fears about the implications of the 1997 changes to the aspects of China’s Criminal Code relating to political offenses. Article 111, the key provision in the case against Zhang, defines the crime as: “Stealing, prying into, purchasing or illegally providing state secrets or intelligence for institutions, organizations and individuals outside the country.” While this generally mirrors the formulation of previous laws regarding secrets, the vague term “intelligence” (qingbao) was added, thus expanding the scope of materials covered beyond documents classified in accordance with the formal system the 1988 State Secrets Law established. The way the prosecution in the Zhang case used this term to characterize information that was common knowledge in the locality is extremely disturbing. It also confirms the concerns raised by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention following a 1997 mission to China that the articles in the criminal code regarding offenses of endangering state security could be used to prosecute people for exercising their basic rights.

In addition, the verdict fails to show why Zhang’s receipt of humanitarian assistance was illegal. The funds were transferred in a legitimate fashion, for a legitimate purpose, allowing Zhang to obtain much-needed medical treatment. It seems clear that both the prosecution of Zhang and the heavy sentence imposed on him had more to do with his activism and his contacts with groups like HRIC than with anything in the formal charges against him.

Compiled and translated by Sophie Beach




















Criminal Verdict
Prosecuting body: Huaihua City People’s Procuratorate, Hunan Province



DEFENDANT: Zhang Shanguang, male; born December 18, 1956; Han Chinese; from Longhui County, Hunan Province; self-employed businessman; resident of 545 Minzhu Street, Lufeng Township. Previously sentenced on October 23, 1989, by the Huaihua City Intermediate People’s Court, Hunan Province, to seven years in prison, with political rights deprived for three years, on charges of counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement. Released on January 15, 1996, with a reduced sentence. Detained on July 22, 1998, and arrested on August 28 on suspicion of illegally providing intelligence to overseas organizations and personnel. Currently held in Huaihua City Public Security Detention Center No. 1.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Chen Hanwen, Lawyer from Hunan Botai Law Firm

On December 10, 1998, the Huaihua City People’s Procuratorate, Hunan Province, brought a public prosecution against Zhang Shanguang in this court on the charge of illegally providing state secrets. After this court accepted the case, it formed a collegial panel according to law and heard the case in closed proceedings. The Hunan Province, Huaihua City People’s Prosecutor Pan Taihua and acting prosecutor Guan Shanlin appeared in court to support the prosecution, and defendant Zhang Shanguang and his defense counsel Chen Hanwen participated in the proceedings. The adjudication of this case is now completed.

The Hunan Province, Huaihua City People’s Procuratorate prosecuted defendant Zhang Shanguang on the accusation that on March 1, 1998, during the period that his political rights were deprived, he accepted a telephone interview from Li XX, the Hong Kong-based correspondent for the US broadcasting station Radio Free Asia. Over his residential telephone line, defendant Zhang Shanguang provided Li XX with information about Xupu County peasants who gathered before Spring Festival 1998 to appeal to the county government offices regarding their excessive burdens, as well as details of the kidnapping case involving Zhang Xiren which was still pending with public security organs. This court maintains that defendant Zhang Shanguang’s behavior constitutes the crime of illegally providing intelligence overseas. Moreover because he is a recidivist criminal, it is requested that he receive a heavy sentence according to law. Defendant Zhang Shanguang did not raise an objection to the facts of the Hunan Province, Huaihua City Procuratorate’s charges. But his defense lawyer stated that the content of what was provided to the overseas reporter was not intelligence and did not constitute a threat to national security. Thus it did not constitute a crime.

The investigation has revealed that defendant Zhang Shanguang had been sentenced on October 23, 1989, to seven years in prison and three years deprivation of political rights for counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement, and was released on January 15, 1996 after his sentence was reduced. During the period of his deprivation of political rights, on March 1, 1998, defendant Zhang Shanguang conducted a telephone interview with Li XX, a Hong Kong based correspondent for Radio Free Asia, and provided details about the kidnapping case involving Zhang Xiren, which public security officials had not yet made public. In May 1998, defendant Zhang Shanguang also received US$2,000 in donations from Liu X of the US “Human Rights in China Humanitarian Assistance Fund.” To prove the above facts, we have tapes of defendant Zhang Shanguang’s interview with Radio Free Asia, which public security organs intercepted, and records of the transfer of foreign currency in the Bank of China as evidence. Concerning these facts the defendant has confessed everything. The facts are clear and the evidence is reliable and sufficient to conclude the case.

This court believes that the defendant Zhang Shanguang disregarded national law, during the period when his political rights and freedom of speech were restricted, by illegally providing details of a case not yet made public by public security organs. His behavior violated Article 111 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China and constituted the crime of illegally providing intelligence overseas. Moreover, because he is a recidivist, he should be heavily penalized. According to Articles 56, 64, 65, 66, and 71 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, the reasons for defense given by defendant Zhang Shanguang and his defense counsel are not tenable. Accordingly, the verdict is as follows:

For the crime of illegally providing state secrets overseas, defendant Zhang Shanguang is sentenced to ten years in prison and five years’ deprivation of political rights. Together with the 19 days of deprivation of political rights that had not been completed from his previous sentence, the decision is to carry out a sentence of ten years, with five years’ deprivation of political rights.

The $2,000 that had been acquired through illegal means, confiscated and transferred to this court together with this case, will be turned over to the national treasury.

If the defendant does not accept this verdict, he can file an appeal either though this court or directly to the Hunan Province Higher People’s Court. The appellant should submit the original copy of the appeal together with two copies.

Presiding judge: Ding Zhongze
Acting judge: Shao Hongchao
Acting judge: Yang Huijun

December 27, 1998
Acting secretary: Hu Zhihong



錯誤 | Human Rights in China 中国人权 | HRIC