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UPDATE: In Arrest Notification, Charge Against Veteran Dissident and Christian Zhao Changqing Changed Back to “Illegal Assembly”

Friday, May 31, 2013

China Aid Association

赵长青批捕令UPDATE: ChinaAid has just obtained a copy of a May 24 notification of arrest for Zhao Changqing sent to his family that shows that the authorities have changed the charge against him back to the original charge of “illegal assembly.”  Below is our earlier report recounting the authorities’ previous flip-flop, when they decided to charge him for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” rather than the “illegal assembly” charge for which he was initially criminally detained. (Double-click image for a larger scan of arrest notification.)

Formal Arrest of Veteran Dissident and Christian Zhao Changqing Approved, Charge Downgraded to "Picking Quarrels & Provoking Trouble"

(Beijing–May 31, 2013) Government prosecutors have approved the formal arrest of  veteran dissident whose most recent act of dissension was to call for government officials to disclose their financial holdings, and he may be facing a maximum five-year prison sentence, ChinaAid has learned.

zhao changqing(photo: Zhao Changqing)

Zhao Changqing was taken into custody by Beijing police on April 17 and the next day was placed under criminal detention for illegal assembly. But when investigators submitted his case to the No. 1 Branch of the Beijing Municipal People’s Procuratorate for approval of a formal arrest, the charge had been changed to "picking quarrels and provoking trouble."  On the afternoon of May 23, Zhao's wife, Liu Xiaodong, received a notice from his lawyer saying that the approval for the arrest "was a foregone conclusion" and that she should be receiving a written notification in a few days.  Liu said the lawyer told her Zhao faces up to five years in prison.

See our earlier report of Liu's appeal: 

Zhao's defense lawyer, Zhang Xuezhong, submitted his legal opinion to the procuratorate on May 22, arguing that his client's actions do not  constitute a crime. He pointed out that the fact that the Beijing police changed the charge to "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" clearly shows that Zhao’s actions did not conform to the relevant clauses of the Criminal Code, and the government’s maneuver smacks of an attempt to frame and persecute Zhang.

The background of Zhao's arrest:刘晓冬

(photo: Liu Xiaodong and the couple’s son)

Zhao Changqing was at home on April 17, 2013, watching his child when Beijing police suddenly came and took him away, confiscating his computer, hard drive, laptop, cell phone and books as well. The following day at noon, his wife received a notice of criminal detention, saying that Zhao had been placed under criminal detention "on suspicion of illegal assembly" and was being held at the Beijing No. 3 Detention Center. That same day, Beijing lawyer Dai Jiaxi was criminally summoned by police on the same charge, and his family has also received a notice of criminal detention. Sun Hanhui and Wang Yonghong who had also participated in the same activity of demanding that officials publicly disclose their financial holding are also being held under criminal detention on the same charge.

Earlier, Beijing citizens Yuan Dong, Zhang Baocheng, Hou Xin and Ma Xinli, who on March 31 had put up a poster in central Beijing's most well-known shopping district Xidan demanding that officials disclose their financial holdings, had also been criminally detained. Hou Xin, who has a heart condition, was released on bail pending trial because he had a heart attack while being interrogated. To date, at least seven people who took part in the demand for public disclosure of official's assets have been placed under criminal detention.

Wife says, “My heart is at peace.”
Being married to someone like Zhao Changqing takes great courage.  Before her husband's troubles began, Liu Xiaodong worked as a secretary in a company. Although her salary was low, she was content.  After Zhao Changqing was placed under criminal detention, Liu sent for her mother to come from their hometown to help with childcare while she goes to work and awaits further developments from the police.

Her mother’s arrival , however, has also created new pressures for Liu, who said, “As a parent, my mother must wish that her daughter could at least live a life in peace, if not in luxury. I think this is the wish of all parents on earth and my mother does not understand this [current situation]… The pressure from both families all falls on me.”

As for the future, Liu Xiaodong doesn’t have many plans and says she has to see what happens with this case.

Liu Xiaodong concluded by saying: "My heart is at peace now, and I am not especially worried for him (Zhao Changqing). I know even if he gets into serious troubles, God will take care of us. No matter what happens, even if I quit my job to take care of my child or work part-time, I think I will be able to raise him well. So, I don’t worry about this (financial issues). Really.”

(Note: Zhao Changqing’s two lawyers, Zhang Xuezhong and Lin Qilei, have received only nominal legal fees and are basically working pro bono on this case.)

Defense lawyer Zhang Xuezhong's legal opinion
Original text:

Legal opinion suggesting Zhao Changqing’s arrest not be approved

To No. 1 Branch of the Beijing Municipal People’s Procuratorate:

Zhao Changqing, the party in this case, along with some other people, put up a banner in a public area under the jurisdiction of Beijing Municipality, demanding that the government officials disclose their financial holding to the public. After taking some photos in front of the poster, they left on their own. After the incident, the Public Transportation Safety Protection Branch of Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau placed my client under criminal detention on the charge of “illegal assembly.” The investigators have now submitted for your approval the arrest of my client Zhao Changqing.  However, the charge in the application for arrest has been changed to “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” As defense counsel for Zhao Changqing, I think my client expressed through peaceful means his view that government officials should disclose their financial holdings to the public, and this does not constitute the crime of illegal assembly nor the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble. In no way does this meet the requirements for the approval of an arrest as stated in Article 79  of the Criminal Procedural Law : “there is evidence to support the facts of a crime.” The specific reasons are the following:

I. The investigators have charged my client with suspicion of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, citing Item 4, Clause 1 of Article 293 of the Criminal Law: “creating disturbances in a public place, thus causing serious disorder in such place.” However,
my client's actions in this case do not fit this stipulation.
1. My client's actions were not motivated by the desire for fun or to seek psychological stimulation or some other unhealthy purpose, but rather was a serious expression of [concern] over a public policy issue.

The “creating disturbances in a public place” component of the crime of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” as stated in the Criminal Law refers to those who are motivated to seek pleasure or stimulation and other unhealthy activities, creating trouble in a public place for no reason and disrupting the order of the public space. However, in this case, my client used peaceful means to call on the government to establish as soon as possible a system for government officials to disclose their financial holdings to the public, in hopes that the government would take effective measures to curb possible official corruption. Rather than “creating disturbances in a public place,” my client's actions were a serious expression [of concern]on an issue of public policy.

2. My client's actions did not cause serious disorder in a public place.

Picking quarrels and provoking trouble and thereby “causing serious disorder in [a public] place” as stipulated in the Criminal Law refers to the normal order of a public place becoming so damaged that people flee in fear or other similar scenarios. However, in this case, my client along with some other people did nothing more than display a poster calling on officials to disclose their financial holdings to the public, and they peacefully left the scene after taking a few photos. They didn’t cause a scare among the people, causing them to flee the scene, or create any kind of serious disorder.

II. With regard to the fact that the citizen’s expression did not constitute the crime of illegal assembly and the charge was changed to picking quarrels and provoking trouble, this not only represses a citizen's freedom of expression but raises the suspicion of intent to frame and persecute.

According to Article 296 of the Criminal Law, an assembly, a procession or a demonstration that has not been approved through an application process only becomes an illegal assembly, procession or demonstration when the "the order to disperse is disobeyed and public order seriously disrupted ." The legislative intent of this stipulation is: Assembly, procession and demonstration are the basic civil rights endowed by the Constitution, and going after a citizen [to seek] criminal liability just because he had failed to apply for permission or some other procedure when exercising his rights is not permissible.

The legislative intent of Article 296 is rendered completely meaningless if, when [a citizen's] expression does not constitute “illegal assembly,” a judicial organ can change the charge to “picking quarrels and provoking trouble." The most ridiculous aspect of this switch is this: in cases where the standards for illegal assembly are met, criminal liability can be sought only for the person in charge or the people directly responsible; but if the standard for illegal assembly is not met, then criminal liability can be sought for everyone who participated, and they could even have the more severe punishment in Clause 2 of Article 293 of the Criminal Law applied to them.

The party in this case employed peaceful means to call for a system for government officials to make public their financial holdings, which was not only an exercise of freedom of speech as endowed by Article 35 of the Constitution but also an exercise of the right endowed by Article 41 of the Constitution to criticize and make suggestions to state organs and to employees of the state. However, the investigative organs initially placed my client under criminal detention on the charge of illegal assembly; then, when they realized that my client's actions did not constitute the crime of illegal assembly, they changed the charge to “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and applied for permission to arrest him. Doing so is not only repressing a citizen's freedom of expression, but also raises the suspicion that they are trying to frame and persecute my client.

Given the above arguments, I believe that Zhao Changqing's actions do not constitute a crime and I respectfully request this procuratorate to decide against approving the arrest. I sincerely hope that through your upright and outspoken prosecutorial work, this procuratorate can truly give people a sense of the justice, dependability and dignity of the law.

Defense counsel: Zhang Xuezhong
May 22, 2013

A brief bio of Zhao Changqing:
Zhao Changqing, who signed Charter 08, was imprisoned for six months for participating in the 1989 pro-democracy movement.  In 1997, he was sentenced to three years in prison on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” In 2002, he was sentenced again to five years in prison on the charge of “inciting subversion.”  In prison, he was put in solitary confinement four times for a total of 10 months.  After his release in 2007, he continued to engage in rights defense activities.  He pushed for civic gatherings, equality in education, public disclosure of government officials’ financial holdings and other citizen campaigns.  In 2011 when their Jasmine [Revolution] gatherings were suppressed by the authorities, he and others started holding "city-wide drunken dinners " [translator's note: this is a tongue-in-cheek name; the characters for "drunken dinners" are homophones for "committing a crime"] to exchange information and promote civic action.

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