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China: Cyber Cafe Owner Sentenced to 8 Years for Organizing a Chat Group

According to New York Times’ report on November 1, 2012, a 27-year-old Internet Cafe Owner, Cao Haibo, was sentenced to 8-year imprisonment under the charge of “state subversion” on 31 of October 2012 in Kunming, Yunnan Province. The latest development as reported by 64 Tianwang is that Cao lawyer Ma Xiaopeng has filed [zh] an appeal for the case on November 5, 2012.

Cao Haibo. Photo from 64 Tianwang

As the legal process had taken place in a closed court session, it is unclear to the public which particular action has led him to his prosecution. Some believe that the it is related to the QQ-chat Group, League of rejuvenating the Chinese nation (“振华会”) he founded in September 2011. Chinese Human Rights Defenders told New York Times reporter:

Renee Xia, international director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, criticized the prosecution of Mr. Cao, noting that he was detained for eight months [note: should be more than one year] without trial and that even his family was barred from the proceedings. “Cao’s only ‘crime’ was to chat in an online group, where members discussed such ideas as democratic reform and constitutional rights,” she said. “This case is a travesty of justice. It demonstrates, once again, that China shows only disdain for rule of law.”

Cao Yaxue from Seeing Red in China explained a bit more background about the nature of his chat group:

Cao Haibo advocated to give new meanings to Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People based on the current circumstances: the Principles of Nationalism, the Principles of Democracy and the Principles of People’s Livelihood.

Cas was arrested on October 21, 2011, one month after he found the QQ chat group, and was initially charged for “inciting the subversion of state power”, which is a lighter charge, on November 25, 2011. Cao's wife, who was six-month pregnant was threatened not to disclose the case to the public. Cao was put on court one year later on November 1, 2012 under a more serious charge, “subversion of state power”, and sentenced to 8-year imprisonment.

As the sentence comes before the 18th National People Congress, it shattered people's hope of political reform and a more open atmosphere for political deliberation. Seeing red in China has translated some online comments on the case:

to sentence a dissident like Cao Haibo heavy-handedly on the eve of the Party’s National Congress is to declare to ‘the unstable elements of the society’ that, as always, the Party clamps down ruthlessly on any attempts, even if it’s merely virtual, of association or organization. More and more cases are indicating that stability maintenance in China is evolving into political terrorism.

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