Grad Charged With Spying
Simon W. Vozick-Levinson
The Harvard Crimson
July 25, 2003
Yang Jianli, the
pro-democracy activist imprisoned by the Chinese government on
undisclosed charges more than a year ago, was indicted last week
on counts which could result in a life sentence, his wife and
her lawyer said. The indictment was followed this Wednesday by
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s unanimous approval
of a resolution calling for Yang’s release.
Yang, a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government, was seized
in April 2002 after entering China using another person’s
passport. His trial on charges of espionage and visa violations
is expected to start by the first week of August.
Christina X. Fu,
Yang’s wife, said the trial would be closed to the public,
and she expressed concerns about its procedures.
look like there will be any witnesses,” she said.
Jared Genser, Fu’s
attorney, said the trial’s participants were ostensibly
limited to three judges, two prosecutors and a court recorder
in addition to Yang and his lawyer, Mo Shaoping. But Genser suspected
the courtroom would have more than eight people in attendance.
sure there will be observers from the Chinese government,”
And though he intended
to ask the U.S. government to request an American observer at
Yang’s trial, Genser said he thought the chances of that
Genser and Fu singled
out the charge of espionage—based on misdeeds Yang allegedly
committed more than a decade ago—as entirely unfounded,
and said it had come as a complete surprise.
expect espionage at all,” Fu said.
Among the infractions
alleged in the indictment, Genser said, were working as an agent
of a Taiwanese group to disseminate pro-democracy messages in
China and distributing a total of $400 for purposes including
“Even if you
accept them on face value as being true, it’s just not the
kind of thing anyone would see as rising to the level of espionage,”
Genser said. “It’s the work of a pro-democracy activist.”
Rep. Barney Frank,
D-Mass., who has been active in governmental efforts on Yang’s
behalf, said he thought a problem with definitions might have
led the Chinese government to level such a serious charge.
“They may have
a somewhat different view of espionage than we do—an exchange
of information,” Frank said.
Frank, the espionage charge might have resulted from belated Chinese
attempts to maintain a semblance of fairness in Yang’s treatment.
more than simply crossing the border may be necessary to justify
having held him this long,” he said.
a more sinister explanation for the charge.
“We see this
as a very sad example of the Chinese government continuing to
prosecute someone with whom they disagree,” he said.
But those close to
Yang were unsure of how to interpret the arrival of the long-delayed
“It could be
prospectively good news in that it means the Chinese legal process
is swiftly coming to a close,” Genser said. “The intense
pressure on the Chinese government has clearly caused them to
move more swiftly than perhaps they might have liked.”
In addition to the
Senate committee’s resolution—which Genser said he
thought would come before the full Senate within the week—that
pressure included formal condemnations in recent months from the
U.N. and the House of Representatives.
Frank echoed Genser’s
tentatively positive note, calling the indictment “in a
perverse way good news.”
“We were very
unhappy that he was being indefinitely held,” he said.
Genser said one major
advantage that would normally come with indictment in a case like
Yang’s—the privilege to see a lawyer, which is extended
to those formally charged with an offense—had already been
granted in Mo’s meetings with Yang this month.
no additional benefits beyond the benefits we’ve already
seen,” Genser said.
When Yang saw Mo
this week, said Fu, the two planned for his defense—and
Yang also gave his lawyer a personal message to relay back to
called me at 3 a.m.,” Fu said. “I thought it was something
Instead, she said,
Mo had rung her up with birthday wishes for Yang’s son,
who turned eight yesterday.
Genser worried that
despite mounting international disapproval of China’s human
rights record in cases like Yang’s, the ideal moment for
an indictment to be handed down might not yet have arrived.
“From our perspective,
this is not the best time for this case to be coming to a close,”
he said, citing “ongoing tension” and frustration
in high governmental circles. “Right now there’s not
a lot of dialogue about human rights going on.”
Jeffrey M. Jamison,
a spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy,
Human Rights and Labor, said cases like Yang’s made China’s
current human rights record a mixed bag.
been progress in certain areas, but there’s been fairly
disheartening backsliding in the last few months,” he said.
But Genser said that
Yang’s supporters were stepping up their “behind the
scenes” efforts in Washington, encouraging officials to
write confidentially to Beijing on Yang’s behalf regardless
of such obstacles.
really choose your timing in these things,” he said.
And Genser added
that Yang had not been fazed by his treatment in the last year.
are high and he’s looking forward to having his day in court,
despite the fact that it’s taken 13 months of incommunicado
detention as well as a couple more months of waiting,” he
Genser said any legal
defense strategies were hampered by the Chinese government’s
insistence on treating Yang’s case as an internal matter
involving state secrets.
And once the trial
gets underway, he said, anything could happen—and a trial
of a sort which generally comes to a quick conclusion could drag
on for months before a verdict is released, denying Yang any resolution
the indictment might seem to bring to his unsure situation.
“There is no
certainty in the Chinese legal system,” said Genser. “Just
because they have certain practices or laws in the books, there
is no guarantee of those practices or laws being followed.”
Jamison said that
the outcome is still very much unsure for Yang.
noted throughout this case that the Chinese need to uphold standards
of human rights, due process and rule of law,” he said.
“We’re still waiting to see signs that they might
actually do that in this case.”
said, it is in China’s own interest to leave any shadowy
precedents behind as soon as possible.
to be seen as a great nation,” he said. “It’s
not becoming of them to seem so afraid of this one guy.”