02/09/2010, 00.00
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Sichuan: five years in jail for investigating quake collapsed buildings

Tan Zuoren received the maximum sentence in a trial that lasted less than ten minutes. Officially accused of "subversion" for writing inherent to Tiananmen Square. Human rights groups contend that the real reasons are documents collected on "poor" quality materials used to build schools.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - A Chinese court in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, handed down the the maximum penalty of five years in prison for the activist Tan Zuoren. He was formally charged for "subversion", for having circulated on line critical comments on the massacre in Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989. Associations in defence of human rights argue that the true motivations are linked to his investigations of "shoddy materials" used to construct the buildings that collapsed in the earthquake that hit Sichuan in May 2008.

The magnitude 7.8 quake that devastated the south-western Chinese province, killed nearly 80 thousand people, more than 370 thousand injured and about 4.8 million displaced. Many of the victims were children, trapped inside the collapsed schools. Among the causes that have contributed to high toll, poor quality materials used in construction of buildings and illegal construction.  

Tan Zuoren was arrested while preparing a report on the schools destroyed by the earthquake. Last August the court adjourned the trial without ruling, today in Chengdu judges have issued the maximum penalty in a trial that lasted less than 10 minutes in all.

Tan’s lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said that "he was sentenced to five years in prison for inciting subversion of state powers" and therefore "deprived of political rights for three years." There are no charges related to the earthquake and the investigations carried out, because "all the proceedings are related to June 4 (1989).    

However, members and human rights groups ensure that his "independent investigation" into the earthquake in Sichuan is the "real reason" behind the conviction. Tan's lawyer has already announced an appeal.

Ai Wewei, a Chinese artist committed to support the victims of the earthquake, said that "this case is even more important than Lui Xiaobo (an activist sentenced to 11 years in prison for articles and writings in which he demands respect for human rights in China and the end of single party rule, ed). The condemnation of Tan Zuoren, continues the artist, shows that "China’s legal system has made giant steps backward: Tan’s only crime is the use of the word, an act of conscience." (Photo: SCMP)

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