The mother of China’s first cyberdissident, who has been in detention since 2016, has published an open letter asking for permission to visit her son before she dies.
Huang Qi is serving a 12-year sentence for leaking state secrets. His 87-year old mother published her letter earlier this month, and it has been circulating online.
In the letter, Huang's mother, Pu Wenqing, said she’s suffering from several chronic illnesses including diabetes and cancer and doesn’t have much time left to live.
“I have two requests,” she wrote, “to see my son for the last time, and talk with him about his case.”
Who’s Huang Qi?
Huang Qi is widely considered China’s first cyberdissident. He ran a website called “64 Tianwang,” named after the June 4, 1989, crackdown on Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protesters.
The news website is blocked in China, because it covers local corruption, human rights violations and other topics routinely censored in Chinese media.
The website was awarded a Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Cyberfreedom Prize in November 2016. A few weeks after that, Huang was detained. Three years later, he was sentenced to 12 years in jail for intentionally leaking state secrets to foreigners.
Rights group Amnesty International has called the sentence "harsh and unjust.”
Huang, 57, has heart and kidney disease and high blood pressure. Advocates have voiced concern about the consequences of his continued imprisonment. RSF has called on President Xi Jinping to "show mercy" and issue a pardon.
Huang’s work has drawn repeated attention from Chinese authorities.
In 2003, he became the first person to be tried for internet crimes in China for allowing articles about the 1989 pro-democracy protests to appear on his website. That led to five years in prison.
In 2009, he was sentenced to three years in prison after campaigning for parents of children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
And in 2014, police again detained Huang after his website reported about a woman who had tried to set herself on fire in Tiananmen Square right before that year’s National People’s Congress meeting, one of China’s most important political events.
A mother’s last appeal
Huang’s mother has long been advocating for her son. She has been kept under police surveillance since Huang’s sentence in 2019.
Pu said in her letter that while she still trusts China's judicial system, she believes her son's case has been handled unjustly.
“Internally, they all know Huang Qi has been set up. There's no official document regarding his sentence. It's all been sealed up in an envelope and labeled as classified,” she wrote. Pu added that she believes the local Sichuan authorities have made up the charges against her son.
Pu Fei, a former volunteer with 64 Tianwang, told VOA that no one has been able to visit Pu Wenqing since she was placed under constant police surveillance.
“Her physical condition is deteriorating. It makes no sense to make her suffer mentally,” he told VOA.
Pu Fei said he understood that prisons and detention centers have been closed to visitors since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic. “However, we hope that the authorities could make an exception in this case, since Huang’s mom doesn't have much time, and visiting her son is within her rights.”
Respect for rights urged
Chen Yunfei, a well-known rights activist in Sichuan, urged officials in China's legal system to respect Huang's and his mother’s rights, citing the case of a top security official now under investigation for legal abuses.
“I urge officials in the public security system to stop following Sun Lijun’s methods. His cruel ways of dealing with activists have long been ignoring the law,” he said.
Sun Lijun, a vice minister of public security, is under investigation for serious violation of party discipline and the law, according to a brief statement issued by China’s top investigating agencies.
Analysts describe Sun as an “invisible hit man” who had played a key role in top leader Xi's past efforts to maintain social stability by rounding up dissidents.
Observers have been paying close attention to how his arrest will impact prosecution law across the country.