On July 9, 2009, Beichuan County People’s Court in Sichuan Province sentenced He Hongchun (何洪春), a family member of a victim of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, to three years in prison with a five-year suspension. He was convicted of organizing to disrupt social order. Dozens of parents of victims from Beichuan who were present at the hearing were outraged by the sentence and protested that the trial was unfair. He Hongchun, 47, was released after the sentence was announced.
He Hongchun is the great uncle of Zhang Yiyang, who attended Beichuan County Qushan Kindergarten, and was one of more than 500 children killed during the earthquake when two elementary school buildings in the town of Qushan, Beichuan County, collapsed. She was three years old.
In the earthquake aftermath, when parents of victims in Beichuan found out that their insurance company – China Life Insurance Company, Beichuan branch – was giving them insurance payments that were substantially lower than those it gave to families of victims elsewhere (4,000 or 8,000 yuan versus more than 10,000 yuan in Mianzhu and 60,000 yuan in Dujiangyan), they asked He Hongchun and seven other parents to represent them in a lawsuit against the insurance company. Both the Beichuan County Court and the Mianyang People’s Intermediate Court refused to take the case, citing a directive from the Sichuan Provincial High Court that instructed all courts not to accept cases arising from earthquake-related insurance payment disputes.
In September 2008, the parents went to the insurance company three times to negotiate and protest. During the second and third visits, some parents disrupted the work of the insurance company and damaged several tables and chairs. He Hongchun’s brother-in-law, Mr. Zhang, told Human Rights in China (HRIC) that He was never an organizer of these visits or a participant in the disturbance. Rather, during the second visit by the parents, He, along with Beichuan’s county chief, tried to calm the parents down. On the third visit, He came to the insurance company at its request to try to mediate.
On September 27, 2008, the Beichuan County Public Security Bureau detained He Hongchun for organizing parents to protest at the insurance company. According to He’s family members, on October 14, fifteen days before his formal arrest, He was paraded in handcuffs down the street in the town of Leigu, along with other criminal suspects.
According to Mr. Zhang, during three court hearings, He always insisted on his innocence. He has 10 days to decide whether to appeal the sentence.
Li Fangping (李方平), He Hongchun’s lawyer, told HRIC that this court decision was based on “zero evidence.” Li said, “Arresting He Hongchun was meant to ‘kill the chicken to scare the monkey,’ to frighten away other relatives of victims. A three-year sentence suspended for five years means that they can monitor He Hongchun for five years. Not only can they keep He and his family quiet, but other families quiet as well.”
Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), He’s former lawyer who represented He in court in May 2009, was unable to continue on the case because he did not pass the Beijing Lawyers Association’s annual evaluation and was stripped of his right to practice.
“This case is a clear example of the misuse of law by the authorities to punish someone attempting to use the law to access justice,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.
For more information on other individuals punished for earthquake-related activities, see: