HOHHOT -- A Chinese court will review a libel trial after netizens voiced sympathy for the sentenced petitioner, who used the Internet to expose alleged land requisition problems, a court source said Wednesday.
The Ordos Intermediate People's Court in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region confirmed that it has started an internal review to examine whether the libel trial of Wu Baoquan followed correct procedures.
The petitioner was sentenced to a two-year jail term at his second trial in February, a sentence which was even heavier than the one-year sentence given at his first trial.
Netizens voiced strong concerns over the case, after the court sustained the second-trial sentence to Wu on April 17.
An article carried on the mainstream Web site, People.com, on Tuesday questioned why the police lavished its resources on chasing a man from 2007 to 2008, only because he exposed local land requisition problems.
China's major Internet chatrooms like Tianya and Baidu received thousands of notes supporting Wu and accusing the government of corruption.
"It is outrageous. Government officials can forge a libel crime against an online petition. Attending Wu's case is to safeguard our speech rights on the Internet," said Netizen "hndn" on the cat898 forum.
"The increased penalty was an obvious retaliation toward the petitioner, because he appealed not guilty," said Liu Xiaoyuan, a lawyer from the Beijing Qijian Law office.
He said no new charges were given to explain why the penalty was increased from one to two years.
The court declined to give further details on the trial review.
Wu, 39, was charged for slandering Yun Feng, former secretary of the Ordos municipal committee of the Communist Party of China, because he issued an online article on September 7, 2007, accusing the official for his responsibility in a land dispute that allegedly infringed on farmer's rights.
The article was entitled "Yun Feng. Do you want to kill your fellow farmers?"
Wu was detained on September 17 in a city in east China's Shandong Province and held in custody for ten days.
After his release, Wu continued to post several other online stories about the same issue in 2008.
Wu's lawyer Zhao Peng said the libel charge lacked sufficient constitutive requirements, since Wu did not fabricate the land issue and his Internet post did not cause damages.
Wu's articles did not dampen the official Yun Feng's career. In fact, the former Ordos official was promoted to vice chairman of the Inner Mongolia Regional committee of China People's Political Consultative Conference in November last year, while Wu was put on trial.
Wu said in his articles that he was petitioning the rights of farmers in Kangbashi Village in the outskirt of Ordos.
He said that the local government took more than 3,333 hectares of land from the farmers at a low price and sold them through auctions at higher prices. The land authorities failed to provide enough compensation to farmers in line with government regulations.
Police found Wu, a native of Wuhai City in Inner Mongolia, had received money raised by farmers to petition the land disputes.
Police said Wu admitted to having pocketed 85,000 yuan (US$12,000) of 285,000 yuan in raised funds, and used the rest to hire lawyers in Beijing.