Reporters Without Borders said Friday it condemns the trial of Liu Futang, an ailing 64-year-old citizen-journalist specializing in the environment, which began today in Haikou, on the southern island of Hainan.
Detained for the past three months, Liu is being tried on criminal charges of “illegal expression” (因言获罪) and “running an illegal business” in connection with his self-published books about environmental disasters caused by Chinese businesses operating on the island.
“This citizen journalist is facing the possibility of being unjustly imprisoned for providing a service to the public by investigating and exposing environmental threats,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Environmental issues are at the heart of any discussion on development in China. Liu’s only crime is trying to tell as many people as possible about what he has learned from his research. His trial is an attempt to deter all citizen-journalists and get them to censor themselves.”
Liu was receiving treatment in a Haikou hospital on 20 July when police came and took him away although his condition at the time was alarming. Detained ever since, he has not been allowed to receive any visits in recent weeks, not even from his lawyer.
Liu has dedicated his life to defending the environment, especially Hainan’s forests and coastline. His self-published books, funded from his own savings and donations, have such titles as “Green Dream” (绿色的梦), “Hainan Tears” (生态斗士刘福堂) and “Eco-Warrier Liu Futang” (海南泪).
Covering such topics as the destruction of the Huarun coastline and the involvement of local politicians in the destruction, his books are registered with an ISBN number in Hong Kong and have had total combined print-run of 18,000 copies. The Chinese authorities nonetheless insist that they are illegal.
Winner of the citizen journalism prize for China environmental journalism (awarded jointly by The Guardian, the NGO Chinadialogue and the Chinese microblog platform Sina), Liu has also posted many articles on the blog he began keeping in April 2011.
The blog is now inaccessible, with a welcome page saying it was closed without further details.
The Chinese authorities routinely suppress articles and blog posts on sensitive subjects by artists, human rights activists or writers in an attempt to stem the circulation of messages critical of the government.
China is ranked 174th out of 179 counties in the 2011/2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet”, which is updated every year.