SAN FRANCISCO (April 28, 2011) – According to informed sources in Guangzhou, the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court has granted a five-month sentence reduction to Xu Zerong (徐泽荣), a Hong Kong resident and expert on contemporary Chinese military history imprisoned for more than 10 years on state secrets charges in connection to his academic research.

Xu, who also goes by the name David Tsui, obtained a master’s degree from Harvard University and a PhD from Oxford University in political science, and was a senior research fellow at the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences in Guangzhou. He also headed an independent publishing company based in Hong Kong at the time of his detention on June 24, 2000.

An expert on China’s role in the Korean War, Xu was charged with collecting and photocopying books and other documents related to China’s military tactics during that conflict and providing copies of these documents to a South Korean scholar. Xu believed that the “internal” classification (内部) of these documents, which were published in the 1950s, had expired, and he argued that he had no reason to believe the documents were “state secrets.”

After Xu was detained, the Secrecy Commission Office of the People’s Liberation Army Guangzhou Military Region certified that in fact the materials Xu photocopied had never been declassified and were still classified as “top secret.” It was this certification that proved critical to convicting Xu of “illegally providing intelligence to foreign entities,” an offense falling under the category of “endangering state security” (ESS). He was also found guilty of “illegal business activity” for operating an unlicensed academic publishing company in Shenzhen. For these two crimes, Xu was given a combined sentence of 13 years by the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court on December 20, 2001, with three years subsequent deprivation of political rights. The sentence was upheld on appeal by the Guangdong Province High People’s Court at the end of 2002.

Initially imprisoned in Dongguan Prison, where Hong Kong residents convicted by Guangdong courts are usually incarcerated, in 2004 Xu was transferred to Guangzhou Prison, generally considered to be the province’s best prison. He has been treated for hypertension and diabetes, but his condition was not considered serious enough to warrant medical parole.

This is Xu’s third sentence reduction for good behavior. He previously received a nine-month reduction in September 2006 and a ten-month reduction in April 2008. Following this five-month reduction, Xu is due to be released on June 23, 2011, after having served 11 years of his original 13 year sentence. Upon his release, he will be required to serve a three year sentence of deprivation of political rights. It is unclear whether or not this part of his sentence can be served outside of the mainland.

Dui Hua has worked on Xu’s case for 10 years, together with foreign governments, faculty and alumni of Oxford and Harvard universities, and human rights groups who have called for his release. His sentence reduction is the first known act of clemency for a political prisoner in China since April 2010, when David Dong Wei, an American citizen serving a 13 year sentence for espionage, was given an 18 month sentence reduction.

“Xu Zerong’s imminent release is a rare piece of good news,” said John Kamm, Dui Hua’s executive director. “He has received three sentence reductions in less than five years, which is quite unusual for a state-security prisoner. We hope that the same clemency shown to him might be extended to other prisoners as well.”

ESS crimes are the most serious political offenses in China’s Criminal Law, covering subversion, incitement of subversion, espionage and trafficking in state secrets, among others. Xu’s trial was one of 305 ESS cases concluded by China’s courts, and one of only three ESS cases concluded by Guangdong courts in 2001.

The Dui Hua Foundation
San Francisco, California
April 28, 2011