Advocating for environmental rights in China can involve a range of legal hazards. Dui Hua’s prisoner database includes 38 individuals from 2001 through 2007 who have been detained or arrested for activities linked to “environmental protests” in China; this total is not likely to be comprehensive. Twenty-one of these have served (or are serving) prison sentences. Many of the activists arrested in 2007 are awaiting trial, with a good possibility that some will begin sentences this year. Below is a summary of the advocacy—and consequences—for two rights defenders who have taken up environmental causes.
Sun Xiaodi, a mine manager in Diebu County, Gansu Province, exposed illegal mining, disposal of untreated water that caused serious illnesses, and the selling of equipment contaminated with uranium. Sun continued his advocacy after the mine was to be shut down, since uranium production and equipment sales still went on under the control of mine leaders and local and provincial officials. Detained in Beijing in April 2005, Sun was charged with a “state secrets” violation. Public pressure helped get him released in December 2005, but he was kept under surveillance well into 2006.
Wu Lihong, a one-time salesman at a factory in Yixing, Jiangsu Province, fought the pollution of Lake Tai, which suffered devastating losses to marine life while the local population felt myriad effects of contamination. He gathered evidence of pollution to show environmental agencies and was named an “Environmental Warrior” by the National People’s Congress in 2005—despite the consistent resistance of local officials. Wu’s advocacy helped lead to many factory closures, and a cleanup of Lake Tai is finally underway. But Wu has been serving a three-year sentence since August 2007 for what many believe to be concocted fraud and extortion charges for a work-related issue from 2003—an opportunity introduced to him by a local environmental official who had requested that Wu lighten up on his criticism of Yixing’s pollution problems.