SAN FRANCISCO (April 13, 2015) – According to information Dui Hua obtained from an official source in China, Dong Zhanyi (董占义), the 59-year-old founder of the New Era Communist Party of China, has had his life sentence for subversion and eight-year sentence for contract fraud commuted to a fixed term of 19 years and six months. The Inner Mongolia High People’s Court commuted the sentence on February 4, 2015. Dong’s sentence is now due to expire on August 3, 2034, and will be followed by an eight-year sentence of deprivation of political rights.

Prior to Dong’s case, Dui Hua did not know of any instances of subversion charges resulting in a life sentence, the severest punishment for leaders of subversive groups as set forth in Article 105 of China’s Criminal Law. (Life sentences are common in cases of splittism, charges almost always applied to ethnic minorities, such as Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti.) After learning of Dong Zhanyi’s case, Dui Hua sought information about him from trusted interlocutors in October and November 2014.

Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Dong to life imprisonment on October 27, 2011, in a decision upheld on appeal by the Beijing High People’s Court. Following standard procedure in the capital, Dong was returned to his place of household registration to serve his sentence. Incarcerated in Inner Mongolia’s Höhhot No.1 Prison, Dong has reportedly acknowledged his guilt; accepted reform through education; actively participated in political, cultural, and technical study; completed all tasks assigned to him; and demonstrated a good attitude. He has received three commendations for good behavior.

“In addition to recognizing Dong Zhanyi’s good behavior in prison, one hopes the court took into consideration the exceptional severity of the original sentence,” said Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm. “Dong appears to have engaged in non-violent expression and association in furtherance of his political views, activities protected under international human rights law.”

Dong Zhanyi established the underground party around 2008, originally calling it the People’s Party, with the mission of fighting corruption. Dong and Chen Guohua (陈国华), another leader of the group, allegedly convened a secret party meeting in an abandoned factory in Linyi, Shandong Province, in March 2008, to discuss plans to overthrow the Communist Party of China. At subsequent meetings, party members agreed to set up a supermarket management company to raise funds. In order to recruit members, the party hosted a training program billed as a fertilizer symposium, where they collected information about unemployed workers and impoverished rural families and helped organize petitions. Spotty records indicate that the party was active in Beijing, Henan, Shandong, and Jiangxi. (Huang Huiming (黄会明), who was tried for subversion in Jiangxi Province, reportedly recruited 200 members of the party.) Dui Hua first discovered Dong’s name in the verdict of party member Sun Tianxi (孙天西), who was given a three-year sentence for subversion by the Nanyang Intermediate People’s Court in Henan Province on December 2, 2011. Sun was released in September 2014. Dui Hua is still seeking sentencing information for other party members convicted of subversion.