Hainan Tears gets forest crusader Liu Futang into the wrong side of the law
With his retirement in 2007, Liu only became more relentless in his activism. Working from a small flat subsidized by the government, he continued to push for better environmental monitoring – but converging with Liu's efforts was an ever-growing rate of development on the island.
By early 2010, the central government branded Hainan as an "international tourism destination." He later expanded his focus into environmental areas outside of deforestation, where he discovered more problems, said a friend of Liu.
Liu opened a microblogging account under the name, "Hainan Liu Futang" at the behest of friends in 2011. Born of another generation without word processing skills, Liu painstakingly wrote his entries by hand with recognition software. The account was shut down by authorities in May of this year. In July, local police removed Liu from a hospital where he was receiving treatment for diabetes and charged him with crimes related to conducting an illegal business.
Liu was arrested and stood trial on October 11.
Throughout the course of trial proceedings, Liu was reported to have burst into tears three times. When the judge asked if he was guilty, Liu burst into tears a final time and was unable to go on.
The indictment claimed that Liu violated state publishing, printing, and book issuance laws by printing a total of18,000 books, for which he allegedly netted 464,000 yuan and earned 78,090 yuan in illicit profit. "The circumstances are particularly egregious," stated the indictment.
But an environmental protection activist who had read Liu's books said, "Everything had been openly reported on…It was all already public knowledge."
Liu's family members and those in environmental protection circles say that it was the Yinggehai incident Liu described in his book, Hainan Tears, that breached an invisible line with government authorities.
In April, the Hainan government approved the controversial construction of a power plant two kilometers from Foluo Town, located in a forest. Residents took to the streets in protest. Liu was in Beijing at the time, accepting an award for environmental reporting by China Dialogue, an environmental NGO. Making his way back to Hainan after the ceremony, Liu updated his microblog with news of the Yinggehai situation to some 16,000 online followers.
But by May, Liu's most powerful tool for spreading news met the censor's axe. His two microblogging accounts were blocked, and in June, as many as 82 of his original entries had been deleted. Unfazed by this, Liu attempted to speed up the printing of his book, Hainan Tears II, which included selected posts from his microblog and a now-famous petition signed by the citizens of Yinggehai.
"The government first dug through his past, primarily scouring the projects he had approved before retiring to see if he had left loopholes, but they couldn't find anything incriminating," a friend of Liu's said.
The Yinggehai incident, however, was not the first time Liu had taken a bold stand against local authorities. At the awards ceremony in Beijing, he was honored for having exposed widespread deforestation in the Meiwan scenic area of Wanning City. In June 2011, Liu first took note of a company called Huarun Real Estate clearing a forest of precious mangrove trees to make way for development.
Deputy editor of China Dialogue's Beijing office Liu Jianqiang said that Liu's case bears a striking resemblance to that of Wu Lihong, the reputed "defender of Lake Tai", who was charged on suspicion of extortion. Liu Jianqiang said, "The victim is often the one who speaks the truth."
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