Ethiopia: Jailed dissident blogger may face death penalty

Jailed Ethiopian dissident blogger Eskinder Nega will stand trial in March for terrorism charges, a federal high court judge ruled this week. He could face the death penalty if convicted. Nega and five other journalists were last November charged with providing support to Ginbot 7, a banned opposition movement that the government formally designated a terrorist entity under the 2009 anti-terrorism law last year. At this week’s hearing, the judge confirmed all six charges for two of those accused and dismissed all but one charge against three others.

Belarusian dissident jailed for four years

Belarusian dissident Vasily Parfenkov has been sentenced to four years of imprisonment following his hearing on Thursday. He was convicted of breaking the window of a parliamentary building during protests against President Lukashenko’s re-election on 19 December. He will also have to pay pay 14m roubles ($4,700) in compensation for damage to state property. Parfenkov is an active supporter of opposition candidate Vladimir Neklyayev.

A solidarity rally in support of Belarus’s political prisoners is being held at the Belarusian Embassy in London on Saturday 19 February.

Dissident Writer Li Hong Dies During Medical Parole

The sad death of jailed writer Zhang Jianhong went by with hardly a blip from the foreign media.

Zhang, 52, died 31 December in hospital while on medical parole from a rare neurological disease. He leaves behind a wife and daughter.

A few months into his prison term in Zhejiang province, Zhang, whose pen name was Li Hong,  was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a disorder in which the muscles irreversibly waste away. The prison repeatedly denied him medical parole until June last year, by which time he was completely paralysed and was kept alive by a respirator.

Zhang had been sentenced to six years for “inciting subversion of state power” in March 2007 for his work as a contributor to anti-Chinese government, pro-human rights media overseas including the Epoch Times and Boxun.

Radio Free Asia also reported that Chinese police warned his dissident friends not to publicly mourn Zhang.

Zhang had a long history of angering the authorities. In December 1989 he was sentenced to three years of Re-education Through Labour for publicly criticizing the Tiananmen Square Massacre. He briefly took part in the protests but left the Square on 2 June.

His contacts with the China Democracy Party also got him periodically in trouble.

In 2005, he founded Aegean Sea, a literary website which was closed down by the police the following year for its anti-government content.

Zhang was also a commercially successful freelance writer and poet, penning several novels and a popular TV show The Firm of Red Clothes.

He was a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) which released a statement mourning his death.

“ICPC considers Mr Zhang Jianhong as the most recent victim of contemporary literary inquisition in China and one of its worst cases in over 30 years,” the centre said.

“May his spirit live on,” said US-based Human Rights in China.

A life in truth

Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2010, Liu Xiaobo is treated as a subversive criminal in China, currently serving an 11-year sentence for incitement to subvert state power. Lauren Davis reports