The United States is concerned about reports that a prominent Chinese activist may have been prosecuted for his efforts to bring environmental problems to light and convicted on the basis of a coerced confession.
Environmentalist Wu Lihong was convicted earlier this year by a Chinese court on blackmail and fraud charges, and the conviction was recently upheld on appeal.
Mr. Wu's family and friends claim Wu, arrested in April in his hometown of Yixing, was falsely accused by local officials who were embarrassed by his work. During his first trial in August, Mr. Wu said his confession had been coerced during police beatings; however, the judge ruled that his confession remained valid. Mr. Wu’s wife, Xu Jiehua, called the trial a farce. Mr. Wu now faces three years in prison.
Mr. Wu became well known in China and internationally for his tireless efforts -- beginning in the early 1990’s -- to prevent chemical companies from dumping untreated waste into Lake Tai, China's third-largest freshwater lake. In 2005, he was named among China's top ten environmentalists and celebrated at a ceremony in Beijing.
After fifteen years of drawing water samples from Lake Tai and submitting reports on its deteriorating condition, Mr. Wu's efforts were vindicated. Last summer, following Mr. Wu’s arrest and detention, a toxic algal bloom, caused in part by runoff from chemical companies, resulted in a cutoff of drinking water to several million people for several days in May. In response to national outrage, local officials vowed to close hundreds of chemical manufacturers, and the central authorities said they would invest more than fourteen billion dollars to clean up the lake.
Finding a balance between economic growth and sound environmental policies is in China's interest. Private citizens and organizations can play a helpful role in fighting environmental degradation that threatens the health and welfare of the Chinese people. Efforts to call attention to such problems should be rewarded, not punished.