The Case of Shi Tao (师涛)

First, the official statement from Xinhua (April 30, 2005):

Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist, was on Saturday sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment for being found guilty of illegally providing top state secrets to overseas organizations.  The ruling was handed down by the Intermediate People's Court of Changsha City, capital of central China's Hunan Province, at the first trial.  Shi, 37, who was employed by the Contemporary Business News published in Changsha, from Feb. 11, 2004 to April 22, 2004, was also deprived of his political rights for two years, court source said.

The court was told that the main contents of a certain important document were read out at an internal meeting of the editorial board of the Contemporary Business News last April, with a special warning saying the contents were classified and should not be spread further.  Shi, who was then head of the central editor desk with the newscenter of the newspaper, attended the internal meeting and took notes. On the same day after the meeting, Shi sent the main contents of the document aboard via e-mail and had it published in an overseas publication. The e-mail was picked up time and again by several overseas Internet portals.  The National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets later certified the contents leaked to overseas by Shi as top state secrets.

The western media reports are not much more informative (for example, AFP, Associated Press and Reuters), except to highlight the fact that document had not identified.

What is that document?  That is the question in this post.

I don't know what it is, but I am going to follow what Shi Tao's fellow independent writers have to say.

In December, 2004, the Chinese Independent PEN president Liu Xiaobo wrote in an essay:

I have been reading what Shi Tao has been publishing in overseas media in recent times.  I don't see any "national secrets," unless Shi Tao's poems contain some obscure references or symbolism that plain people like us cannot not see but the eagle-eyes at the national security agency can spot them.

Everyone who understands Chinese conditions know that in the blackbox that is China that anything can be "national secrets" and "leaking secrets" covers virtually anything that the government does not want people to know or for people to talk about.

But a tight parsing of the Xinhua release allows for the possibility that Shi Tao might have sent out a document which was not attributed to him and therefore Liu Xiaobo was unable to find any such in Shi Tao's known bibliography.

On May 1, 2005, there was a joint open letter from six independent writers: Yu Jie, Liu Xiaobo, Lao Cun, Bei Cun, Yu Shicun and Wang Yi (see New Century Net).  I have translated the relevant section:

The so-called crime of "illegally provided national secrets overseas" cited in the verdict document refers to this particular sequence of events.  At the time, Shi Tao was working at a certain news organization.  The publisher forwarded the orders from the Central Propaganda Department to its editors and reporters about what "cannot be reported."  Shi Tao took some notes, wrote some critical comments about these violations of the freedom of press, and then submitted it to the US-based Democracy Net.

The various media organizations that Shi Tao had worked for are much less important that the party newspapers.  They were just local city newspapers.  As a middle-level non-party-member manager, he could not have any access to "national secrets."

I went back to the archives of Democracy Net to look up the published works of Shi Tao there.  The following two essays are the closest that I can find (see Democracy Net).  I note that the dates associated with the articles are earlier than the April date cited in the Xinhua article.  So this still leaves the possibility that the document at issue had not been published under Shi Tao's name.  However, in the Democracy Net index of contents, the date of publication of these two essays is April 5, 2004.

(1)  "Old News" Encounter Old Problem  (February 28, 2004)

In the past few years, there are many more newspapers and magazines that publish old news (and there are similar programs on television, such as the program Shandong-Henan Appointments on Phoenix TV).  The main cause was that Shandong Pictures published a series of "Old Photographs" that caused to a chain reaction.  Apart from some irregularly published sections in newspapers and magazines, the best sellers are "Old News" and "Bygone History."

Although these articles are flagged as "Old News Revived" and "Bygone History Retold" in their headlines, they all encountered the vexing "old problems" in the form of the omnipresent news censorship.  That is to say, the propaganda department and the news publishing administration have set up a number of "red lines" which must be followed rigidly and forbidden to trespass, because these "old news" can still bring in "new troubles."  After the New Year, I had dinner with a newspaper publisher and he mentioned this sensitive subject.  The publisher said that it was astonishing that old news should become so amazingly popular in Shanghai and certain southern Chinese provinces and cities.  But then certain old news about the Cultural Revolution received the attention of the concerned departments, which even issued warnings that the publication may be terminated.  As a result, he has hired a retired editor-in-chief from a party newspaper at a monthly salary of 2,000 yuan for the purpose for making the final editorial decision in order to take care of the worrisome "old problem."

I am acquainted with the former editor-in-chief that he hired.  The man is infinitely loyal to the party on news affairs and the extra 2,000 yuan income should guarantee that he will hold the line well.  "Old news" plus old editor should mean no "new troubles."  So the "old problems" have become even "older" problems!

(2)  More on "Old News" Encountering Old Problems (March 1, 2004)

In my essay <<"Old Problems" Encounter Old Problems>>, I mentioned that the newspapers that publish old news or magazines that are named "Old News" or "Bygone News" were encountering the very troublesome "old problems" of rigid news control.  Actually, these old and bygone news had been previously published, or else they were "new news" that appeared in legal publications in the past.  They had already gone through a very thorough review, but now they have to be reviewed again.  This is just like the saying from the Cultural Revolution: "Suffer twice, pay twice for the crime."

There is a problem of double standards in dealing with these old news, as well as a problem of "one country, two systems."  For example, some of the contents that had been publicly published before in newspapers and magazines in the past can create trouble if newspapers and magazines re-publish them now, especially those are related to "the party's dirty linen" and historical memoirs and biographies from the Cultural Revolution era.  On the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, all the newspapers planned memorial or special editions.  In Shanxi, a newspaper listed all the important events since 1949 with one page per year and issued fifty "golden pages" for collectors.  Unfortunately, for the "golden page" of 1989, the newspaper chose a previously published photo of Zhao Ziyang visiting the students on hunger strike at Tienanmen Square.  Since the photo came from an openly published photographic album, no one thought there would be a problem.  But while the newspaper edition sold well that day, the three chief editors and one deputy editor lost their jobs, and this mainstream media organization that had been developing rapidly ran into 'bad luck' and was eventually merged forcibly with others.

I was a participant and witness in this matter.  This "old news" caused me to become strongly aware of the extreme absurdity of news censorship, and it caused me to detest and hate the double standards under "one country two systems."

On May 2, 2005, published both the verdict document as well as the national secret document (see link):

Verdict Document from the Middle Criminal Court, Changsha City, Hunan Province.

The accused Shi Tao, alias "198964", male, born on July 25, 1968 in the Hui Autonomous Region of Ningxia, Han ethnicity, unemployed, residing in Taiyuan City, Shanxi Province.  Detained on November 24, 2004 for suspected of supplying national secrets overseas.  Formally arrested on December 14 of the same year.


This court believes that the accused Shi Tao maintains communication with overseas opposition elements, and deliberate supplied the information that he knew to be top state secrets to overseas organizations, thus endangering national security.  This is a serious matter which fits the crime of illegally supplying state secrets to overseas organizations.  We therefore declare that the accused Shi Tao was guilty of the crime of supplying state secrets to overseas organizations as charged by the public prosecutor.

The defendant Shi Tao claimed: "His criminal act of providing state secrets to overseas organizations does not fall under the category of serious crimes."  Upon research, according to the Supreme Court's article 2 of <<The interpretation of certain problems concerning the evaluation of overseas stealing, probing, buying and illegally supplying of state secrets>>: "All acts that involve stealing, probing, buying and illegally supplying of state secrets are considered "serious situations."  The secret that the accused Shi Tao supplied to overseas organizations has been certified by the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets as top state secret, and therefore his actions must be regarded as especially serious.  Therefore, the court rejects this line of defense.

The accused Shi Tao's defender claims, "Based upon the fact that the accused Shi Tao's actions did not cause grave damage to national security and interests and the fact that the accused has admitted his crime, we ask the court to be lenient."  Upon studying, this claim corresponds with the facts and therefore the court accepts the advice.

Accordingly, pursuant to the criminal law code of the People's Republic of China, article 111, article 55 item 1 and article 56 item 1, the court's decision is as follows:

The defendant Shi Tao was guilty of illegally supplying state secrets to overseas organizations and will therefore serve ten years of prison, and lose his political rights for two years.

(The prison term will begin from the date of the verdict; his detention period shall be counted as prison time, so that the time period of his prison term shall be from November 24, 2004 to November 23, 2014).

Dated April 27, 2005.

[Attachment]  Chinese Communist Party Central Office (6) National Affairs Document 11 Summary.

April 20, 2004:  The Chinese Central Propaganda Department urgently releases document 11 to various news organizations.  The subject is <Notice Concerning Current Work To Promote Stability>.  The summary is as follows:

1.  Analysis of the current situation:

(1) This year is the 15th anniversary of the June 4 incident.  Overseas democracy elements have been relatively more active, and intend to enter the country during the memorial period for June 4;
(2) The main focus about the liberalization issue is whether it ought be led by the Communist Party or whether the socialist system should be denied and that learning should come among the people, and this means that certain oppositional elements have tried to politicize certain criminal cases;
(3) The F*L*G evil sect has engaged in sabotage activities;
(4) The Internet has seen the dissemination of various harmful communications;
(5) Mass crowd events have stood out, principally about evictions and petitions;
(6) Foreign elements have used religious channels (publications and Internet) to attract youths, or else engage in illegal activities through academic activities and teaching in schools;
(7) The Hong Kong problem.

The major points should be about June 4, F*L*G and the mass crowd events.

2.  Preventative actions by various levels and various departments:

(1) Vigilant on preventing democratic elements from entering the borders;
(2) Seriously preventing various kinds of activities;
(3) Seriously preventing oppositional elements from using the Internet to do their work;
(4) Seriously preventing mass crowd events from taking place;
(5) Seriously preventing the F*L*G evil sect from sabotage activities;
(6) Seriously protecting the safety of the personnel in important departments;
(7) Seriously preventing the factors that affect security and unity.

3.  Five main tasks that must be seriously tackled now.

(1) Insist on correct theory and sense of responsibility;
(2) Increase collection of intelligence to understand the situation about various activities;
(3) Insist on correctly directing public opinion, effectively prevent destructive activities by overseas enemies, insist on never releasing any talk that is inconsistent with the central policies;
(4) Key on the main points and direct preventative actions against them;
(5) Reduce petitions from the masses.

(At the same time, pay attention to any liaison between overseas democratic elements and individual media editors and reporters inside China.  If anything is discovered, it must be reported immediately)