NEW YORK—The secret trial of anti-censorship advocate and journalist Zhen Jinghua is an unjustified and abusive effort to punish a human rights advocate for his work, PEN America said today.

Zhen Jianghua was detained on September 1, 2017, on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.” He was not formally arrested until March 2018, although he has remained in detention since last September. Subversion charges in China can result in up to fifteen years imprisonment. During his detention, Zhen was denied access to the defense attorney his family hired for him. According to an August 23 document—later deleted—on the website of China’s state prosecutor, Zhen stood trial on August 10. News of the trial later was briefly available via internet company Baidu’s search engine, before also being deleted. Zhen family reportedly only found out the trial had occurred after the news was briefly publicly revealed in this way.

Zhen, a longstanding human rights activist, is the executive director of the website “Human Rights Campaign in China,” which publishes information related to human rights issues within the country. Zhen also operates “Across the Great Firewall,” a website that provides information on how to access an uncensored internet.  

“Zhen Jianghua has been detained for over a year. He has been subjected to a secret trial. He has been denied the lawyer of his choice. He is facing the prospect of years in prison. All because of his work as a human rights advocate and as an advocate for free expression,” said Summer Lopez, Deputy Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “It is clear that these are unjustified charges, and that Chinese prosecuting authorities are yet again seeking to punish peaceful activism with draconian criminal penalties. These prosecutors should immediately drop these charges, and Zhen Jianghua should be immediately released to return to his family.”

PEN America’s March 2018 report “Forbidden Feeds: Government Controls on Social Media,” includes an Appendix of 80 cases of Chinese citizens being targeted by authorities for their digital free expression.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: [email protected]