The trial of Chinese filmmaker Shen Yongping is set to begin on 4th November, making the filmmaker the first person to be prosecuted for documenting China’s constitutional history. The 33-year-old director has been held at Beijing’s Chaoyang District Detention Centre since late April – reports Reuters.
Shen’s controversial film, titled ‘100 Years of Constitutional Governance’, focuses on “the Chinese people’s pursuit of constitutionalism from the time of the Qing dynasty till the present day, and their failed experiences,” his solicitor, Zhang Xuezhong, told Reuters in a phone conversation from the country. Zhang also added that his client will argue that his eight-episode documentary is not illegal.
The film was released in late April or May, and the 1,000 DVD sets that were made by the filmmaker were confiscated by the police. Shen did not make an money from the creation of the documentary; the filmmakers solicitor stated that Shen stands accused of “illegal business activity,” which, he went on to add, is “extremely absurd…’illegal business activity’ has become another tactic for them to conduct their political suppression”. Shen has raised over 100,000 yuan from individual supporters on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, and has not made any profit from the film.
The filmmakers solicitor says Shen stands accused of “illegal business activity,” which, he added, is “extremely absurd…’illegal business activity’ has become another tactic for them to conduct their political suppression.” For his defense, Shen has raised over 100,000 yuan or £10,135 from individual supporters on Weibo, which is China’s version of Twitter to aid in the filmmakers legal defence.
Scholars in China have become more optimistic about Beijing’s support and supervision of China’s constitution of late. The constituation guarantees freedom of speech, however, many international rights groups say the government’s promises for freedom of expression are entirely empty.
“The arrest of Shen is a signal from the government – through these arrests, the government is making clear the ‘rule of law’ should be understood as an instrument for the state to maintain its monopoly power, not as a force to rein in arbitrary state power” – said Maya Wang from New York-based advocacy group, Human Rights Watch.