Chinese Filmmaker Faces Prison for Documentary

Chinese paramilitary.
Photo: Courtesy AFP.


Chinese paramilitary. Photo: Courtesy AFP.

Chinese paramilitary.
Photo: Courtesy AFP.

Filmmaker Shen Yongping will soon become the first person to be prosecuted for documenting China’s constitutional history, reports Reuters. The 33-year-old director has been held at Beijing’s Chaoyang District Detention Center since late April, and his trial is set to begin on November 4.

Shen’s controversial film, 100 Years of Constitutional Governance, centers on “the Chinese people’s pursuit of constitutionalism from the time of the Qing dynasty till the present day, and their failed experiences,” his lawyer, Zhang Xuezhong, said in a phone interview with Reuters. He also added that his client will argue that his eight-episode documentary is not illegal.

His lawyer 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 ($16,354) from individual supporters on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, and has not made any profit from the film. The film was released in late April or May, and the 1,000 DVD sets he made were confiscated by the police.

The trial comes at an important crossroads when Chinese scholars have become more optimistic about Beijing’s support and supervision of China’s constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. However, many international rights groups say the government’s promises for freedom of expression are hollow. “The arrest of Shen is a signal from the government,” said Maya Wang from New York-based advocacy group, Human Rights Watch. “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.”

Shen’s prosecution is yet another example, in a long string of instances, that expose the Chinese government’s effort to censor artistic freedom of expression (see “Authorities Shut Down Beijing Independent Film Festival“).


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