On November 6, 2009, in a closed trial, a local court in Zhejiang Province sentenced a 70-year-old petitioner, Lin Dagang (æ?—大å??), to two years in prison for illegally possessing state secrets– namely, a document issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (formerly the Ministry of Construction) that in fact had been circulating on the Internet. Lin has been a long-time petitioner and organizer of a nationwide group seeking the return of ancestral houses that the government took possession of in 1956.

Lin's wife, Wang Yuyan (ç??ç??ç?•), and son, Lin Feng (æ?—å³°), told Human Rights in China (HRIC) that the trial in the Jiaojiang District People's Court in Taizhou lasted about two hours. They were not permitted to attend. They said they waited other petitioners outside the courtroom and heard Lin vigorously defending himself. According to one of Lin's lawyers, the judge announced the ruling and sentence orally, and the court will issue a written decision within five days.

Lin is an organizer of the Nationwide Property Owners of State-maintained Rental Houses (全�经���主), a group seeking the return of what is known as "state-maintained rental houses" (经��). In 1956, as part of what it called the "socialist transformation" of the country, the Chinese government took over privately-owned houses and began renting them out, giving the original owners 20-40 percent of the rent as compensation. The government stopped paying the owners in 1966, the year the Cultural Revolution began. Since the late 1970s, owners of those houses have been asking for their properties back and have met with resistance.

Lin was first detained on June 11, 2009. The authorities accused him of illegally possessing the "Notice Regarding the Appropriate Handling of 'State-Maintained Rental Houses,'" a 2006 directive from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development instructing the relevant local and provincial government bureaus to keep these houses as state properties, and to "intensify" the monitoring of petitioners, particularly those organized in groups, so that they can be "controlled." The directive also states that without permission by the Ministry of Construction and the Party's Central Propaganda Department, reporting and any interviews on issues relating to the "state-maintained rental houses" are forbidden.

"In 2007, the Chinese legislature adopted the Property Law, which guarantees the protection of private property," said Sharon Hom, HRIC executive director. "But instead of implementing the law, the authorities are punishing private property owners seeking to assert their rights. This raises serious questions about whose property rights are being protected."

For more information on Lin Dagang, see:
Human Rights in China, "Examples of Cases Involving Charges Related to State Secrets from 2007 to Present," July 24, 2009.

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