BEIJING – A Chinese court gave a one-year jail sentence Tuesday to a filmmaker who produced a documentary on the country’s 100-year quest for constitutional rule, his lawyer said.
Chaoyang District Court in Beijing found Shen Yongping guilty of running an illegal business because he had not obtained permission to film the documentary, lawyer Zhang Xuezhong said. He said Shen had argued he was innocent because he had released the film online for free and did not profit from it.
Calls to the court were not answered Tuesday.
The ruling Communist Party has pledged to respect the constitution and legal system, though critics say it continues to remain above the law and is hostile to true constitutional rule.
Last year, a few months after President Xi Jinping took power, several party publications warned sternly against Western-style constitutional democracy, dashing hopes by some liberal intellectuals that Xi might take steps to introduce real constitutional rule.
Shen, who is in his early 30s, was detained in April shortly after he finished filming the eight-part series on efforts in China to achieve constitutional rule since the last days of the imperial Qing Dynasty, Zhang said.
The documentary is available on the video-sharing site YouTube, though access to YouTube is blocked in mainland China.
Zhang said Shen was warned repeatedly by authorities and threatened with arrest during the filming. “But he carried on with the filming because he did not believe it was a criminal act,” Zhang said. “And he had borrowed a lot of money to do it.”
“It’s an act of personal expression, no different than someone filming a wedding and putting it online, and it does not constitute running an illegal business,” Zhang said.