Chinese Filmmaker Faces Prison for Constitution Documentary

Illustration by: Lars Leetaru

Shen Yongping was warned he could go to jail if he continued to make his film, '100 Years of Constitutional Governance'

A Chinese filmmaker who made a documentary about his country's constitution faces five years in prison after being arrested on charges of "illegal business activities" in April, just days after a government pledge to uphold the rule of law according to the same constitution.

Shen Yongping was warned by public security that he could go to jail if he continued to make his film, called 100 Years of Constitutional Governance, but the 33-year-old decided to finish it anyway, his attorney, Zhang Xuezhong, told The Hollywood Reporter. He will be tried on Nov. 4 in Beijing and faces five years in jail if convicted.

Shen is claiming political persecution because he says the charge of "illegal business activities" does not come into play, as he did not profit from the film and it was not a national security issue, his lawyer said.

The film looks at China's constitutional governance from the period of the Qing dynasty, which ended in 1911, until the present day.

Shen's case comes a week after a high-level Communist Party plenum meeting, which pledged better supervision of China’s constitution under the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament.

The Communist Party’s current drive to advance the rule of law is designed to form a system serving "the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics" and build a country under "the socialist rule of law," according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Earlier this week, police in Beijing formally charged Tie Liu, an elderly writer whose memoirs describe the plight of victims of Mao Zedong’s "anti-rightist" campaigns of the 1950s.

The 81-year-old writer, whose real name is Huang Zerong, had himself spent more than 20 years in prison as a "rightist” during Mao’s campaign, which began in 1957 and targeted liberal intellectuals. The Communist Party eventually cleared his name in 1980.

Huang has also written articles critical of Mao and the current Communist Party leadership, including President Xi Jinping.

President Xi has taken a hard line against dissent, and scores of activists, writers and artists have been rounded up in recent months. In August, the well-known Chinese dissident Gao Zhisheng was released, having allegedly suffered physical and psychological abuse in jail.