Friday, October 28, 2005
Zheng Enchong (郑恩宠), a Shanghai lawyer involved in the defence of economic and social rights of those displaced by urban development projects who was sentenced to three years in prison in 2003, has presented a letter to the Liberation Daily (解放日报), the Wenhui Daily (文汇报), and two individual journalists demanding a retraction of an article written on 29 October 2003 (shortly after his sentencing) on pain of further legal action. The letter, written by his attorney Pu Zhiqiang, is available here: Download DemandLetter.pdf
The demand is made just in time: the limitation period for actions in civil matters is normally two years (Art. 135, General Principles of Civil Law). The letter is dated Oct. 27, 2005. I did some research on this issue once, and all the authorities are agreed that just about any kind of demand will stop the running of the statute of limitations. It is not the case that only bringing suit in court will do. This is consistent with a common-sense reading of Art. 140 of the GPCL: "A limitation of action shall be discontinued if suit is brought or if one party makes a claim for or agrees to fulfilment of obligations. A new limitation shall be counted from the time of the discontinuance. 诉讼时效因提起诉讼、当事人一方提出要求或者同意履行义务而中断。从中断时起，诉讼时效期间重新计算。"
Still, waiting so long is a bit risky. Clearly, what a court would most like to do is to dismiss this suit on procedural grounds without having to make a decision on the merits. If suit is ever brought, it will have to be more than two years after the date of the alleged libel. Surely the court hearing this will be sorely tempted to read "make a claim for" as meaning "bring suit in court", even though all authority is against such an interpretation. If that happens, just remember: you saw it here first. On the other hand, it may be that Zheng just wants to keep his claim alive for another two years but has no specific intention at the moment of moving forward with it. This letter should start the clock running all over again.
- Reports on the Zheng Enchong case by human rights organizations (in English): here | here
- South China Morning Post news report (in English)