China: Long prison sentences for two well-known civil rights activists
China’s judiciary is cracking down on two of the most prominent members of the civil rights movement, with long prison sentences. In a secret trial, they are accused of “undermining state power”.
Beijing. Two well-known civil rights activists have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in China. A people’s court in Linshu, Shandong province sentenced legal scholar Xu Zhiyong to 14 years in prison, while lawyer Ding Jiaxi received 12 years.
This was reported by Ding Jiaxi’s wife, who lives in exile in the United States, and human rights organizations. Behind closed doors, the court accused the lawyers of “undermining state power”. Both are among the most prominent civil rights activists in China to have been tried in recent times.
“The cruel sentences and sentences handed down to Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi demonstrate President Xi Jinping’s widespread hostility to peaceful activism,” said Yaqiu Wang of New York-based Human Rights Watch. “Governments around the world should join the call on the Chinese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the two lawyers.”
“They dare not hold a court hearing”
When asked, the court in Linshu acted ignorant: “We know nothing about this case,” said a spokeswoman. The trial took place in June 2022 in the court. Ding Jiaxis’ wife, Luo Shengchun, tweeted, “They dare not hold a court hearing, dare not call witnesses, and dare not pass judgment for nine months.”
The two lawyers, who had previously been in prison, were arrested three years ago as part of a campaign of persecution against lawyers and activists. Ding Jiaxi, now 55, was arrested in December 2019 after he joined Xu Zhiyong in a discussion with civil rights lawyers and human rights activists in Fujian province.
Xu Zhiyong, now 50, initially went into hiding but was arrested in February 2020. The former lecturer at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications co-founded a now-banned legal aid center and a group called the New Citizens’ Movement. Ding Jiaxi, formerly a business lawyer, also played a role in both groups. Ding Jiaxi had already been in prison from 2013 to 2016 for his activism – Xu Zhiyong similarly from 2014 to 2018.
Human Rights Watch: Trial expired secret
In response to journalists’ questions about the verdicts, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in Beijing: “I am not aware of the situation, but I can tell you that China is a country governed by the rule of law and everyone is treated equally before the law.” The Chinese judiciary handles cases in accordance with that Law. However, Yaiu Wang of Human Rights Watch pointed out that the trial was classified. There were procedural problems. She also referred to reports of mistreatment of both detainees.
“Beijing’s treatment of the country’s most prominent human rights defenders should be a reality check for foreign leaders rushing to get back to business as usual with Beijing,” Wang said, apparently referring to French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to the country China. “The international community must stand by those who are paying the ultimate price by fighting for the rights of everyone in China.”
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