China: China sends warning to lawyers with secret trials

May 1, 2017

 

China has sent a warning to its independent legal activists with a spate of secret trials of lawyers caught up in a crackdown that began nearly two years ago. Sample the FT’s top stories for a week You select the topic, we deliver the news. Select topic Enter email addressInvalid email Sign up By signing up you confirm that you have read and agree to the terms and conditions, cookie policy and privacy policy. The sudden detention in July 2015 of dozens of Chinese lawyers and their assistants generated an international outcry. Now, courts are slowly sentencing those still detained, in a warning to the rest of the legal community to toe the line in a sensitive political year.  President Xi Jinping, who has presided over a political purge combined with a sweeping crackdown on civil society, will host a meeting of the ruling Communist party later this year that will cement his second term in office.  The sentences come as China has moved to rein in the modicum of independence enjoyed by its courts and bring universities — another locus of support for a more liberal political system — to heel with investigations of corruption and breaches of “political discipline”.  Li Heping, one of China’s better-known “rights defenders”, was sentenced at a secret trial last week to three years in prison with four years’ probation for “subverting state power”. Mr Li pleaded guilty, according to a statement from the Tianjin Second Intermediate Court.  His sentence comes amid rumours of a secret trial for Xie Yang, another lawyer caught up in the sweep. Meanwhile, no formal word has emerged of the fate of Jiang Tianyong — the most prominent of those still detained, who disappeared from a railway station in November — although Xia Lin, who once represented dissident artist Ai Weiwei, had his sentence for fraud cut in April to 10 years from 12, following an appeal.  In issuing the sentences, “the main purpose of the government is to send warnings to others”, said Li Fangping, another prominent rights lawyer. Lawyers who have been released, and those in contact with those still detained, have said they were subject to torture including sleep deprivation and electric shocks. “They were treated cruelly,” Li Fangping said. Wang Qiaoling, Li Heping’s wife and a leader for detained lawyers’ families, said on social media that neither the court nor the assigned lawyer had given her any notice. The Financial Times could not reach her for comment. She has recently warned that she is under increased surveillance, saying she fears that she, too, could be detained.  The trial and verdict were held and announced secretly because “state secrets are involved”, the court said. “There’s no clear indication that this wasn’t just a matter of freedom of speech,” said lawyer Ding Xikui, adding that the full text of the verdict had not yet been released.  Chen Jinxue, a rights lawyer based in Guangdong, said he believed Mr Li was innocent. “He’s been in custody and we don’t know what methods he has been subject to, so any decision he made [to plead guilty] is understandable.”

https://www.ft.com/content/9fc3a8b4-2bf3-11e7-9ec8-168383da43b7

http://www.jeromecohen.net/jerrys-blog/2017/4/30/courageous-spouses-of-rights-lawyers

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