June 20, 2017
A world superpower equipped with one of the largest economies in the world, China has indisputably become a dominant power on the international stage. However, the largest nation in the world can hardly be seen as an equal to its Western counterparts when it comes to “fundamental rights” such as political rights, freedom of speech and right to a fair trial, just to name a few. Despite its power and respect on the international stage, China boasts some of the strictest laws related to freedoms to report or criticise politics, thus leaving doubts as to how much respect it should deserve as a leading power so blatantly willing to violate a number of rights put forth by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In 2015, the world was appalled upon hearing the news that the Chinese government had detained over 200 human rights lawyers and legal workers. It became known as the “709 crackdown,” named after the date which it began: July 9th, 2015. At the time, the reason for these disappearances was incredibly unclear and showed a stagnation in the Chinese government’s improvements on policies of fundamental rights.
Now well into 2017, there remain a multitude of unanswered questions in regards to the actions the Chinese authorities took when holding these lawyers. Victims have consistently reported cases of abuse, misconduct and torture by Chinese authorities during the detainment. Some victims had been released while others were held without trial for an indefinite period. More recently in 2017, however, the government has been holding a series of trials, although many of which have seemed planned, coerced and reminiscent of sham trials.
Earlier in May, a prominent lawyer, Xie Yang, was convicted of subversion charges. Subversion, an offence describing an individual’s attempt to “subvert state power” or disrupt the governmental system in some way, is a serious offense in the Chinese legal system. However, its sentencing can vary greatly, depending on if accompanying charges are found. Xie Yang was not alone, as a handful of lawyers had also been tried and convicted on the same crime.
What’s more is that Xie Yang had pleaded guilty of the charges. This was unprecedented as Yang had given detailed descriptions to his lawyer of torture by Chinese authorities during his time of detention, in which he had been held for nearly two years. The situation was even more perplexing, as in January, Yang had written a letter stating that he was not guilty and any admission of guilt would be because of prolonged torture or endangerment to his family. Nevertheless, in May the trial was finally held and advertised as an open trial; yet when journalists and diplomats attempted to enter the facility, they were denied. Furthermore, Yang was denied his family-hired lawyer and was provided with a state attorney instead. In the trial, revealed through a transcript by the court, Yang had retracted all of his previous statements on torture and had warned others not to be “exploited by Western anti-China forces.” Yang’s wife stands by the claims that Yang was tortured, yet with the unfolding of the trial, it is doubtful whether she will ever receive a definitive answer.