Chinese activists face subversion charge to collect over the weekend

About twenty lawyers and activists quietly arrived in a flamboyant place.”Nice house party“Villa for rent near the coast of China. They ate takeaway food, sang along to the karaoke machine and played foosball. But they also have a serious purpose: to discuss China’s besieged human rights movement.

Two years after that weekend gathering in December 2019, the two most famous attendees – Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi – pending trial on subversion charges related to the gathering, according to the indictment. Police and prosecutors made the arrest at a weekend meeting to deal a blow to the alleged “rights defense” movement of lawyers and activists demanding democratic change in China.

Meetings like these, once common among China’s human rights campaigners, have becoming more and more risky under the tough rule of Xi Jinping. Under him, many journals, research organizations, and groups that were once independent-minded activists maintained in China were dissolved.

As he prepares to prolong his reign, those who still speak out are wondering how China’s human rights movement can survive. tightening ring supervision, house arrest, detention and trial.

“This shows how terrified they are of Chinese civic consciousness and civil society,” Liu Sifang, a teacher and an amateur musician who attended the gathering, said in an interview from Los Angeles, where he currently lives. He fled abroad in late 2019 after police began arresting people who attended a gathering at the villa. Border police in China blocked his wife from joining him, he said.

“They didn’t want these sprouts to exist, so our small gathering was treated as a major political incident,” Mr. Liu said.

At a restaurant for lunch on the second day of their two-day meeting, some noticed people who appeared to be observing them and taking pictures. Even if they were tracked, most thought it would likely lead to short-term detention and intense questioning from the police officers tasked with monitoring them, Mr. Liu said.

They were wrong.

Some of the participants at the weekend session in Xiamen, eastern China, were soon detained, locked up for weeks or months before being released. One attendee, lawyer Chang Weiping, was detained a second time and arrested for subversion after make it clear on the video that the interrogators tortured him during his first time in detention.

Mr. Xu, 48, and Mr. Ding, 54, both told their lawyers they did nothing illegal, but they face jail time. 10 years or even longer if a party-controlled court convicts them, it seems almost inevitable. Some experts and advocates had expected them to appear in court by the end of 2021. However, that time has passed without notice of trial. They are still waiting for news of a hearing, possibly in preparation for the Winter Olympics, which begins next month in Beijing.

While Western governments have focused on mass arrests of Uighurs in the Xinjiang region, the prosecution of Mr. Xu and Mr. Ding highlights the Chinese Communist Party’s aggressive campaign against political dissent. ants all over China. Security officer swore to root out any political opposition before the party congress in late 2022, when Mr. Xi is poised to achieve another five-year term as top leader.

“He and Xu Zhiyong are very confident,” said Ding’s wife, Sophie Luo, who lives in the United States lobbied for their release. “That is their faith and also their weakness, I would say. They argue that history is moving towards democracy and freedom.”

By the time Mr. Xi came to power in late 2012, Mr. Xu had spent a decade as one of China’s most prominent human rights advocates.

Mr. Xu sometimes smiles, noting that his hometown county in rural central China is called Minquan, which means “people’s rights”. In 2003, he and two friends attended another Beijing University law school shoot up highlights through a successful campaign to abolish a widely despised detention system used against migrant workers in Chinese cities.

Over the next decade, he and other activist lawyers sought to awaken citizen initiative and expand rights by taking on cases that exposed the flaws of the Chinese legal system: agriculture citizens had their land confiscated, prisoners claimed to have been tortured and taken by the police, and citizens were held in informal prisons for trying to file their complaints with officials in Beijing.

“We must find a way to develop political forces that exist outside the system,” he wrote in “A beautiful China,” A statement of his beliefs. The way forward, he said, is to find a way for independent social groups to “grow in the loopholes of the autocratic system.”

By 2012, Mr. Ding, a successful engineer turned commercial lawyer, joined this career.

He and Mr. Xu turned to promoting the “New Citizens Movement,” which encourages Chinese people to exercise the rights enshrined in the Chinese Constitution: to associate, to free speech, and to have a voice in government. Mr. Xu is the one who theorizes about the cause, while Mr. Ding tends to focus on meeting advocates.

Mr. Ding and Mr. Xu initially seemed hopeful that Mr. Xi’s government would not be harsher than his predecessor’s. But they were detained in 2013 after advertising an open letter urging China’s most powerful officials to reveal their wealth. They did sentenced in 2014, when Mr. Xu received a 4-year prison sentence and Mr. Ding received three and ahalf.

In the years that followed, an increasing number of human rights activists and outspoken lawyers were arrested, and some were sentenced to prison. However, after their release in 2017, Mr. Xu and Mr. Ding quietly resumed contact with sympathizers. Even as Mr. Xi tightens political controls, Mr. Xu and Mr. Ding still appear to be hoping that party rule becomes tougher than outsiders believe.

“They just want to keep the movement going,” Teng Biao, a Chinese human rights lawyer and longtime friend of Xu, said in a phone interview.

Mr. Teng, a visit professor at the University of Chicago. “But they didn’t expect it to lead to a major crackdown.”

In 2018, Mr. Xu, Mr. Ding and like-minded friends and acquaintances met in Shandong province, eastern China, to relax and discuss their careers.

Mr. Liu, a musician who participated in the competition, said that a year after they gathered at the Xiamen villa, no one there noticed anything disturbing.

The participants thought they had temporarily dismissed the police officers assigned to follow them. But they were still discovered.

Eighteen days later, the detention camp began.

Rounded people include Mr. Ding, who then told his lawyer that investigators forced him to stay awake by repeatedly showing him an adulterous documentary about China’s leader, Mr. Xi, in shrill volume for 10 days and nights.

Mr. Xu hid, sheltered for a while former prosecutor in southern China.

By that time, the Covid outbreak had spread across China, fueling anger that the government did not act sooner to contain the contagion. From his hiding place, Mr. Xu issued a letter urge Mr. Xi to resign, argued that he was trying to “challenge the flow of history.”

He was arrested in mid-February 2020. His girlfriend, Li Qiaochu, who spoke out about Mr. Xi’s treatment and her own secret detention, was re-detained and formally arrested last year.

Mr. Xi now appears confident that China has largely contained Covid, while the US, UK and other Western countries have suffered waves of infections and deaths that have reduced their standing in the world. many Chinese eyes. His power seems to have solidified, and the party is official his eulogy as one of its great leaders.

Until the Chinese authorities removed him pending trial in Shandong province, said Liang Xiaojun, one of Xu’s lawyers, said Liang Xiaojun.

“He had the air of a revolutionary – that he could not consider anything but building a beautiful China,” Mr. Liang said of his last meeting with Mr. Xu at the end of the year. 11. However, Mr. Liang added: “If they thought the consequences would be this severe, I don’t think they would have held that meeting.”

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