Threats, torture, intimidation: legal experts raise suspicions of coercion in trials of Chinese rights activists
Mainland authorities appeared determined to present the first round of trials of activists and lawyers swept up in a year-long crackdown as transparent and fair, although some legal experts have questioned whether the defendants were coerced.
A court in Tianjin on Friday wrapped up the string of hearings by delivering a three-year suspended sentence to activist Gou Hongguo. Earlier, the court handed Zhou Shifeng, the head of Fengrui law firm, a seven-year term, Hu Shigen, the head of an underground church, a 7 1/2-year term, and activist Zhai Yanmin a three-year sentence, suspended for four years.
The campaign launched on July 9 last year saw about 300 rights activists rounded up and detained, although most have since been released. It was widely seen as an attack on civil society.
“I believed this incident came under high oppression,” said Albert Ho Chun-yan, a member of the Hong Kong-based non-profit organisation China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.
“Over the past year, the mainland authority has done everything they can, including threatening, torture or even intimidating them ... [using] the well-being of their family members, in an attempt to get them succumb.”
Teng Biao, a lawyer and rights activist who lives in the United States, said he believed authorities extracted a confession from Wang Yu, a lawyer, after detaining her husband and putting their son under tight surveillance. Her husband released yesterday.
Wang, out on bail, told media earlier she was disappointed she had been awarded a human rights prize and said she would no longer be exploited by foreign forces. Teng said Wang was “barred from all support from the outside world over the past year”.
“It is understandable for her to make concessions, considering that she could be jailed for more than 10 years on the charge of subverting state power, which could result in her inability to take care of her 16-year-old son for years to come,” he said.
Mainland authorities stressed the trials were held in an open and transparent manner, but critics questioned why relatives of the defendants were not able to attend the hearings.
“It’s actually a great retrogression ... when talking about rule of law,” Ho said, adding: “Just like the Emperor’s New Clothes, there is nothing in a real sense when they pretend to uphold the rule of law.”