China rejects Western criticism of crackdown on rights defenders

US expressed concern convictions made on apparently politically motivated charges

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 August, 2016, 7:35pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 August, 2016, 8:50pm

China rebuked the United States on Saturday for criticising it over the convictions of rights activists, with a Tianjin court last week sentencing three rights advocates and a lawyer to up to 7 ½ years’ jail for subversion.

Dozens of people linked to the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm have been swept up in a crackdown on dissent since last July, as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration has tightened control, citing a need to boost national security and stability.

The sentencing has been condemned by international rights groups as an effort to silence critics.

On Thursday, a State Department spokesman said the United States was concerned about the convictions made on “apparently politically motivated charges”, and called for the release the lawyers and activists.

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The European Union also said the conviction of the activists runs contrary to China’s stated commitment to strengthening the rule of law.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the “US accusations are groundless” and urged Washington to “respect the facts”.

“Chinese judicial authorities deal with related cases in accordance with law so that the legitimate rights and interests of defendants could be effectively protected,” Xinhua cited Hua as saying.

The firm had represented high-profile clients critical of the government. Authorities have accused it of orchestrating protests outside courts, politicising ordinary legal cases, and conspiring with “foreign forces” that sought to undermine the Communist Party.

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Wang Yu, a Fengrui associate and a prominent rights lawyer who had also been held on subversion charges, told the media earlier she renounced her work and international awards granted to her.

On Friday, she said her husband had been released on parole, saying that all her family members gathered together when her son came to Tianjin a few days ago.

But rights group slammed her account as a coerced confession.

The American Bar Association and other groups have recognised Wang with human rights awards. The association said it would formally honour Wang at a ceremony in San Francisco.

China consistently rejects criticism of its human rights record and says forced confessions are banned under law.

Suspects accused of crimes in high-profile cases are often shown confessing on state television. Rights groups have said these confessions, which often take place long before a trial, violate the rights of the accused to due process.