Prominent Chinese rights lawyer Xia Lin, who defended artist Ai Weiwei, sentenced to 12 years’ jail for fraud
Xia defended many high-profile politically sensitive cases
A prominent mainland rights lawyer who took on high-profile politically sensitive cases has been jailed for 12 years for fraud in one of the harshest sentences to be imposed on rights advocates in recent years.
After being detained for two years, Xia Lin, 46, was found guilty in the Beijing No 2 Intermediate People’s Court on Thursday of fraud involving 4.8 million yuan (HK$5.6 million).
Xia, whose former clients included outspoken artist Ai Weiwei, insisted he was innocent and vowed to appeal.
As court officers dragged him out of the courtroom, Xia called the sentence “an act of retaliation” by the authorities for his involvement in sensitive cases, according to his defence lawyer and his wife, who were present at the sentencing.
Xia is the latest lawyer to be thrown behind bars in the mainland’s stepped-up crackdown on activists and rights lawyers since President Xi Jinping rose to power over three years ago.
He was taken away by police in November 2014 after agreeing to defend rights activist Guo Yushan, who helped blind activist Chen Guangcheng escape house arrest in 2012.
Xia also defended Sichuan earthquake rights activist Tan Zuoren, rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, and Deng Yujiao, a Hubei waitress who killed a government official in self-defence during a sexual assault in a case that made national headlines.
Xia’s defence lawyer Ding Xikui said the sentence was “neither fair nor reasonable”.
“There is a lack of sufficient evidence [for his conviction] and problems abound in the legal procedures of his case,” Ding said.
Xia’s wife, Lin Ru, said the verdict was “totally unacceptable” but she had been mentally prepared for the worst. “My head went blank the moment I heard the verdict. I sat there for a long time and couldn’t stand up, feeling very, very sad,” she said. “I firmly believe he’s innocent.”
Lin said the judge did not allow Xia to say anything other than he had heard the verdict clearly after announcing his imprisonment. Xia was immediately dragged out of the room after he asked the judge to give him a chance to speak, she said.
“I heard him shouting in the corridor: ‘You are merely retaliating for all the sensitive cases I’ve presented!’” she said.
Leading legal academics on the mainland published a joint letter after the sentencing, questioning the fairness of the verdict.
The group said their detailed review of the procedures in the case from the investigation to the court hearing gave them “solid reasons to think that Xia Lin was not treated fairly and it is very likely that the court has given an unfair verdict”.
“We believe lawyer Xia Lin is completely innocent,” the joint letter said.
It is not uncommon for authorities to use non-political charges against activists. Ai was detained for more than two months in 2010 for suspected tax evasion.
Liu Hui, the brother-in-law of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, was sentenced to 11½ in jail for fraud in 2013. Liu Hui’s case was dropped by prosecutors who cited insufficient evidence in 2012, but was revived months after Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo’s wife, gave interviews to overseas media.