Human rights in China

Prominent Chinese rights lawyer gets suspended jail term in closed trial

Beijing lawyer Li Heping guilty of subverting state power

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 3:41pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 10:48pm

A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer was on Friday sentenced to a three-year suspended jail term for subverting state power.

Li Heping, a Beijing lawyer known for representing Chinese political dissidents, was found guilty in a closed trial by the Tianjin Second Intermediate Court.

The trial began on Tuesday, but was not open to public as it involved state secrets, according to a court statement.

Li’s suspended sentence puts him on a four-year probation, during which if he crosses the law again, he will be required to serve out the three-year jail term.

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The lawyer was detained in 2015 in a sweeping crackdown of some 300 human rights defenders that began on July 9. The move has been dubbed the “709 crackdown” in China.

During Li’s sentencing, the Tianjin court said it found “ample evidence” of his guilt, which included attacking and discrediting the government’s authority and legal system online as well as through interviews with foreign media.

He was also accused of using foreign funds to intervene in prominent legal cases and colluding with people who wanted to “subvert national political thought” or engage in illegal religious activities.

Li had endangered both national security and social stability with his actions, the court found.

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Li gained prominence in China’s human rights field from representing political dissidents including blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, rights attorney Gao Zhisheng, environmental activists as well as Falun Gong practitioners. Falun Gong is a religious sect that is banned in mainland China.

He and another jailed rights lawyer, Wang Quanzhang, were believed to have been tortured while under state detention, the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group said in February.

According to the Tianjin court’s statement on Friday morning, Li expressed gratitude and regret to the panel of judges, prosecutors and defence counsel at the end of the trial.

He could potentially apply for probation given that he had “expressed remorse”, the court said.

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Li’s wife, Wang Qiaoling, said on Friday that her apartment building was being watched by state security police.

The officers offered to take her and the couple’s young daughter to Tianjin to meet Li, but she turned them down. They did not leave after her refusal, she said, adding that she was presently at a medical base in Beijing.