China rights lawyer wins little in successful appeal of sentence
Xia Lin, defender of prominent activists and dissidents, has prison term reduced from 12 to 10 years
Rights lawyer Xia Lin, who has defended high-profile activists and dissidents, had his jail term reduced from 12 to 10 years by an appeal court in Beijing on Friday, his lawyer said.
Xia, whose former clients include outspoken artist Ai Weiwei, Sichuan earthquake activist Tan Zuoren and rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, was first convicted of fraud involving 4.8 million yuan (US$697,000) last September, nearly two years after being detained.
Calling the sentence “an act of retaliation” by the authorities for his involvement in sensitive cases, Xia insisted he was innocent and appealed.
His defence lawyer, Tong Zongjin, said Friday’s verdict was unfair because the Beijing Higher People’s Court upheld the conviction of fraud, which lacked sufficient evidence.
Xia’s wife Lin Ru said she could not accept the verdict, which despite the small reduction is still one of the harshest imposed on rights advocates in recent years.
“I know my husband is innocent. There is no doubt of that,” Lin said in a phone interview after attending the sentencing.
During the proceedings, which only lasted for about five minutes, the court did not give Xia a chance to speak, she said.
Xia, 46, is among the many rights lawyers and advocates thrown behind bars in a crackdown on civil society since President Xi Jinping ascended to power more than four years ago.
He was taken away by police in November 2014 after agreeing to defend rights activist Guo Yushan, who helped blind dissident Chen Guangcheng escape house arrest in 2012. Chen is now in the United States.
Xia’s lawyer Tong said the court’s sentencing was “very hasty”.
“The court did not give any reasoning except repeating the judgement from the first trial at great length”, he said.
He and Xia’s wife had not decided on whether to appeal again, because “the chance to change the sentence is extremely slim”, Tong said.
Lin, who had not seen her husband since the last sentencing in September, said she was not given a chance to talk to him or even see him properly during Friday’s proceedings or afterwards.
“I only saw the side of his face when he entered the courtroom. He kept looking at the public gallery when he walked past. I knew he was searching for me in the crowd,” she said.
The pubic gallery was filled with more than 20 people whom Lin did not know. Lin and Xia’s brother were the only two people among his family and friends who were allowed to sit in.
“I gave him a small smile before he was turned away by the bailiffs to face the judge, but I was not sure if he saw me.
“I hope he did,” Lin said.
It is not uncommon for Chinese authorities to use non-political charges against activists. Ai, the artist and Xia’s former client, 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 years in jail for fraud in 2013.