Chinese human rights lawyers charged with subversion to go on trial in ‘naked case of persecution’

·3-min read
Protesters hold images of Chinese rights advocate Xu Zhiyong (Reuters)
Protesters hold images of Chinese rights advocate Xu Zhiyong (Reuters)

Two Chinese lawyers and rights activists will go on trial over charges of state subversion in what is seen as Beijing’s clampdown against dissent and activism.

Xu Zhiyong, 49, and Ding Jiaxi, 54, were scheduled to appear before the Linshu county court in the northeastern province of Shandong on Wednesday and Friday respectively.

The trial will be held behind closed doors where the two have been permitted legal representation but other visitors, including relatives and diplomats, will not be allowed to attend.

Their lawyers have been strictly warned against speaking to the media, according to reports.

Mr Xu and Mr Ding are prominent figures within the New Citizens’ Movement and have previously served prison sentences. Their movement, founded in 2012, demands greater transparency into the wealth of officials and advocates for citizens to exercise their rights.

They came in the crosshairs of the Chinese government for attending and organising an informal gathering in the southeastern city of Xiamen in late 2019, where several activists voiced their opinions on the current affairs of China.

On 4 February 2020, Mr Xu wrote an open letter calling for Chinese president Xi Jinping to resign, citing his handling of the country’s crises, including the 2019 Hong Kong protests and the spread of Covid. Days later, he was detained from the home of a fellow activist.

Mr Ding went missing in December 2019 and Mr Xu disappeared following his detainment in February. Both were formally arrested on 19 June 2020, Luo Shengchun, Mr Ding’s wife, told Reuters.

“Our families are of course upset and angry. This is a naked case of injustice and persecution,” Ms Luo said.

Both men were reportedly subjected to torture, including long hours of interrogation and being bound to an iron “‘tiger-chair’ with their limbs contorted for more than 10 hours per day for many days,” according to Amnesty International.

Rights groups have called the charges a “sham” and urged the Chinese government to unconditionally release them.

“The Chinese authorities have targeted Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi not because they committed any internationally recognised crime, but simply because they hold views the government does not like. These unfair trials are an egregious attack on their human rights,” said Amnesty International’s China Campaigner Gwen Lee.

Yaqiu Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the reason that the two were charged with “ridiculous” subversion crimes was because they “dare to envision a different China and to demand the country to be free and just”.

Beijing, however, has rejected criticism of a raft of human-rights abuses, claiming that the jailed rights lawyers and activists were criminals who broke the law.