PRESIDENT XI JINPING of China has been tireless in stamping out dissent. He has demanded that journalists, charities and university professors, among others, bow to the supremacy of the Communist Party. He told journalists for party organs that they must show absolute loyalty and “have the party as their family name.” Mr. Xi seems particularly eager to keep a firm hand on the reins of power before this year’s key meeting of the Chinese Communist Party to seal his second five-year term.
One of the most vicious campaigns has been the so-called war on law, using arrests, detentions and show trials to punish lawyers who have courageously defended human rights victims in recent years. The crackdown was launched in July 2015, and more than 250 people were detained. Among them was Li Heping, a prominent lawyer who had defended Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal advocate and rights champion, as well as villagers evicted from their homes and practitioners of Falun Gong, a religious discipline banned by the Chinese authorities.
After nearly 22 months in prison during which he was reportedly tortured with electric shocks, Mr. Li was tried April 25 in the port city of Tianjin. The court announced April 28 that he had been convicted of “subversion of state power” for, among other things, using the foreign media and his postings on social media to “smear and attack state organs and the legal system.” He was given a three-year prison sentence, with a four-year reprieve, meaning he will have the convictions hanging over him.
His wife, Wang Qiaoling, insisted on his innocence, saying the party-state had “turned an innocent man into a criminal, and then suspended the sentence so it seems really humanitarian. But this is absurd. I don’t acknowledge it, and I don’t recognize it.” She added, “Screw your suspended sentence.” When Mr. Li was released May 9, his wife said he had “wasted away” in detention and added that Chinese security officers are shadowing him everywhere.
In Changsha, separately, a Chinese court on May 8 began the trial of prominent human rights lawyer Xie Yang, who was also taken into custody in July 2015. The proceeding began in true show-trial fashion, with the court releasing what appears to be a forced confession in which Mr. Xie admits to subversion, denies he was tortured and urges his fellow lawyers not to “smear the image of the nation’s party organs” while representing cases. This is not rule of law.
Mr. Xie’s relatives, including a daughter born in the United States, managed to flee China for Thailand, but were jailed there for entering the country illegally. Chinese agents were lurking at the jail, hoping to repatriate them, when the United States intervened, literally sweeping the family out the back door of the jail to safety. This unusual example of activism by the administration is to be welcomed. President Trump, who has described Mr. Xi as “a very good man,” must also speak up for China’s beleaguered lawyers and others who have been cruelly silenced.
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