China to rule on appeals in case of detained human rights lawyers

A Chinese court is to rule in the appeals of detained human rights lawyers Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong, as Ding’s wife called on China’s top judge to “rectify the miscarriage of justice” in their case.

Ding and Xu are leading figures in China’s thwarted New Citizens’ Movement, a loose network of activists and lawyers concerned with human rights and government corruption. In April, the men were sentenced to more than a decade in prison for subversion of state power, in a ruling that was criticised by the UN’s human rights chief. Ding received a 12-year sentence, while Xu’s was 14 years.

Ding and Xu have already been detained for more than three years, after being swept up in a crackdown on activists who had gathered in Xiamen in December 2019.

In February 2020, Xu, a former law professor, had called for Xi Jinping, China’s leader who has overseen a severe crackdown on Chinese civil society, to step down over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

On Friday, Linshu county court in Shandong province will deliver its verdict in Ding and Xu’s appeal. Their appeals are all but certain to fail. China’s criminal courts have a conviction rate of more than 99%.

According to China’s criminal procedure law, the men will not have another chance to appeal against their sentences after Friday’s decision.

In September, Luo Shengchun, Ding’s wife, who is based in the US, published an open letter addressed to Zhang Jun, the chief justice of China’s supreme people’s court.

Luo said she had received no information about her husband’s case since the sentencing in April, and accused the Chinese authorities of “shameless violations of the law”.

Ding and Xu “never agreed that they are guilty. They are innocent and they didn’t do anything against the law,” Luo told the Guardian.

Before turning to activism, Ding had a successful career as a commercial lawyer, specialising in intellectual property. In 2011, he was given an award for being one of the “10 best IP lawyers” in Beijing. But, along with Xu, he later became one of the most prominent pro-democracy activists in China’s civil rights movement.

William Nee, a researcher at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said: “Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi were arguably the two most prominent activists who were trying to promote civil activism and bring about gradual changes towards a constitutional democracy.”

Nee added that the sentences were “a signal to everyone that the Chinese Communist party will not allow any space for constructive reformers, and instead political life will be unilaterally dictated by Xi Jinping”.

Elaine Pearson, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Chinese authorities should quash the convictions handed down to two of China’s most prominent human rights defenders Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi. They were sentenced to long prison terms on baseless charges and the closed door trials have had myriad due process concerns including allegations of mistreatment.”

The Chinese justice department has been approached for comment.


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