Beijing increased charges against human rights lawyers detained for attending a private meeting
Chinese human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi and activist Xu Zhiyong met their lawyers for the first time after being detained for more than a year. They talked about being tortured and being deprived of food during detention.
After being cut off from the outside world for more than a year, Chinese human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi and prominent Chinese human rights activist Xu Zhiyong were allowed to meet their lawyers for the first time on January 21. As Ding’s wife received information about her husband being tortured during the “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL,) she reminded Ding’s lawyer to ask about specific details during the meeting.
According to his wife Sophie Luo, Ding told his lawyer Peng Jian that five people took turns to interrogate him for seven days and seven nights during RSDL. He was not allowed to sleep. Additionally, Ding was only allowed to eat one fourth of a bun for each meal.
“I broke out into a cold sweat after hearing these details, because I wasn’t sure how Jiaxi survived the initial stage of his detention,” Luo said. “In fact, a friend already told me about these horrifying details last July, but the friend wasn’t able to confirm it personally. Even though I felt terrible at the time, the impact wasn’t as strong as getting a confirmation from Jiaxi.”
Xu Zhiyong’s fiancee Li Qiaochu said during Xu’s meeting with his lawyers, the videoconferencing device at the detention center wasn’t operating smoothly, causing the meeting time to be shortened from almost one hour to less than 40 minutes. “He only talked about being deprived of sleep,” Li said.
“During the first five days of RSDL, he was only allowed to sleep four hours each day and during the following five days, he was only allowed to sleep two hours each day.”
Li was put under RSDL for four months during 2020, so she was concerned that Xu’s conditions might be worse than hers. In an open letter that she wrote in September 2020, Li talked about being handcuffed and having a balaclava covering her head. Additionally, the lights in her room were always on and there were surveillance cameras in the room too.
“Xu said he was only given one bun for each meal, and he was also not allowed to write letters to his families even though it was a detainee’s legal right,’ Li said. “He never received any information from me or his family, and while he is allowed to buy food in the detention center, the price is three times higher than the normal price.”
Cut off from the world for more than a year
As Ding and Xu were both cut off from the outside world for more than a year, they both wanted to know what has happened to their family members and some major events that have taken place in the world. Ding reportedly shedded tears after he learned about his family’s updates and wanted the lawyer to tell the outside world that he will continue to fight for his faith and that he is prepared for anything that might come.
“‘Everything that I’ve done is to make your lives better and they will also make my compatriots’ lives better,’ Jiaxi said,” said Luo. “I felt slightly reassured after knowing that Jiaxi is safe. The lawyer said he looked firm and determined.”
On the other hand, Xu asked his lawyers to tell him about some major events that have taken place during his detention and he also asked about his fiancee’s conditions. He said he often thought about his fiancee.
“I asked the lawyers to tell Zhiyong how much I’ve been thinking about him and I’m willing to stay by his side,” Li said. “I also went through RSDL, so I know how it feels to be disconnected from the outside world. Anyone put under RSDL would be afraid of being forgotten. I want Zhiyong to know that he only has to take care of himself and make sure that he remains in good spirit. He doesn’t need to worry about what happens outside, because I will try my best to let him be heard by the world.”
Ding and Xu’s lawyers told their family members that their case have been separated into two cases. On top of that, authorities have escalated their charges from “inciting subversion of state power” to “subversion of state power,” which carries heavier prison sentences.
The Linyi People’s Procuratorate told their lawyers that since their cases are highly classified, lawyers need to sign confidentiality agreements before they were allowed to access court documents. Luo said as authorities haven’t been following the law since the beginning, she won’t try to predict whether Ding’s prison sentence will be increased or not.
“I always prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” she said. “I am very used to the authorities escalating charges against my husband. Even though I’m angry about it, I don’t think this will be the sign that Jiaxi will receive a heavier sentence. The final sentence depends on his lawyers’ defenses, the procuratorate’s inspection, who is in charge of the court and whether the judges have conscience or not.”
Li said she cares more about whether the cases have been handled according to law. “I think Zhiyong should be treated according to law, regardless of the crime that they have imposed onto him,” Li said. “I hope they can guarantee his legal rights during detention. He has always been a very just and brave person. As his family member, I need to be strong.”
Ding, Xu and more than a dozen human rights lawyers and dissidents attended a private gathering at Xiamen City in December 2019. They talked about the political situation in China and the civil society. However, on December 26, 2019, authorities arrested many of them in different parts of China. Although many of them have been released since then, Ding, Xu and Chinese human rights lawyer Chang Weiping have been arrested and charged.
This piece first appeared in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.