What you need to know
Two key lawyers detained in Beijing’s massive crackdown on human rights activists last year may avoid more jail time after admitting guilt.
Beijing-based human rights activist Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民) was sentenced today after reportedly pleading guilty to subverting state power.
Zhai, 55, was sentenced to three years in prison with a four-year reprieve at a court in Tianjin, northern China.
State-owned Xinhua says the court was told that Zhai, along with three others, had “conspired and plotted to subvert state power, and had ‘established a systematic ideology, method and steps to achieve it.’”
Xinhua describes Zhai as “an unemployed resident of Beijing” and a “paid protest organizer.”
China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), an NGO, wrote on Twitter Zhai’s wife was “barred” from attending the trial, and his family-appointed lawyer was “blocked from defending him.”
According to CHRD, Zhai was illegally detained on June 15 last year as part of the 709 Crackdown – which the NGO says saw at least 300 people questioned, mostly in relation to a law firm, Beijing Fengrui.
In a mid-July report last year, Xinhua quoted a statement from the Ministry of Public Security accusing a group, led by Beijing Fengrui, of “disrupting public order and seeking profits by illegally hiring protesters and swaying court decisions in the name of ‘defending justice and public interests.’”
The statement said, “Since July 2012, the group has organized more than 40 controversial incidents and severely disrupted public order.”
It also said that the suspects, including Zhai, had “reflected on their alleged crimes and realized their harmful impact.”
Zhai himself is quoted in the statement, apparently detailing how the firm manipulated public opinion and hyped up controversial incidents.
CHRD says that in February this year, authorities claimed that Zhai had dismissed his family-appointed lawyer, Ge Wenxiu (葛文秀).
“This is seemingly part of a trend: at least 10 others detained in the 709 crackdown also allegedly ‘fired’ their defense counsel. However, authorities have not allowed Ge to confirm any decision that Zhai may have made,” the NGO says on its website. “Instead, they have refused to allow the lawyer to meet with Zhai and not produced written confirmation of such a decision, in violation of local regulations.”
Yesterday, another Fengrui lawyer, Wang Yu (王宇) was reportedly released on bail after "confessing" on television to subverting state power.
Earlier last month, Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International, said the lawyers caught up in 709 Crackdown had faced the “full wrath” of Beijing’s “secretive machinery of repression.”
“The detained lawyers must be released and this systemic assault against individuals defending the rights of Chinese people must end,” Rife said. “President Xi Jinping (習近平) has the gall to claim the Chinese government upholds the rule of law even when lawyers face life in jail for trying to do just that.”
Amnesty International said at the time there were 17 individuals still detained in relation to the crackdown, eight of whom could face life imprisonment.
BBC says its reporters were stopped from filming outside the court in Tianjin today, despite official Chinese media claiming the trial would be open.
First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole