A Beijing court today sentenced a well-known Chinese human rights lawyer to 12 years behind bars for fraud.

Xia Lin (夏霖), 46, who has been in detention since late 2014, was accused of stealing CNY10 million (US$1.5 million) from several individuals to pay off gambling debts. He denied the charges.

Xia previously told his lawyers that most of the police questioning he faced had focused on his high-profile legal work, as well as the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement and his relationship with well-known activist Guo Yushan (郭玉閃), legal colleague Pu Zhiqiang (浦志強) and activist artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) (pictured above).

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) immediately described the sentence today as “a severe retaliation against a human rights advocate who defended the rule of law.”

According to the non-government organization, Lin’s lawyers have previously confirmed that while he had borrowed money, there were legal contracts in place, and there was no evidence Lin had gambling debt.

“It is believed the detention of rights lawyer Xia Lin has been an act of reprisal against him for taking on politically sensitive cases, particularly for representing Guo, who was seized in a crackdown on China’s civil society in late 2014,” CHRD said in a submission to the United Nations about Xia’s case in June.

Xia’s politically sensitive cases included the 2009 defense of a hotel worker who killed a local official in self-defense when he tried to rape her, and his representation of a migrant worker who had killed a local law enforcement agency member – a chengguan official – who had confiscated the worker’s property. He also worked on cases related to land grabs and the quality of school buildings that collapsed during the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

According to the CHRD submission, Xia was taken from his home in November 2014 and later arrested on suspicion of gambling and fraud. His lawyers have raised concern that he has been mistreated by interrogators.

The organization adds that Xia’s detention “mirrors” the fate of many human rights lawyers in China in recent years. It points to a major crackdown, which began in July 2015, and saw 300 lawyers and activists detained or questioned by police – the “confessions” of several lawyers have since been broadcasted on state media and several have been jailed on charges of “subversion.”

“Human rights lawyers in particular have attracted the ire of authorities because they constantly monitor and report legal and procedural violations within a criminal justice system controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” the CHRD says. “Mr. Xia has called his detention political persecution, because he has been detained solely on the basis of the peaceful exercise of his rights guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).”

At the time of writing, Xia’s sentencing does not appear to have been reported by Chinese state media.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole