Lawyer Liu Yao (刘尧), 56, who once practiced in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, represented local peasants in Dongyuan County, in the prefectural-level city of Heyuan City (河源市东源县), in a land right dispute case. Subsequently, in 2009, he was accused of a trumped-up charge of intentional damage of properties. Liu received a suspended sentence, but his lawyer’s license was later revoked. Liu continued to expose corruption after his license revocation. Between 2009 and 2013, several officials in Heyuan were sacked as a result of his exposés.
Liu began publishing articles online in August 2015 exposing an official for his involvement in the illegal appropriation of a vast tract of farmland for a golf course project. In late November 2015, using his real name, Liu reported his allegations against this official—He Zhongyou (何忠友), then Party Secretary of Heyuan and the current Secretary of the CPC Political and Legal Affairs Commission in Guangdong—to the CPC Guangdong Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection. Liu also exposed to the same commission that another high-ranking official, Peng Dingbang (彭定邦)—currently Deputy CPC Secretary of Heyuan and Secretary of the CPC Political and Legal Affairs Commission of Heyuan—covered up for a group of unscrupulous merchants selling counterfeit steel.
In the afternoon of December 26, 2015, Liu was taken away by several unidentified individuals. His residence was searched by officers from the Yuancheng Branch of the Heyuan Public Security Bureau. The Southern Metropolis Daily published an article on his seizure, “Missing: well-known whistleblower Liu Yao who exposed corrupt officials,” but subsequent reporting by other mainland Chinese media outlets on Liu’s case was suppressed.
On December 30, 2015, Liu’s wife, Lai Wei’e (赖伟娥), retained Beijing-based lawyer Yang Limin for legal assistance. In December 2015 and January 2016, Yang twice requested to meet with Liu but his requests were denied. According to an officer at the Yuancheng Branch of the Heyuan Public Security Bureau, Liu had been put under residential surveillance on suspicion of “extortion” and “providing state secrets to foreign organizations.” Liu said later that he was detained at the “Anti-graft Education Center” operated by the Heyuan Commission for Discipline Inspection, where he was abused and tortured, including being deprived of adequate clothing and food.
On June 24, 2016, Liu’s official arrest on the charge of “extortion” was approved by the Yuancheng District People’s Procuratorate of Heyuan City, and he was detained at the Heyuan Detention Center. On April 24, 2017, the Yuancheng District People’s Court of Heyuan City sentenced Liu to 20 years in prison and a fine of RMB 1.4 million for three crimes: “extortion,” “fraud,” and “buying trafficked children.”
After filing an appeal of Liu’s case on May 3, 2017, Liu’ s defense counsel Li Fangping, Yu Pinjian, Cai Ying, and Wang Fei requested an open appeal hearing. Nearly 20,000 Heyuan residents signed a petition requesting the same. On August 10, 2017, the Heyuan Municipal Intermediate People's Court upheld the sentence of the lower court without a hearing. Liu is currently held at the Yangchun Prison in Guangdong with access to lawyers. An appeal was submitted at the end of October 2017 to the Heyuan Municipal Intermediate People’s Court. As of mid-March 2018, the court has not responded to the appeal. On March 16, 2018, Liu submitted an appeal to the Guangdong Provincial People’s Procuratorate to dismiss the case, alleging collusion among some 60 judicial offices.
Because of her effort to help her husband’s case, Lai Wei’e was also targeted. On Jan 17, 2016, Lai Wei’e was taken away from her residence and detained by police. She was charged with “buying trafficked children,” a trumped-up charge based on her and Liu’s adoption of a young son. She was sentenced to one year in prison by the Yuancheng District People’s Court on November 22, 2016. She filed an appeal but the Heyuan Municipal Intermediate People's Court ruled on April 14, 2017 to uphold the sentence. Her application for a new trial was rejected.
Lawyers representing the case have also been harassed and threatened. Lawyer Du Zhaoyong, who represented Zou Zhaoxing (Liu’s older son and a co-defendant in Liu’s case), was summoned many times for questioning and was threatened that he was implicated in the case. After Liu’s appeal was filed, lawyer Yu Pinjian received a threatening phone call from an official in the Justice Bureau of Guangdong asking whether he knew whom he had offended. Lawyer Yu has since been forced to give up practicing in Guangdong, with his license transferred out of the province. Yu remains unable to practice law as of now.
For further information on Liu Yao’s case, contact: +1 203 780 2290
(Compiled by Human Rights in China, March 2018.)