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Harsh Prison Terms for Advocates Undermine Official Anti-Corruption Efforts

June 19, 2014

In yet another example of the Chinese authorities’ undermining their own stated goal to fight corruption by punishing citizens calling for disclosure of official assets, a court in Jiangxi Province today sentenced three advocates to prison terms ranging from six and a half years to three years. The verdicts came more than six months after their trial on December 3-5, 2013.

The Yushui District People’s Court in Xinyu found Liu Ping (刘萍) and Wei Zhongping (魏忠平) guilty of  “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” (寻衅滋事), “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” (聚众扰乱公共场所秩序), and “using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement” (利用邪教组织破坏法律实施), and sentenced each to six and a half years in prison—the heaviest sentences since the authorities began cracking down on citizen activists in 2013, surpassing the four years given to Xu Zhiyong (许志永), a lead advocate of the New Citizens Movement. The court handed down a three-year prison term to Li Sihua (李思华) for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.”

After hearing the verdicts and sentences, Liu Ping’s daughter Liao Minyue (廖敏月), who had previously discouraged her mother from her activism fearing retaliation, told HRIC: “Today, I want to tell everyone, advancing constitutional democracy in China is everyone’s job. We can no longer be silent. We must support them. We must stand up and refuse indifference.” Within two hours of the verdict’s announcement, Liao Minyue’s weibo account was shut down.

Until their detention on April 28, 2013, the three defendants had been vocal advocates urging high-level officials to reveal their assets as a way to fight corruption, and were active in street actions, including displaying banners, distributing leaflets, and giving speeches. The court based its “evil cult” conviction of Liu Ping on her posting information online about the persecution of a Falun Gong practitioner, thus, in its view, “spreading Falun Gong.” The court cites an interview that Wei Zhongping gave to a foreign media outlet via Skype during which he conveyed his New Year’s greetings to Li Hongzhi, the leader of the Falun Gong, as evidence of his “spreading Falun Gong.”

The verdicts also triggered strong reactions from lawyers and the New Citizens Movement. Below are a few excerpts:

“Liu Ping’s sentence utterly shattered the trace of hope I had in what’s left of a rule of law.” (Lawyer Zhang Qingfang (张庆方) in a weibo post that appears to have been deleted)

“This is a reckless, shameless reprisal, and it has nothing to do with the law, the legal institution, and the rule of law.” (New Citizens Movement on its website [See English translation])

“What kind of country is this? What kind of law is this? What kind of people are they?” (Lawyer Pang Kun (庞琨) in a weibo post)

Liu Ping, a former worker at the Xinyu Iron and Steel Plant, began her rights defense work after receiving what she believed to be an inadequate pension upon her retirement in 2009. She and Wei Zhongping, also a former metal worker, ran for the People’s Congress in Yushui District, Xinyu in 2011. Li Sihua, a former Party school teacher, served eight years on charges of false declaration of assets and bribery, which he maintained were baseless. He was released from prison in 2010.