Li Heping (right), a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, was released last week after nearly two years in prison. (Radio Free Asia)Li Heping (right), a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, was released last week after nearly two years in prison. (Radio Free Asia)

After nearly two years behind bars, Li Heping, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, was released from prison last week.

Both his friends and his wife said he was barely recognizable—once robust and healthy, he is now thin and emaciated, his hair turned white, a radical transformation for someone only in his mid-forties.

On July 9, 2015, he was taken away by Tianjin public security officers and sentenced with “subversion of state power.” His arrest was part of a nationwide crackdown in 2015—known colloquially as the “709 Incident”—which targeted over 250 human rights lawyers and activists.

After two years of painstaking advocacy on his behalf, Wang Qiaoling, Li’s wife, was finally able to secure his release. Li was given a four-year suspended sentence, which means he still cannot practice law as before.

Human rights lawyer Li Heping, formerly youthful and robust, looked markedly different and almost unrecognizable after being imprisoned and tortured. (Radio Free Asia)

Representing the Vulnerable

Li Heping garnered prominence for defending political dissidents and vulnerable groups in China, including underground Christians, victims of forced evictions, as well as practitioners of the persecuted Falun Gong spiritual practice.

He also sought to appeal on behalf of blind activist Chen Guangcheng and fellow rights attorney Gao Zhisheng. In 2006, he defended environmental activist Tan Kai, founder of the environmental group “Green Watch.”

In 2007, along with five other Beijing-based human rights lawyers, Li represented Wang Bo, a Falun Gong practitioner, in a prominent case in Shijiazhuang City. In their defense of Wang Bo’s innocence, they jointly published “The Constitution is Supreme, Freedom of Religion”—the first time Chinese lawyers applied Chinese law to systematically defend Falun Gong practitioners as innocent. The defense statement would be frequently referenced by rights lawyers later on when representing Falun Gong practitioners.

As he continued to take on high-profile cases, Li was subjected to increasing harassment, surveillance, and threats by Chinese security forces. In Sep. 2007, he was abducted by plainclothes police and shocked with electric batons for several hours before being left in the woods in the suburbs of Beijing. In 2009, Chinese authorities refused to renew his law license, thus depriving him of his right to practice law and forcing him to turn to legal consultation work instead.

Mounting tensions culminated with his arrest in July, 2015 along with numerous other human rights defenders.

From Defender to Persecuted

According to Li’s wife, Wang Qiaoling, Li was subjected to constant surveillance while detained—with people guarding him even as he used the bathroom—and tortured with beatings and electric shocks.

Furthermore, while imprisoned, Li was regularly forced to consume unknown drugs, ostensibly for high blood pressure, a condition he did not have.

The drugs resulted in bodily weakness, pain in his muscles, and blurry vision. Other human rights defenders released from prison, including Li’s younger brother, Li Chunfu, have discussed similar experiences of being force-fed unknown medication while detained. After being released in January 2017, Li was soon diagnosed with symptoms of schizophrenia.

According to Heng He, a senior political commentator at New Tang Dynasty Television (a sister media company of Epoch Times) the use of drugs as a form of torture is not an isolated occurrence. In 2001, the American Psychiatric Association began drawing attention to forced administration of psychotropic drugs on Falun Gong practitioners detained at mental hospitals.

Heng says that the force-feeding of drugs was “used at a large scale on Falun Gong practitioners before being used to persecute human rights lawyers.” The purpose, he says, is to “break their will” and to threaten those around them by highlighting the consequences of opposing state policy.

In response to mounting evidence of forced administration of drugs, members of Chinese Lawyers for the Protection of Human Rights penned an open letter on May 14 calling for an independent investigation into the use of drugs to torture rights lawyers imprisoned as a part of the 709 Incident.

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Chinese activist lawyer Xia Ling in a July 14, 2011 file photo. Xia was sentenced to 12 year in prison on fraud charges on Sept. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)Chinese activist lawyer Xia Ling in a July 14, 2011 file photo. Xia was sentenced to 12 year in prison on fraud charges on Sept. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

BEIJING—A Chinese lawyer who defended activists and others involved in politically sensitive cases was sentenced to 12 years in prison recently on fraud charges, his lawyers said.

Xia Lin was sentenced on Sept. 22 by the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court, nearly two years after being detained, lawyer Ding Xikui said.

“We’ve been striving to defend his innocence,” Ding said. “Even one day in prison is too much.”

There was no immediate comment from the court. Ding said Xia planned to file an appeal.

Xia’s sentence appeared to be the heaviest for a critic of the Chinese regime since economist and Uyghur minority rights advocate Ilham Tohti was sentenced in 2014 to life imprisonment on separatism charges after he made calls for Chinese-Uyghur reconciliation and greater economic justice.

It came amid a string of recent cases and subversion trials demonstrating the Communist Party’s determination to silence independent human rights activists and government critics. But the most those accused received was 7 ½ years.

By comparison, Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, identified by the party as an existential threat to its rule, is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion.

“The harsh sentence against Xia Lin sends the sternest warning yet to the community of human rights lawyers that they must toe the Party line,” said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch.

Wang said Party leader Xi Jinping has made clear that, despite its calls for strengthened rule of law, the Party intends to use the legal system to enforce its uncontested rule. “Anyone who challenges this aspiration will not be tolerated.”

Ding and advocacy group Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders said the charges against Xia, who was born in 1970, related to money he borrowed from friends, who asserted they loaned it freely and had not brought legal complaints against him. He was accused of defaulting on that debt, but no convincing evidence was provided, they said.

“He had indeed borrowed money from people, but it is just normal borrowing and lending money,” Ding said.

The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders said Xia was detained on Nov. 8, 2014, as he began preparing to defend Guo Yushan, the head of a Chinese think tank, the Transition Institute. It said Guo had been detained a month earlier for supporting the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement in the semi-autonomous Chinese region of Hong Kong.

The group said that, lacking evidence of fraud, investigators instead focused on Xia’s association with regime critics, including artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei, whose design company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., he helped defend from a demand for $1.85 million in back taxes and fines brought in 2011 that was widely seen as a further form of government harassment following Ai’s illegal detention earlier that year. Ai ultimately lost the case, despite claims of widespread legal irregularities.

“The numerous legal violations, not least the length of time it took to bring Xia to trial, demonstrate the flimsiness of the authorities’ case. Xia Lin should be freed on Thursday and compensated for his time in detention,” human rights researcher Frances Eve said in a statement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang discounted such accusations, saying such groups likely didn’t represent mainstream opinion about China in the international community.

Xia’s case “falls within China’s internal affairs … and will be handled in accordance with law,” Lu said.

In the summer of 2015, about 300 activists and human rights lawyers were initially seized in a roundup and questioned before most were released.

But more than a dozen of those detained last year remain in custody, their legal fates still unknown.

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Liang Xiaojun. (Epoch Times)Liang Xiaojun. (Epoch Times)

Director of a law firm in Beijing. Graduate of the prominent China University of Political Science and Law. Son of a wealthy Chinese Communist Party cadre.

Liang Xiaojun is all these things — yet he’s also willing to risk police surveillance and arrest to defend the disenfranchised in Chinese society: maligned death row inmates, house Christians, and Falun Gong prisoners of conscience.

Liang’s commitment to upholding legal rights stems from his observing injustice in China endlessly play out.

“I once defended a person of faith in Chenghai, a district in Shantou City,” he told Epoch Times in an interview. “The person said had been illegally detained at a local legal education school, and was deprived of sleep for over 10 days, threatened, and intimidated. When he explained the situation to the court prosecutor, the prosecutor said: ‘You must’ve committed a crime if the public security officers resorted to torture to extract a confession.’”  

I don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t go to social events, and don’t have much social interaction. So I don’t have much need for money.

A trip to Xi County in the central Chinese province of Henan left Liang feeling that being a lawyer in China is “too tiresome”: “Even though there is the law, the police officers there say, ‘I listen to my leader,’ and the prosecuting officials say, ‘Don’t talk to me about the law; I won’t let you review the court documents.’”

Epoch Times recently spoke with Liang Xiaojun about his work in China; below is an abridged translation of the interview, edited for clarity.

Epoch Times (ET): You started out studying politics and ideology — why did you elect to enter this field back then?

Liang Xiaojun: I entered college in 1991. Then, politics thickly permeated China’s atmosphere, especially after the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989.

My father was a Party member and was very leftist in his thinking. He strongly supported the Party’s position and believed that the leadership of the Party was unshakable. Because studying politics could allow one to get a job more easily, my father chose this field for me. And so I sat for an exam and was admitted to the Hebei Normal University.

Liang Xiaojun. (Weibo)

What I learned was useless. In fact, I don’t like politics, especially the teachings of Marxism-Leninism and Maoism. I learned poorly, didn’t enjoy the lessons, and felt that the teachings were meaningless.

I led a life of affluence, and didn’t encounter any major setbacks. My life was very peaceful and ordinary, and I didn’t have any direct contact with the poor.

But I did observe those living in the farming villages, and I greatly sympathized with them. The country was developing, but why did so many people have to live in poverty and ignorance? The city dwellers discriminated against the villagers, and I found this hard to understand.

I feel that villagers and those in the cities should enjoy the same level of development, and that there shouldn’t be any discrimination. There is injustice in society, I thought, and felt that there should be some sort of system in place to reverse this unjust phenomenon.

Even though I was being indoctrinated with Marxism-Leninism, and the Maoist stuff, I still enjoyed traditional Chinese culture much more. I would read Confucius’s “Analects,” and selections from Mencius. It was from these ancients that I learned about giving up one’s life for a noble cause, and other teachings of virtue. This spiritual pursuit impacted me profoundly.

Meanwhile, I was studying law, and believed that there was something about the law that was worth exploring. For instance, the law embraces values like fairness and justice, which is in fact similar to the concept of “yi,” or “righteousness,” from traditional Chinese culture; in reality, these values are complementary.

ET: Are you still in contact with your classmates from the China University of Political Science and Law? You are all in the same profession, but why do you serve different clientele?

Liang: Of the over 100 classmates at the university, I’m possibly the only one on the rights defense path. I spoke to some classmates in university groups, but they didn’t understand me. Some even quit the groups I belonged to…

Some of us from the China University of Political Science and Law work in the public security system, and we know each other. But they can’t understand the sort of legal cases I take up.

So I haven’t been in contact with my classmates from the Hebei Normal University and the China University of Political Science and Law. First, we have nothing in common. Second, they are keeping their distance from me.

It’s better that my classmates just do what they do. I’m being monitored, and that could affect them if we keep in touch because many of them are government officials. After considering their situation, I’ve decided not to contact them.

That being said, I feel that what I’m doing is excellent and correct. I’m living up to the spirit of the law and defending human rights—there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve found other kindred spirits, and we share a common conviction.

I can’t accept too much money from Falun Gong practitioners. This group has been suppressed for over 10 years, and its adherents lead very difficult lives.

ET: Does the name “Daoheng” (道衡) in your Daoheng Law Firm have anything to do with traditional Chinese culture?

Liang: I did think about traditional Chinese culture when coming up with a name. The character “dao,” (道) is derived from “The Tao that is the way that can be followed, but it isn’t an ordinary way,” and “Taoism follows nature,” while “heng” (衡) means “balance.”

ET: Why are the words “Paying Attention to the Death Sentence” in Daoheng Law Firm’s corporate logo?

Liang: We’ve accepted several death-penalty cases. Some of our clients have their sentence reduced to life imprisonment, or a limited term of imprisonment, and some were even found not guilty.

As a lawyer, when my clients are handed the death sentence, I’m not heartless to the point where I feel nothing. I don’t know what judges who pass the execution order are thinking, because they are required by legal procedure to meet the defendants, the people on death row. After meeting with them, these judges order the execution, and it is done. I don’t know how the judges cope mentally.

Anyhow, I feel very uncomfortable when I know that my clients are going to be executed; I even have dreams about executions and my clients at night. People commit drug-related crimes because they are poor. For a little money, drug mules lose their lives. Being poor isn’t their fault, and killing these people doesn’t solve the problem.  

China has always handed out harsh punishment to drug criminals. However, drug-related crimes haven’t lessened, and are in fact increasing. The death penalty is a complicated legal and political issue. An authoritarian country needs the death penalty to maintain its rule, and to intimidate the people.

ET: Chinese law firms usually have a Party committee and Party leaders. Does your law office have a Party committee?

Liang: Daoheng Law Firm doesn’t have a Party committee.

ET: What sort of court trials do you feel are the most oppressive?

Liang: The trial of Liu Wei from Sichuan Province was the most oppressive  court case I’ve experienced.

Liu was a student at the Beijing Polytechnic University and a Tiananmen protester. After he quit school and returned to Sichuan, the police continued to harass him. So all he could do was rights defense and dissident work.

The Chinese Communist Party’s use of intimidation tactics dissident cases is unrivalled—when court is in session, large numbers of riot police enter the courtroom wearing metal helmets and carrying rifles loaded with live rounds.

Also quite oppressive are cases involving Falun Gong [a traditional Chinese meditation practice persecuted in China].

ET: What effect did the widespread arrest of lawyers in July 9 last year have on the legal community in China?

Liang: The suppression succeeded in some areas, but I feel that new lawyers are stepping out in large numbers. Everyone is persevering and going on with it.

ET: There are many lawyers, but there aren’t many “human rights lawyers.” Why did you decide to become one?

Liang: As a defense lawyer, I discovered that there were many people who were being suppressed by the country’s authorities, resulting in their being unfairly tried and sentenced.

Liang Xiaojun. (Weibo)

In 2008, I represented Kashgar Alimujiang in Xinjiang, a typical case of political and religious persecution. Alimujiang, a Christian who converted from Islam, was marked by the local religious bureau after he started organizing a family church. He was later arrested for “providing state secrets to foreigners,” and sentenced to 15 years in jail.

The Xinjiang procuratorate didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute Alimujiang, and his actions didn’t make him guilty, either. But he was convicted regardless.

When I later started representing Falun Gong cases, I found that it difficult to meet my clients, difficult to review court documents, and difficult to secure a court trial. It was challenging every step of the way because there was interference from public security forces, the procuratorate, and the courts.

After taking on Falun Gong cases, I realize that under the current Chinese system, they are the most severely persecuted group. So I decided to defend these people whose rights have been truly violated.

Since 2009, I’ve accepted between 80 to 100 Falun Gong cases. The authorities have piled intense pressure against me—the judicial bureau came looking for me, and so did other departments. These departments told me that I couldn’t represent Falun Gong practitioners, and that what I was doing was very dangerous.

Because the pressure was so immense, many lawyers who worked on these cases have since stopped representing Falun Gong practitioners. But I’ve always persisted.

Read the full article here

Editor’s note: Chen Guangcheng is a blind Chinese human rights lawyer and civil rights activist who is best known for his advocacy on China’s one-child policy and women’s rights, and defending the poor. He was imprisoned by the Chinese authorities in 2006, and placed under house arrest in 2010. Chen managed to slip his guards and escape to the United States in 2012, where he now resides.
****
To My Friend, Li Heping:
It is characteristic for an authoritarian regime to perpetuate its rule by arresting outspoken human rights activists. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) recent large-scale arrest of human rights activists and lawyers, however, is a flailing struggle before its demise.
On July 9, the CCP began another high-profile effort to suppress human rights lawyers and activists. Based on what’s known, over 300 have been targeted in that campaign to date, but in actuality, many thousands of human rights defenders and their families have been arrested or detained. Getting arrested was a fate my friend, lawyer Li Heping, couldn’t escape.
On the afternoon of July 10, Li was suddenly taken away by public security officials in Tianjin. His home was thoroughly searched, and his computer and other belongings were confiscated. Li has remained kidnapped for nearly half a year and his whereabouts are still unknown.
Li Heping’s younger brother, Li Chunfu, was also kidnapped around the same time. Other lawyers have been unable to get involved in their cases, and nobody knows if they have been tortured or subject to other ill treatment. Wang Qiaoling, Li Heping’s wife, was once threatened at her home by public security bureau officials.
From my own experiences, I’ve learned that the CCP is a gangster regime that is without morality and is capable of all evil. Under the CCP’s rule, Chinese society has gone backward—good people have little leeway, while bad people can do whatever they desire.
Back in 2004, Beijing public security officers harassed Yu Jie (a prominent Chinese writer) at his home for an article he wrote, and threatened him with arrest. After learning of this, brother Li handed his keys and bank card to his family and then drove to Yu Jie’s home, determined to represent him as a lawyer. Such a magnanimous act was unheard of in China, with civil society then still in a nascent state. When I first heard the news from a Radio Free Asia report—”Lawyer rushes to the scene”—I had no idea who the lawyer was. I later learned from a friend that the lawyer was brother Li, and I began to admire and respect him.
As expected, Li Heping was marked by the CCP—under the communist regime’s rule, any person who wants to make China a better place and to foster a more just society with concrete actions will become a thorn in the CCP’s eye, and it becomes a matter of time before the person is persecuted.
To my knowledge, brother Li had for over a decade contributed greatly to society, particularly on matters that benefit the people, but not the authoritarian regime: He was there for the Northern Shaanxi Oilfield incident; he investigated a case in Shandong where birth control measures were violently executed; he represented victims of a chemical pollution case in the city of Dongyang, Zhejiang Province; he did not back down from cases involving religious groups.
Li Heping has for many years also campaigned for the rights of citizens. When he had some spare time, Li would educate citizens on the concept of rule of law, and help out his friends. He is a responsible person who never retreats from what he can accomplish.
Over the years, Li’s involvement in human rights activities has resulted in his being tailed, threatened, intimidated, beaten, and tortured with shocks from electric batons. The CCP finally closed Li’s office and revoked his license to practice law in 2009. How can the authoritarian CCP tolerate the existence of a lawyer who is persistent and uncompromising in his efforts to safeguard the dignity of the law and social justice?
I miss you, my friend! I still clearly remember that as I was preparing to leave the country of my birth, you called me at Chaoyang Hospital to ask that I stay and continue the fight. The sound of you crying immediately after speaking has since stayed in my heart. Now, I don’t even know where you are!
Do take care of yourself when you face the regime’s final, frenzied persecution alone! My friend, you who have fought the authoritarian regime on the side of justice with your wit, bravery, and persistence, have the strength to move mountains. We will always be fighting by your side, and distance will not be a barrier.
History will judge fairly those who have contributed to the progress of this country and society. The masterminds and their accomplices who have persecuted you and the others like you must face history’s trial.
The bells welcoming the New Year will soon ring. I hope that the sound of the bells will bring health, safety, and freedom to those who like Li Heping have suffered for justice.
May the sound of the bells also awaken more people to stand up and fight for the rights that originally belong to us! May the sound of the bells too usher out the communist regime!
Chen Guangcheng Dec. 27, 2015

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PARLIAMENT HILL—Some 700 people gathered on Parliament Hill on Dec. 9, the eve of Human Rights Day, to deliver 95,000 petition signatures to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to urge his government to pressure China to end the campaign of persecution of Falun Gong.
Several MPs came out to lend their voices and sometimes profound insights to the cause.
Liberal MP Judy Sgro brought greetings on behalf of Prime Minister Trudeau and told the crowd that the PM had taken up their concerns.
“In recent meetings that Prime Minister Trudeau has had with the Chinese leaders, the issue of human rights in China, and specifically the Falun Dafa, was raised by Prime Minister Trudeau to the Chinese president,” she said.
“I know sometimes you get discouraged because some of the persecution continues to happen in China. But you must keep strong and keep doing what you are doing.”
Free, unfettered contemplation is essential to the human experience.— Conservative MP Garnett Genuis

Newly elected Conservative MP Garnett Genuis said governments who restrict religious freedom are inherently insecure.
“They believe that this natural process of free-thinking undermines social and political stability. But free, unfettered contemplation is essential to the human experience,” he said.
“As long as the government seeks to reduce their citizens to something less than human, they will always be insecure because men and women will look into their own minds and hearts and recognize that they were made for something more.”
Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, who tabled the first bill in Parliament (former Liberal MP Irwin Cotler filed a similar bill as well) to stop Canadians from going to China for organ transplants, said he would introduce such legislation again.
Forced organ harvesting must be stopped in China, he said.
“Let’s call this for what it is—a horrific example of state cannibalism.” 
Universal Principles
Conservative MP Michael Cooper said it was a privilege to stand beside people defending principles like truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
“Those principles aren’t just Falun Gong principles, they are Canadian principles, and they are universal principles.”
Conservative MP and former environment minister Peter Kent chairs the parliamentary Friends of Falun Gong and has made efforts to get other MPs as well as the Prime Minister to pay attention to the plight of Falun Gong practitioners in China.
“It is a real honour to be with you again,” he said.
Kent said he wanted the Canadian government to urge China to allow 200,000 criminal complaints filed by Chinese people against former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin to reach their logical end—a finding of “extreme criminality” for Jiang’s campaign to snuff out Falun Gong.
Cotler, a former minister of justice and attorney general, called on Chinese authorities end the persecution of Falun Gong and “end the practice of the forced and illegal organ harvesting … and which was condemned unanimously by our foreign affairs subcommittee of international human rights.”
“The Chinese authorities seek to frame their relationship with Canada in terms of a narrative of trade and business, and investment, and yes we want to encourage trade, business, and investment between our countries. But there must be constitutionalism along with trade. There must be respect for the rule of law along with business.”
Conservative MP Scott Reid, who raised Falun Gong in his first intervention as an MP in 2001, said he has always been struck by the non-violent response of Falun Gong practitioners in the face of such persecution.
“What we say when we speak in support of you is nothing compared to the example that so many Falun Gong practitioners have demonstrated through their actions.”
NDP MP Peter Julian sent a letter of greeting commending Falun Gong practitioners for following the principles of harmony, tolerance, truthfulness, and compassion.
“Your bravery and courage have proven insurmountable and in the face of adversity you have not wavered from your belief and of the promotion of human rights,” he wrote.
Former Progressive Conservative and Liberal MP David Kilgour said he and all the other speakers were deeply touched by how Falun Gong practitioners have withstood persecution in China.
Kilgour, one of the first people to investigate live organ harvesting from Falun Gong prisoners of conscience in China, said others have carried out their own investigations and found similar results.
“Organ harvesting began with Uyghur political prisoners and then probably expanded to Tibetans and members of Christian house churches in China. But the persecution of Falun Gong for the first time flooded the labour camps with masses of healthy, exploitable, and very vulnerable people, men and women.”

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