Chinese Rights Lawyer Finally Returns Home, 'Thin And Gray'

Li Heping's wife says the government isn't done with its pursuit of human rights attorneys and activists just yet, however.

Human rights lawyer Li Heping, in undated file photo.

A Chinese rights lawyer detained in a nationwide crackdown in July 2015 has finally been allowed to return home following his release from jail after he was found guilty of subversion charges, his wife told RFA.

Li Heping was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, with the sentence suspended for four years, by the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, which found him guilty of "subversion of state power" in a trial behind closed doors on Apr. 28.

His wife, Wang Qiaoling, had previously refused to go and meet him in Tianjin following his release, fearing the entire family would be held in a secret location under house arrest.

"He is extremely thin and he has gone gray, although his mental state isn't too bad," Wang told RFA after Li arrived back at the couple's Beijing home on Tuesday.

"But he seems to have some trouble expressing himself; he no longer sounds like a successful young lawyer," she said. "He was very closed in on himself in prison, and I'm sure that there was torture involved."

"He was also force-fed medication that they said was for high blood pressure," Wang said, adding: "But he said it made his muscles ache and blurred his vision."

Wang said Li had been mistreated during his incarceration because he had refused to incriminate others or himself during his interrogations.

"They were seriously tortured in there," she said, but gave no further details.

Crackdown not over yet

Wang said she believes the ruling Chinese Communist Party's crackdown on rights lawyers isn't over yet.

"They wouldn't release him and allow him to come home after the [suspended] sentencing, and they tried him in secret," she said. "They wouldn't allow him to meet with his own lawyer."

"They broke the law in a lot of places in the past two years, and I think that the local governments involved should give us an explanation, but instead they are trying to shut us up," Wang said.

The court said on its verified Weibo account that it had "decided not to proceed with an open trial, owing to the fact that the Li Heping case involved state secrets."

The court found that Li had, largely through the medium of foreign media interviews, "attacked and discredited organs of the state and China's legal system."

The judgment also accused him of using foreign funds and "hyping cases" to further provoke people already disgruntled with the country's political system.

Li had also "colluded with illegal religious activities to subvert the power of the state," the court said.

Plans to sue the government

It accused him of conspiring with fellow lawyers and associates to "jointly plan a strategy, steps, and methods to overthrow the socialist system," concluding that he had endangered national security and social stability.

Some families of the more than 300 lawyers, law firm staff, and rights activists who have been detained, questioned, and banned from leaving China or who face other restrictions since the July 2015 crackdown say they plan to sue the government over its treatment of them.

U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao said the administration of President Xi Jinping appears intent on wiping out the last traces of China's nascent civil society.

"All of these crackdowns [on lawyers and nongovernmental organizations] are connected," Teng said. "We are now entering the endgame, and the damage done to civil society has been huge."

"But they don't appear to have lost courage, and it looks as if China's human rights lawyers are going to get braver and braver the longer they fight this," he said.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.