Twelve Witnesses Under House Arrest in China Subversion Trial

2013-12-02
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Undercover officers stand guard outside an apartment building housing defense witnesses ahead of a trial for anti-graft activists in Jiangxi province, Dec. 2, 2013.
Photo courtesy of a rights activist

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi are holding at least 12 defense witnesses under house arrest or detention ahead of Tuesday's trial of three anti-graft activists.

The trial of Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua is scheduled to resume on Tuesday at the Yushui District People's Court in Jiangxi's Xinyu city after it was suspended amid a dispute over alleged rights violations.

"None of the witnesses are able to leave their homes," Liu Ping's daughter Liao Min told RFA on Monday.

"They have just sent me a message to tell me, saying that there are police [there] who won't let them leave," Liao said.

"There are 12 people: Liu Xizhen and her husband, and their daughter, and Li Xuemei, and a few others whose names I don't remember," she added.

Liu, Wei and Li Sihua were detained in April on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power," and later additionally charged with "unlawful assembly."

Liu and Wei have also been charged with "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" and "using a cult to pervert the course of justice," after all three activists held up signs in the street to demand that high-ranking officials disclose their assets.

Lawyers for the activists said they had already been detained longer than the three months allowed under China's criminal procedural law, and called at last month's trial for the presiding judges to be taken off the case.

The cell phones of Liu Xizhen and another defense witness Zou Guiqin, together with activists' neighbors and co-workers, all carried a "switched off" recorded message on Monday.

However, the husband of another defense witness Li Xuemei confirmed the family home was currently under police guard.

"There are police right here in my home, five or six of them," he said. "A couple of them used to be my colleagues, and they are sitting right here."

"They just claim to be sitting here and hanging out; that's what they say," he added. "They are just here to chat with me."

"Zou Guiqin lives right opposite, and she is under guard too."

Brief trial expected

The six lawyers for the activists, who include heavy-hitting rights lawyers Pu Zhiqiang, Si Weijiang, Yang Xuelin and Zhou Yi, said they were expecting a brief trial on Tuesday.

"I think it'll be about done in one day," Yang, who represents Liu Ping, said after a brief meeting with her in the detention center.

But he declined to be drawn on whether the lawyers would submit to security checks at the court.

"Of course we'll have to see what happens tomorrow," he said.

Liao Min said she had received a permit to attend her mother's' trial.

"There are only two permits each for relatives," she said. "I will take one, along with my uncle."

"I haven't received a phone call about the trial, and my uncle told me about it," she added.

A laid-off worker who gained the backing of more than 30 people for her nomination in district-level legislative elections in 2012, Liu Ping is no stranger to official harassment.

In March 2012, she was held for several weeks in an unofficial detention center, or "black jail," strip-searched, and beaten, rights groups reported at the time.

Before her candidacy for the district People's Congress in Xinyu city was rejected, Liu had mustered a strong following among laid-off and retired workers, as well as existing workers who complained of poor conditions in their jobs.

The number of people held in China for state-security offenses rose by nearly 20 percent last year, with the majority of arrests made in areas of recurrent ethnic unrest, a U.S.-based rights group said in a report last week.

China arrested 1,105 people for crimes that come under the category of "endangering state security" in 2012, a rise of 19 percent compared with 2011, the Dui Hua Foundation said in a recent report, citing official figures.

State security offenses include "incitement to subvert state power," a charge typically used to jail political dissidents, including jailed 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.