Veteran 1989 Democracy, Labor Rights Activist's Case Stalled: Lawyer

liushaoming-05292017.jpg Guangzhou-based activist Liu Shaoming in an undated photo.

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have held a prominent labor rights campaigner and veteran of the 1989 pro-democracy movement for more than a year following his trial on subversion charges, with no verdict or sentence, his lawyer said.

Liu Shaoming, 58, was criminally detained on May 30, 2015 on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge frequently used by police to target dissidents and rights activists.

He was tried in April 2016 by a court in the provincial capital Guangzhou on the more serious charge of "incitement to subvert state power," but there has been no movement on his case since, defense attorney Wu Kuiming told RFA.

Liu is currently being held in the police-run Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center, in a special section set aside for political prisoners, Wu said.

Many Guangzhou-based rights activists, lawyers and NGO staff have been held there, including lawyer Tang Jingling, known as "China's Gandhi," but Liu is the only one to remain there still, he said.

"His case came to trial around the same time as those of Tian Li and Su Changlan, and I had thought that the sentencing would be at the same time too," Wu said. "But it never came."

"The rules of court procedure state that sentencing should happen within two months, after which time the court may apply for one extension to the next-highest court, and to the Supreme Court in particularly complex cases," he said.

"But in this case, the Supreme Court has already granted four extensions," he said. "If this carries on, the whole thing could drag on indefinitely ... I cannot accept this."

Pressure on civil society

Liu had been active in a number of industrial disputes in recent years, including speaking out on behalf of cleaners at Guangzhou's University City, striking workers at the Xinsheng Shoe Factory, and many others, he said.

The jailing of rights activists is part of a broader campaign by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to exert political pressure on civil society groups, which include those campaigning for the rights of women, migrant workers, consumers, students in education, sex workers, and those with disabilities and diseases.

Fellow rights activist Wu Lijuan said Liu's case appears to be being held up at a pretty high level in the Chinese leadership, rather than locally.

She said the delay could be linked to Liu's role in the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement.

"Liu Shaoming was also jailed around the time of June 4, 1989," Wu Lijuan said. "But he has always refused to plead guilty or make a confession."

"He has remained steadfast in his attitude, which is pro-freedom and pro-democracy," she said. "He has never compromised and never given in."

Wu said the authorities likely lack strong evidence against it.

"They have no evidence, so they are dragging this out instead," she said.

EU arms embargo

In 2014, the authorities launched a nationwide crackdown on activists and family members of victims of the 1989 military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square student-led pro-democracy movement in the run-up to the 25th anniversary on June 4.

The government bans public memorials marking the event, and has continued to ignore growing calls in China and from overseas for a reappraisal of the 1989 student protests, which it once styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

The number of people killed when People's Liberation Army tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989, has never been confirmed.

In March, a court in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan handed down a four-year jail term to veteran rights activist Chen Yunfei, who was detained after visiting the grave of a 1989 Tiananmen massacre victim in 2015, finding him guilty of a public order offense.

The Wuhou District People's Court in Sichuan's capital Chengdu found Chen guilty of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge that is increasingly used to target peaceful dissent and criticism of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Meanwhile, rights groups called on the European Union to make human rights a priority during a forthcoming bilateral human rights talks, which will take place three days ahead of the anniversary.

"The EU retains an arms embargo against China because of these mass killings and EU leaders should stress the need for a thorough, transparent investigation into the massacre, accountability for the crimes, and adequate compensation for victims and their families," more than a dozen rights groups said in a joint letter to the EU at the weekend.

Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch, warned the EU not to engage in "window dressing" on human rights.

“It’s not clear whether EU leaders have the foresight and courage to push for real change with China’s leaders," Leicht was quoted as saying in the letter, which was signed by HRW and Amnesty International, among other groups.

"A failure to do so would suggest that EU human rights pledges are window dressing aimed to make Europeans feel good about themselves – rather than a principled and consistent policy," she said.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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