Chinese rights lawyer stands trial after four tears’ pretrial detention

The charges against Li Yuhan are a form of political retaliation for her rights work, a fellow lawyer says.
By Gao Feng
2021.10.20
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Chinese rights lawyer stands trial after four tears’ pretrial detention Detained Chinese rights lawyer Li Yuhan is shown in an undated photo.
Li Yuhan's family

After four years in detention, human rights lawyer Li Yuhan stood trial in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning on Wednesday for "fraud," and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge often used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Li, 60, who had previously defended high-profile rights attorney Wang Yu amid a nationwide crackdown on rights lawyers, stood trial at the Heping District People's Court in Shenyang, where an ambulance was parked, amid concerns over Li's poor health.

Wang, who showed up to support Li with fellow rights lawyer Xie Yang, said police had denied access to diplomats from six countries, who asked to observe the proceedings.

"There were diplomats from six countries including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the United States, the Netherlands, and Switzerland," Wang told RFA from the scene. "Some were diplomats from consulates in Shenyang, and some were diplomats from Beijing."

"They asked to observe, but the court said there were no available seats, so there weren't allowed in."

She added: "They are very concerned about this case. I also think that ... the abuse of lawyer Li Yuhan has been inhumane."

Wang said guards had thrown a security cordon some 50 meters from the front gates, and didn't allow her or Xie Yang to pass.

"We saw a lot of lawyers and litigants from other cases trying to get through to submit materials or meet with a judge, but they weren't allowed in either," she said. "Court business was totally suspended."

"We took a few photos from outside the security cordon, then we got driven away by the security guards, state security police and court police," she said.

Retaliation

Earlier this year, the European Bar Association wrote to CCP general secretary Xi Jinping, expressing concerns over Li Yuhan's poor health and situation in detention.

Wang said the charges against Li are retaliatory.

"What the picking quarrels and stirring up trouble charge refers to is that Li Yuhan had made many complaints [about the Heping district police department]," Wang said. "The fraud charge was in retaliation for Li Yuhan representing me during the July 9, 2015 crackdown."

Wang said the authorities have also violated Li's human rights by holding her in detention for more than four years, and delaying an earlier trial slated for April 2018.

"This is a total violation of her human rights," she said. "The detention center has been putting pressure on Li to plead guilty, and the police and court have also used various methods including threats, bargaining and abuse."

Lu Tingge, a lawyer from the northern province of Hebei, agreed.

"Her lawyer told the authorities about her poor health and applied for medical parole, but they never approved it," Lu said. "If [her age and poor health] had been taken into consideration, the trial would have been held long ago."

Li has been visited by her defense attorney in the Shenyang No. 1 Detention Center, and found to be in poor health. She has been hospitalized twice and given a number of medications, but applications for medical parole were denied.

She initially went missing on Oct. 9, 2017, and has been "at risk of torture and other ill-treatment" in the police-run detention center, London-based Amnesty International said at the time.

Fellow activists said her detention came after she was particularly courageous in the wake of a nationwide police operation targeting rights lawyers, legal firms, and rights activists since July 2015.

Wang Yu was the first of a group of lawyers at the Beijing Fengrui law firm to be detained on the night of July 9-10, 2015, kicking off a nationwide police operation that detained or questioned more than 300 lawyers and their associates.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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