Verdict delayed as ailing Chinese rights lawyer refuses to 'confess', plead guilty

Li Yuhan is thought to have been targeted for defending prominent rights lawyer Wang Yu during a 2015 crackdown.
By Gao Feng for RFA Mandarin
Chinese rights lawyer Li Yuhan in an undated photo.
Chinese Political Prisoner Concern

Since Chinese human rights lawyer Li Yuhan stood trial in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning in October 2021 for "fraud" and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge often used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), there has been scant news of her fate.

There were concerns over Li's worsening health at the time of Li's trial at the Heping District People's Court in Shenyang, provincial capital of Liaoning, while diplomats were denied permission to attend the trial.

But since the trial concluded, nearly a year has passed with no verdict or sentence being made public, her lawyer told RFA in a recent interview.

"They haven't issued a verdict," the lawyer said. "Her family and I have contacted the presiding judge many times, and the response we got is 'we have to wait for the higher-ups [to decide]'."

"They didn't give a clear opinion, so they clearly didn't dare to convict, so they have just kept on dragging their feet," he said, adding that he has no reason to disbelieve this explanation.

"I don't think the judge lied ... because they will always want to close a case as soon as possible," he said.

Li is widely believed to have been targeted for her defense of prominent rights lawyer Wang Yu, who was among the first people to be detained in a nationwide operation targeting rights lawyers and activists in July 2015.

Wang said the delay is likely because the authorities are trying to elicit a "confession" from Li.

"The reason why she can't be sentenced is that the public prosecutor is still trying to force her to confess, and plead guilty," Wang told RFA.

"Lawyer Li refuses to plead guilty, and so the authorities have been delaying her sentence ][meaning that] she will be held in a detention center instead of serving her time in prison," she said.

The rights website Weiquanwang recently quoted Li's son as saying that she had suffered multiple heart attacks at the detention center, and is currently seriously ill.

Her attorney said he has made repeated applications for medical parole, to no avail.

"She was actually born in 1949, so she's 73 years old this year, and she has a number of health problems," he told RFA in a recent interview. "The long period of detention has given her some serious health problems."

"I applied to the court many times for her to be released on bail before her trial, but none of the applications was accepted."

'At risk of torture'

Li is believed to be being held in the Shenyang No. 1 Detention Center, where she has reportedly been on hunger strike.

The attorney said China's police-run detention centers are often overcrowded and lack facilities to ensure adequate medical care for inmates.

"Mainland Chinese detention centers are pretty poor," he said. "Sometimes, the rules say they can hold a dozen or 20 people, but in reality, they will hold a lot more than that."

"Lawyer Li is pretty elderly and has a number of underlying conditions, so she was always going to run into problems being in a detention center for such a long time," he said.

Her lawyer said he hadn't confirmed reports of abuse by fellow inmates, but that medical care was "not very timely" and that there had been delays in administering Li's medications.

"From what I saw, the detention center was actually treating her a little better than regular suspects, as she is elderly has some international influence," he said.

"The detention center would have to bear the responsibility if something were to happen to her, so they will be trying to make things as good as they can for her."

The European Bar Association wrote to CCP general secretary Xi Jinping in 2021, expressing concerns over Li Yuhan's poor health and situation in detention.

Li has been hospitalized at least twice and given a number of medications, but applications for medical parole have been 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, questioned or sentenced more than 300 lawyers and their associates.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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