The mother of a Chinese rights activist jailed for subversion has spoken out against the authorities' treatment of her family, amid growing calls for his release.
Citizen journalist and rights activist Liu Feiyue, who founded the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website, was jailed for five years on Tuesday by the Suizhou Intermediate People's Court in Hubei province, which found him guilty of "incitement to subvert state power."
His mother Ding Qihua, who had never spoken to the media before her son's sentence, said she was promised by court officials and police ahead of the sentencing that he would get a suspended sentence resulting in his release if she and Liu's father agreed to undergo "ideological work."
"The court wanted us to do some ideological work," Ding said, referring to a process through which those affected by a government decision come around to the authorities' way of seeing it. "They didn't want us talking to the media."
"They said that once we'd done it, they would give him a suspended sentence," she said.
But despite the fact that the elderly couple agreed to do as they were told, Liu was still handed a five-year jail term, Ding told RFA.
"The court isn't to be trusted. They didn't keep their promise," Ding said. "They wanted us, his family, to go along with what they said, but they still handed him a heavy sentence."
"I am extremely angry about this. We are very angry," she said.
Promises often broken
Human rights attorney Ren Quanniu said it is common for judicial officials to fail to honor deals struck with defendants and their relatives ahead of trials.
"It's pretty common," Ren said. "They make all kinds of promises. Some of them will actually be kept, but there is no basis in law for such promises."
"It's just a way of preserving social stability," he said.
An overseas rights group said Liu's jailing is part of a broader crackdown by the ruling Chinese Communist Party under President Xi Jinping on activists, human rights lawyers, and non-government organizations (NGOs).
"By imprisoning Liu, the Chinese government demonstrates its determination to take harsh and resolute measures to crush Chinese human rights advocates and NGOs," the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which curates reports from groups inside China, said in a statement following the sentencing.
"Criminalizing human rights NGO leaders like Liu Feiyue ... is the harshest measure that the government has taken in recent years in its war on civil society organizations promoting human rights, rule of law, and democracy," the group said.
The indictment cited Liu's writings and publication of reports of human rights abuses on the Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch website as evidence backing up the subversion charge.
It listed applying for and accepting overseas funding to support the group’s operations as a “criminal act.”
"International human rights standards protecting the right to freedom of association includes the right to 'solicit, receive, and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means'," CHRD said.
Liu was also fined around U.S.$150,000 along with the jail sentence, it said.
"The fine appears to match the amount of overseas funding that prosecutors accused Liu of accepting," CHRD said.
It said the case against Liu should have been thrown out of court, because the authorities deprived him of his due process rights, including the right to a fair and public trial by an independent court and access to a lawyer.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in April 2018 that Liu's detention is arbitrary, and called on Beijing to release him and for the government to compensate him.
Liu is scheduled for release on Nov. 17, 2021.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.