Chinese Activist Back on Trial Amid Allegations of Torture

Chinese election activist Li Biyun (C) seated on a wheelchair surrounded by supporters outside the court in Foshan city, Guangdong, Sept. 6, 2013.
Photo courtesy of a Li Biyun supporter.

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Friday resumed the trial of a woman who had tried to stand as an independent parliamentary election candidate amid fears for her health and allegations of abuse in custody.

Political activist Li Biyun, 46, stood trial at the Shunde District People's Court in Guangdong's Foshan city on charges of "disrupting public order," her lawyer and relatives said.

Her defense lawyer Liu Hao said Li would plead not guilty to the charge, though he fears a prison term is inevitable.

"I don't think the chances of success are very high, but we're hoping it will affect how long a sentence she receives," Liu said after the first day of the trial on Friday.

"[Li Biyun] of course maintains her innocence, and she wants to pursue a complaint against those who hurt her [in custody]," he said.

"She named those who had beaten her in court today, and we submitted the complaint today, and the court accepted it."

Li's lawyers say she has been subjected to severe mistreatment inside a military hospital, where she was refused medical treatment, a bath, or clean clothes for months on end.Li Biyun denies public order charges and formally complains about ill-treatment in custody.

Torture, beatings

Li has also described prolonged torture, including beatings, at the hands of the Shunde district police department since her formal arrest in September 2012

Liu said Li still appears to be in poor health.

"When I went to the room to meet with her [in detention], she came in supported by two women; it looks like she can't walk," Liu said on Friday.

He added that police had searched his hotel room and that of a fellow defense lawyer on Thursday evening.

"I think they wanted to intimidate us," he said. "But it didn't work."

The authorities have also detained a number of supporters who tried to publicize Li's case, her sister Li Caiyun told RFA.

"[Eleven people] have been put under temporary administrative detention for 15 days, for 'gathering a crowd and stirring up trouble,'" Li Caiyun said in an interview on Thursday.

Tight security

Meanwhile, Li's niece said police had cordoned off the court buildings amid tight security as the trial resumed on Friday.

"There were a lot [of police]," she said. "There were two minibuses and two smaller vehicles, and some without cars, 10 or more."

"I wasn't able to go into the courtroom," she added. "More than 20 people went in, but three foreigners from the embassy were stopped from going in."

"They said they hadn't completed enough procedures, but they had already applied."

Elsewhere in Guangdong, authorities put on trial an activist who began a hunger strike to mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square military crackdown this year.

Liang Songji was detained in January after gathering a group of fellow activists at his home to mark the anniversary by refusing food.

The activists, who form a loose network known as the "Southern Street Movement," were taken away following a police raid on Liang's home.

Wife blocked from court

Liang's wife Huang Yanwen said the authorities had allowed dozens of his supporters to apply for court passes, but then cut off the number once seats were full inside the courtroom.

Huang said she had been prevented from visiting her husband, and from entering the courtroom.

"They refused to allow me to take our daughter into the courtroom," she said. "I asked if they had arranged for me to meet with him, but they said that couldn't happen."

"They said they hadn't been notified," she said.

Liang has been targeted by police since taking part in a street protest over censorship at Guangzhou's cutting edge Southern Newspaper Group in January 2013, Huang said.

He faces charges of "obstructing official business."

Denial of care

Rights groups have warned that the ruling Chinese Communist Party is increasingly using the denial of medical care as a way of targeting rights activists and political prisoners while they are in police custody ahead of their trial.

A recent article in the New York Review of Books cited the fate of rights activist Cao Shunli, who died in hospital on March 14 after being refused the correct medical care in a Beijing detention center, her lawyer and relatives said at the time.

The article, penned by China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) spokeswoman Renee Xia and by Perry Link, Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton University, said detained rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and social science scholar Xu Youyu had also had their much-needed medication confiscated, with unfamiliar pills offered in its place.

"Cao's death, and the circumstances of Pu's and Xu's detention, raise the question of whether Chinese authorities are deliberately withholding medicine from political detainees as another way to punish them and intimidate their followers," Link and Xia wrote.

In 2011, Li joined dozens of political activists across China in a campaign to file applications to stand for election to district-level National People's Congress (NPC) bodies, in spite of official warnings that there is "no such thing" as an independent candidate.

Activists tried to use a clause in the election rules which allows anyone with the endorsement of at least 10 constituents to seek nomination.

Many of the candidates, like Li, hailed from the least privileged groups in Chinese society, including those who have been forcibly evicted from their homes or who have long campaigned for their legal rights.

Apart from a token group of "democratic parties" which never oppose or criticize the ruling party, opposition political parties are banned in China, and those who set them up are frequently handed lengthy jail terms.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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