An Advocate for China’s Rural Poor

In 2008, lawyer Liu Yao (刘尧) advocated for farmers whose land was being illegally requisitioned. A scuffle by the farmers at Lankou hydropower station, the site under construction on their property, landed Liu in jail. Tom Mitchell, South China correspondent for Financial Times, writes on Liu’s story:

Prison was hard for Liu Yao. The crusading Chinese lawyer spent 16 months behind bars at a county lock-up in Heyuan, a city in the southern Guangdong province, ­surviving mainly on a diet of instant noodles and preserved bean curd. His days were spent making plastic bags. His pens and law books were taken away, he says, and he was denied access to newspapers and his case file. When he was freed in April this year his dark hair, which had been shaved off, grew back white.

Liu, 47, was first detained by the authorities on December 19 2007, two days after he led farmers from Bainitang hamlet to the disputed construction site of the Lankou hydropower station, which was being built on their land. In the confrontation, wooden boards and other construction materials valued at Rmb50,615 (£4,500) were allegedly destroyed or stolen. The farmers’ lawyer was ­formally arrested a month later, accused of inciting unrest. In June 2008 a county court sentenced him to four years in prison.

[…] Liu says he will continue to appeal against the verdict. He complains that, as a convicted felon, he can no longer practise as a lawyer. “I’m unemployed now and can’t take cases,” he says. “It’s ridiculous. In trying to stop a crime I was branded a criminal. Sometimes the law is very malleable.”


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