PEN America reported on Monday that rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong has been formally arrested for inciting subversion, four months after he was found and detained after going into hiding amid a round-up of activists on December 26. During that time he published an essay, later translated by Geremie Barmé for ChinaFile, calling for Xi Jinping’s resignation. Others who have made similar appeals include Tsinghua professor Xu Zhangrun, who was subsequently suspended; retired Central Party School professor Cai Xia, whose recent speech on the subject was translated by CDT; and rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, who later had his law license revoked, was arrested in early 2018, and was sentenced last week to four years in prison for inciting subversion (see below). From PEN America, on Xu Zhiyong’s case:
PEN America condemns the Chinese government’s decision to formally arrest writer and civil rights advocate Xu Zhiyong under charges of “inciting subversion,” a naked attempt to harshly punish Xu for his forthright criticism of Chinese political leaders. Xu Zhiyong was recently announced as the recipient of PEN America’s 2020 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.
[…] “Xu Zhiyong is under arrest for criticizing the government, plain and simple,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. “By proceeding with these meritless charges of ‘subversion,’ the government is using the law as a tool to legitimize its suppression of dissidents. But criticisms are not crimes, no matter how much Beijing insists otherwise.”
Noting that the criminal conviction rate in China commonly exceeds 99 percent, Nossel continued, “we have zero confidence that Xu will receive a fair trial. We insist that the government drop these absurd and abusive criminal charges against him, and acknowledge his right to express his ideas and opinions without fear of a jail cell.” [Source]
Xu founded the New Citizens’ Movement, whose demolition in 2013 and 2014 was an early episode in the aggressive broader crackdown on civil society under Xi Jinping. He was sentenced to four years in prison for gathering crowds to provoke a disturbance, and formally but ambiguously released in 2017.
A more recent victim of what NYU law scholar Jerome Cohen calls “non-release ‘release'” is Wang Quanzhang, who disappeared after the 2015 “Black Friday” or “709” crackdown. Continued restrictions on Wang after he left prison in April were initially justified as quarantine measures. He has since been reunited with his family. In initial interviews, Wang was reticent on whether he suffered mistreatment like that reported by fellow rights lawyer Xie Yang and others: he dismissed questions on the topic by saying he could not be sure what had happened in which location, and that “certain people in some departments would be angry” if he said he had been tortured. He confirmed, though, that he was suffering from high blood pressure and dental problems, and trying to “gradually find my way back to the psychological and emotional state of a normal person” after being forced to emotionally distance himself from his own family to endure his fears for their safety. Supporters had previously reported that he was subjected to torture including electric shocks.
In a new interview with Japan’s Kyodo news agency, Wang confirms that he was beaten and kicked, made to hold stress positions, and threatened as investigators sought to extract a confession from him. From Yuichiro Okuma:
From September  until he was formally arrested in January 2016, he was in state custody in Tianjin, near Beijing. He was monitored by the authorities at a designated place, which he called a hotbed of torture.
Wang was kept under surveillance by two armed police officers 24 hours a day at a 20-square-meter cell in the prison and he was prohibited from rolling over while sleeping.
After being slapped in the face for hours, he was compelled to accept an affidavit stating that he tried to subvert the government by receiving funds from abroad.
Wang was also commanded to stand for 15 hours with his hands up in the air, and when he dropped them, he was yelled at as a “traitor.” He said he became so weak that he was unable to stand even for a few minutes.
Okuma closes by noting plans for new national security legislation in Hong Kong, which many fear could extend such abuses to the territory or place its citizens within their reach. The New York Times’ Austin Ramzy commented:
A worrying thing to read in Hong Kong as Beijing prepares to impose its national security apparatus on the city https://t.co/fMEg5QMw6T
— Austin Ramzy (@austinramzy) June 22, 2020
Lawyer Yu Wensheng, who had previously attempted to defend Wang, might offer another cautionary case. Yu was sentenced last week to four years in prison for inciting subversion, following a secret trial in May 2019 from which both his wife and former defense lawyers were excluded. Authorities claimed that he had dismissed those lawyers, and produced a handwritten note as evidence, though Yu had preemptively disavowed any such document prior to his arrest.
Yu’s law license was revoked in January 2018 in apparent retaliation for an open letter he had written the previous October, calling on delegates to the 19th Party Congress to remove Xi Jinping from leadership and implement political reforms. The letter, which CDT translated, argued that Xi “has broken with historical trends, reversing history and strengthening totalitarian rule; he is not suitable to continue holding power.” Yu repeated his call for reform after being disbarred, and was almost immediately taken into detention while walking his son to school. His subsequent isolation, and his wife’s advocacy for his release, closely mirrored Wang Quanzhang’s case. Edited video of him appearing to resist police was later released in a suspected campaign to discredit him.
Amnesty International’s Nicholas Bequelin commented on Yu’s sentencing:
“Yu Wensheng’s sentencing is nothing but political persecution dressed up as legal process. Not only was Yu prosecuted under baseless charges for the lawful and legitimate work he was conducting as a lawyer, his own lawyer was not even permitted to attend the sentencing hearing.
“While the Chinese government’s zero-tolerance policy towards critics is well-known, the secret sentencing of yet another human rights lawyer marks a new low for what is left of the rule of law in China.
“Yu Wensheng is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. He is also at risk of torture and ill-treatment. China must immediately and unconditionally release him and end its scandalous crackdown on lawyers, activists and others who try to peacefully advocate for human rights in the country.”
[…] Yu Wensheng was also previously detained for 99 days in 2014 after voicing his support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. He told Amnesty International he was tortured in detention. [Source]
An E.U. spokesperson called for Yu’s “immediate release” last week, saying that “the European Union expects China to ensure full respect of the rule of law, to establish fair trial guarantees and to investigate thoroughly all reported cases of arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture of human rights defenders and their families,” and also condemning the new Hong Kong national security law as a “a comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms.” The AFP noted that these issues were two among many potential irritants during a high-level Sino-E.U. video summit on Monday, together with European investment barriers against highly subsidized Chinese companies, and accusations of Chinese disinformation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.