In the span of a week, court cases targeting individuals from a variety of backgrounds have demonstrated the repressive and arbitrary nature of the Chinese judicial system. Journalists, activists, intellectuals, and monks from mainland China, Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong were all on the receiving end of a legal system instrumentalized by an easily threatened Chinese Communist Party intolerant of any perceived challenge to its authority.
In a closed-door trial in Guangzhou on Friday, September 22, #MeToo journalist Sophia Huang Xueqin and labor activist Wang Jianbing were tried for “inciting subversion.” William Yang at VOA described the secrecy surrounding their case:
The secrecy surrounding Huang and Wang’s case reflects an emerging trend in China, with authorities preventing the publicizing of information about sensitive human rights cases, human rights advocates said.
“Trials of sensitive human rights cases used to attract a lot of public attention, but now, Chinese authorities are trying to make these trials very mysterious,” Yaqiu Wang, China research director at Freedom House, told VOA by phone.
“In addition to that, Chinese authorities also make the process of the case very long and fragmented, resulting in fewer media attention and an increased difficulty to advocate for the detained activists,” she said. [Source]
Huang and Wang’s treatment has been far from fair. The pair were detained, or “kidnapped” as one of Huang’s friends described, by authorities in September 2021, and remained in pre-trial detention until now. During that time, Huang was refused a lawyer of her choice. A friend of Huang said that she had been subject to frequent torture, sleep deprivation, and malnutrition. China Change published a copy of their indictment, which was dated August 2022 but only made public a year later. On the day of the trial, authorities blocked roads near the courthouse and prevented U.S. diplomats from attending. “From the detention to the trial, the authorities acted arbitrarily without any rules,” said feminist activist Lu Pin. Over 32 civil society organizations have called for the pair’s release. As one Chinese social media user wrote: “It’s been two years, it’s time!”
The day before Huang and Wang’s trial, human rights organization Duihua announced that Professor Rahile Dawut, an ethnographer and expert on Uyghur folkloric traditions, is serving a life sentence in prison for “splittism,” or endangering state security, according to a government source. After being detained in 2017 and tried in 2018, she was convicted of the crime and then appealed her sentence, but the appeal was rejected. Her daughter Akida Polat told RFA: “It’s more than unfair. I would describe it very firmly as nonsense. None of my mother’s work, nor the way she went about it, nor anything in her personal life had anything to do with ‘endangering state security.’” The Economist described the “absurdity” of Rahile Dawut’s life sentence:
Rahile Dawut was once something of an establishment figure in China. The 57-year-old anthropologist from the Uyghur ethnic group was a member of the Communist Party. The state funded some of her work at the University of Xinjiang, the premier college in the region, where she was a professor and founder of a research centre studying ethnic minorities. She was awarded prizes by the Ministry of Culture, had met President Jiang Zemin in 2000 and was featured on the cover of a state-supported magazine in Xinjiang, the Uyghur heartland. But in December 2017, after telling a relative that she had to travel to Beijing, Ms Dawut (pictured) disappeared.
There has been no official explanation of what happened to Ms Dawut. But the Dui Hua Foundation, a group that campaigns on behalf of political prisoners in China, says it has learned of her fate from a government source. According to the foundation, Ms Dawut was arrested for promoting separatism and “endangering national security”. At a secret court hearing in Xinjiang in 2018, she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. She then appealed the sentence and lost.
Friends and former students of Ms Dawut say the charges against her are absurd. They describe her as a pragmatic scholar who rarely spoke about politics. For years she skilfully navigated the tight constraints on academic research in China. Ms Dawut is not a dissident, they say, but yet another victim of the state’s persecution of the Uyghur minority. [Source]
Two days after news of Rahile Dawut’s life sentence surfaced, the Uyghur community marked the ninth anniversary of the imprisonment of economics professor Ilham Tohti, another prominent Uyghur intellectual. He was sentenced on September 23, 2014 for inciting separatism (after a two-day trial marred by numerous legal irregularities), and has been held incommunicado since 2017, with no access to family or lawyers. While incarcerated, Ilham Tohti has been the recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the 2019 Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, the Freedom Award from Freedom House, and the 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
On Monday, the head of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association, Ronson Chan, was sentenced to five days in prison for obstructing a police officer while reporting. The case relates to an incident last September when a plainclothes police officer confronted Chan while he was reporting, asked to see his identification card, and Chan allegedly refused to comply. During his testimony, Chan described feeling concern about his privacy, since in a separate incident police had displayed his identification card in front of a camera that was live streaming. Hillary Leung at the Hong Kong Free Press reported on the harsh sentence and inconsistencies in the police testimonies:
Chan’s lawyer, Charlotte Kong, appealed to the court to consider a non-custodial penalty. She also cited a number of past court cases involving the same offence, which she said were more serious in nature but were met with fines and community service order.
[…] Handing down the five-day jail sentence, [judge Leung Ka-kie] said a fine or a community service order were not sufficient to reflect the severity of the offence. Short-term imprisonment was the “only suitable” punishment, she said.
[…] She acknowledged that there were inconsistencies in the testimonies of the four police officers who gave evidence in court. But she said this did not undermine their credibility, as the officers had arrived at the scene at different times and had different interactions with Chan. [Source]
On Wednesday, RFA revealed that a Tibetan man named Tsultrim from Tsaruma township in Ngaba’s Kyungchu county was arrested in February for possessing a photo of the Dalai Lama. He was later sentenced to two years in prison. This follows the sentencing of two Tibetan monks in May on separatism charges for possessing photos of the Dalai Lama on their phones: one was given three years in prison, and the other three years and six months.
On Sunday, the lawyer of feminist figure Zhou Xiaoxuan, also known as Xianzi, announced that CCTV host Zhu Jun had voluntarily withdrawn his defamation case against her, without any settlement or negotiation. In 2018, Xianzi publicly accused Zhu of sexual harassment, after she reported to police in 2014 that Zhu had forcibly kissed her while she was interning at CCTV. Zhu launched a defamation suit in retaliation, and Xianzi filed a countersuit. Her case became a symbol of China’s #MeToo movement and, as she described to Sylvie Zhuang of the South China Morning Post on Monday, the hurdles faced by victims of sexual assault who seek justice:
“[My case against Zhu] showed how much evidence the victims in China’s sexual harassment cases need to provide, and how much burden of proof they have to bear,” she said.
The difficulty Zhou encountered in seeking justice, and the unresolved status of her case, raised questions about what sort of obstacles other alleged victims might face in China’s legal system in the future, she said.
“If there is no judicial determination on the matter, do the victims have the right to speak out?” [Source]