Trial of Chinese Rights Campaigners on Subversion Charges Continues

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Originally published by The New York Times on July 24, 2015

BEIJING — The trial of three prominent rights campaigners, including a lawyer, on charges of inciting subversion continued on Friday in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, amid a sweeping crackdown on human rights lawyers that has drawn international condemnation.

The proceedings against the three, Tang Jingling, Yuan Xinting and Wang Qingying, resumed on Thursday after a monthlong halt and continued on Friday. The defendants have been held for more than a year since being detained for promoting nonviolent civil disobedience and distributing books about democracy.

Wang Yanfang, the wife of Mr. Tang, 44, a well-known human rights lawyer, said on Thursday that her husband had denied in court that he sought to overthrow the government, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. He told the court that he had simply downloaded books from the Internet, not written or edited them, she said.

“We all know that he is innocent,” Ms. Wang said by telephone. “But the overall situation is critical these days, and there is not much we can do.”

The trial was suspended in June, after the defendants dismissed their lawyers in a bid to prevent it from proceeding. The court had refused to allow their defense team to call witnesses and rejected requests to prevent Communist Party members from sitting on the bench.

Wu Kuiming, the lawyer for Wang Qingying, 32, a former teacher, said by telephone on Thursday that the activists would plead not guilty. He said the court had continued to prohibit the defense team from calling witnesses to testify, though prosecutors were allowed to do so.

About 250 rights lawyers and associates have been detained, arrested or questioned by the Chinese authorities this month, including one of the Guangzhou defendants’ attorneys, Sui Muqing. Mr. Sui has been held since July 10 on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power,” the same charge the Guangzhou defendants face.

“The situation is severe all across the country,” Mr. Wu, the lawyer, said.

The American State Department said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” about the Guangzhou case and about what appears to be a systematic pattern of arrests and detentions of rights advocates who “peacefully challenge official Chinese policies and actions.”

Last September, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention asked the Chinese government to immediately release the three Guangzhou defendants, citing what it called the arbitrary deprivation of their liberty.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group, said in a statementthis week that the trials of the Guangzhou defendants and others “represent brazen defiance of international human rights standards that China voluntarily pledged to ‘promote’ as it sought membership on the Human Rights Council, where it currently holds a seat,” referring to the United Nations council.

As the trial in Guangzhou resumed, large numbers of police officers were deployed around the courthouse and foreign diplomats were barred from entering the courtroom. On Thursday, a phalanx of plainclothes security agents brandished large, black umbrellas to obscure views of several of the defendants’ supporters being led away by the police, according to witnesses and photographs posted to Twitter.

One of the detained supporters, Ouyang Jinghua, 75, said by telephoneon Friday that the police had taken away about a dozen people on Thursday afternoon after checking their identification.

“We did nothing wrong,” said Mr. Ouyang, a retired official from the central province of Hunan who made the 14-hour journey to Guangzhou to show support for the defendants. “We decided on our own to attend the trial because someone has to be there.”

The supporters, he said, were brought to an empty school nearby and kept behind barricades while police officers and state security agents took statements. Mr. Ouyang said he was being forcibly sent back to his hometown by train, escorted by security officials.

Mr. Ouyang, an acquaintance of Mr. Tang’s, described the lawyer as an excellent citizen who “defends people’s rights and speaks for the weak.”

Mr. Ouyang said he was not afraid of political retaliation for his public support of the defendants. “I’m old,” he said. “I don’t really care if they sentence me to 20 years.”

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