Jailed Chinese Rights Activist Appeals ‘Illegal’ And ‘Unjust’ Sentence

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Originally published by Radio Free Asia on December 3, 2015

A prominent Chinese rights activist jailed for six years by a court in the southern city of Guangzhou last week has filed a formal appeal, saying the judgment against him is “illegal and runs counter to natural justice.”

Yang Maodong, better known by his pseudonym Guo Feixiong, was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order” and “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” at a hearing in the provincial capital Guangzhou along with two co-defendants on Friday.

Fellow activists Liu Yuandong and Sun Desheng were also jailed by Guangzhou’s Tianhe District People’s Court for three and two-and-a-half years respectively.

“This decision is illegal, runs counter to natural justice and the universal values of human rights, and relies on stability maintenance with Chinese characteristics,” Guo wrote in a statement accompanying his appeal, which was made available by his lawyer.

“In reality, I and Sun Desheng, as well as other citizens, were simply engaging in the peaceful expression of our political views in a public place,” Guo wrote.

“We were promoting constitutional democracy, defending freedom of expression and calling on China to [ratify and implement] international human rights covenants, as well as to make public details of officials’ wealth,” he said.

“This was the real reason for our conviction.”

No reason for optimism

Guo’s statement asks rhetorically: “Why doesn’t the Chinese government charge the millions of people who dance in public squares and parks with ‘gathering a crowd to disrupt public order’?”

Guo filed the appeal earlier this week at the Tianhe District People’s Court in Guangzhou, his lawer Zhang Lei told RFA.

“We have now initiated appeal proceedings, which must be concluded within two months, with the option of extending by another month to a maximum of three months,” Zhang said on Thursday.

Asked if the appeal had any chance of success, Zhang replied: “We have no reason at all for optimism.”

Guo’s sentencing last week sparked widespread anger among China’s rights community, particularly after the court added an extra charge at the last minute, meaning that time already served won’t count towards his sentence.

Prominent rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has been under house arrest in the northern province of Shaanxi since his release from jail in August 2014, had his cell phone cut off shortly after penning an angry online article about Guo’s sentence.

And a Guangdong resident who gave only his surname Chen said his account on the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo was shut down by the authorities after he retweeted comments by Guo in response to his sentence.

“Guo Feixiong sent out a message … and I used my own account to sent out a long tweet and to share it with my circle of friends, who all also retweeted it,” Chen said.

“It had around 3,000-4,000 views in total.”

“After that I wasn’t able to send out tweets to that account, which was verified in my real name,” he said.

Tribute to exiled wife

In Guo’s message, translated and posted online by the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers’ Concern Group, the activist makes a moving tribute to his wife Zhang Qing, now living with the couple’s children in the United States.

“My dear lady, I understand well the difficulties you face as a mother in raising two kids [on] a new continent,” he wrote.

“For the struggles for democracy in our home land, I shall incessantly be put in jail,” he wrote. “For the education of our son and daughter, a family matter which I deem of utmost significance, I [place my trust in you].”

Rights groups have hit out at Guo and Sun‘s prolonged pre-trial detention, as well as their mistreatment and torture while in police detention.

The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders network, which collates reports from rights groups inside China, said their case highlights a practice that is increasingly used by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to target dissent.

“Two practices affecting human rights defenders have become commonplace,” CHRD said in a statement on its website.

“They are being subjected to extended periods of investigation or pre-trial detention—for as long as nearly three years—and are almost always denied medical bail even when suffering from serious health problems,” it said.

Meanwhile, the Rights Defense Network, an advocacy group based in China, said it has documented the cases of 122 human rights defenders who are currently detained or under enforced disappearance in China, CHRD reported.

The cases include people being held without trial or awaiting sentence, as well as those under “residential surveillance at a police-designated location,” which the group described as “essentially a form of enforced disappearance.”

“These cases reveal troubling realities,” CHRD said.

“Eighteen human rights lawyers are among those now under enforced disappearance—a sobering reflection of their suppression under Xi Jinping.”

According to the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, at least 307 lawyers, law firm staff, human right activists, and their family members have been detained, questioned by police, forbidden to leave the country, held under residential surveillance, or are simply missing.

While 255 have since been released, the rest remain under some form of surveillance or criminal detention in a crackdown that began with the detention of Beijing-based rights lawyer Wang Yu and her colleagues at the Fengrui law firm on the night of July 9-10, it said.

There have also been repercussions for the immediate family of active rights lawyers, with a number of family members denied passports or the right to leave the country for study purposes.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said his son was denied a passport on Tuesday by the entry and exit bureau of the Nanchang municipal police department, who said they were ordered to refuse it by Beijing police.

“How can this whole affair rebound on my son?” Liu said in a recent interview. “[He] has never been overseas before, and he is just a graduate student; he is no threat to national security, nor will he do much damage to national interests.”

“He is under these restrictions because his father is a lawyer in Beijing, but there shouldn’t be repercussions for the son, even if his father were a criminal suspect,” Liu said.

Calls to the Beijing municipal police department rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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