Pressure Mounts on China to End ‘Show Trials’ Ahead of G20 Summit

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Originally published by The News Lens on August 8, 2016

Calls have started for G20 leaders, who are set to meet in China next month, to speak out about China’s treatment of human rights lawyers following a flurry of televised confessions and convictions last week.

A group of lawyers and human rights activists associated with Beijing’s Fengrui law firm, detained as part of the “709 Crackdown,” were tried separately last week. Fengrui has been involved in cases against the government, including defending artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) and the victims of the 2008 contaminated baby formula scandal.

Several members of the group were convicted but given suspended sentences. However, long-time democracy advocate Hu Shigen (胡石根), 61, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison and the law firm’s founder Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), 52, received a prison term of seven years. Both were convicted of subverting state power.

Thirteen more people associated with the case are yet to go on trial.

“Chinese authorities sent a strong signal with these convictions that exercising and defending human rights are treated as threats to national security,” the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) says in a statement today.

Columnist Lau Kin-wai, writing in the Hong Kong Economic Journal, notes that “Hu’s [total] years of imprisonment will put him close to Nelson Mandela, who had served a total of 27 years in prison for his fight against the apartheid system in South Africa.”

CHRD says the “709 Crackdown” saw more than 300 human rights lawyers and activists interrogated and intimidated. Of the 22 eventually arrested, 15 remain in detention, including Hu and Zhou who started their prison sentences last week.

The G20 summit, to be held in Hangzhou in September, is being touted by China and business leaders as an opportunity for the international community to better understandChina.

But CHRD wants G20 leaders to call on the Chinese government to release all human rights advocates, including the lawyers convicted of or facing criminal charges.

“They should also pressure the government to allow those granted ‘bail’ to be truly free to meet with their families, supporters, or independent media groups,” the NGO says. “China should abolish televised coerced ‘confessions’ and ‘repentance’ on state media, and end harassment and intimidation against family members.”

The NGO also notes that well-known human rights lawyer Wang Yu (王宇) was shown in a “staged” interview on state-owned Xinhua news and Hong Kong’s Oriental Daily on Aug. 1.

U.S.-based Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), writes in The Washington Post, the Chinese Communist Party intends for videos, like Wang’s, “to both foment public animosity toward human rights advocates and intimidate other activists.”

“Indeed, behind the well-rehearsed veneer of these propaganda set pieces lie Mao-era tactics for extracting public confessions through coercion, humiliation and torture,” he says.

CHRD says hopes for law reform under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) have been dashed after last week’s convictions.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole

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