China’s 12-Year Sentence for Ai Weiwei’s Lawyer

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Originally published by The Atlantic on September 22, 2016

Xia Lin, a human-rights lawyer whose clients include Ai Weiwei, the famed Chinese dissident, was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Beijing court Thursday on fraud charges, the BBC reports.

The 46-year-old, known for defending human-rights activists, was first detained in November 2014 as he was preparing to represent Guo Yushan, a civil-rights activist who supported the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Though Xia was found guilty of fraudulently obtaining 4.8 million yuan ($700,000), his friends said they loaned him the money willingly.

Ding Xikui, Xia’s lawyer, told The Guardian his client believes the charges are government retribution for his human rights work.

“He thinks they are taking revenge on him for getting involved once in the Hong Kong [case] … and some other human rights cases,” Ding said.

Xia’s supporters condemned the sentence as a move designed to intimidate China’s human-rights community. Guo, in a Chinese news and commentary blog, said Tuesday: “The September 22 sentence might be, say, 11 years imprisonment, or it might be 2 years, but however many years it is, it will have had nothing to do with the law. This is our fate. We have no choice but to accept it.”

The Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a coalition of Chinese and international human rights groups, called the sentence a “severe retaliation.”

Xia’s sentence follows a yearlong crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists by the Chinese government, which has accused those detained of subverting state power. According to a July report by Amnesty International, nearly 250 people have been arrested.

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