Human rights lawyer Xia Lin jailed for 12 years by court in China

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Originally published by Sky News on September 22, 2016

A human rights lawyer has been sentenced to 12 years in prison by a court in China.

Xia Lin, whose clients included the famous Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, was jailed by the Beijing Second Intermediate People’s Court after earlier being found guilty of fraud.

It is understood to be the longest jail sentence received in China by a human rights lawyer.

Mr Xia was detained in November 2014, after taking on the case to defend activist Guo Yushan, who ran a civil think tank and openly supported Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy Central movement.

Chinese prosecutors claimed that Mr Xia coerced some associates into lending him money to pay off gambling debts.

Human rights group CHRD told Sky News that none of those he was accused of borrowing money from had filed a criminal or civil suit against him.

His lawyer says most of the questions he was asked by police during his interrogation were about Occupy, his work with Ai Weiwei and other “politically sensitive cases”.

Mr Xia pleaded not guilty to fraud but was convicted on 17 September after a trial lasting five hours.

It was the first time Mr Xia’s wife Lin Ru had seen her husband since his arrest.

Speaking to Sky News on the phone, Ms Lin described the scene in the court room as he was sentenced.

She said her husband was denied the right to speak at the hearing and was the dragged out of the court room by the police before shouting from the corridor: “I know this is revenge to me because I was the lawyer for all those sensitive cases.”

Ms Lin told Sky News: “I trust my husband. He didn’t commit fraud. He’s innocent. I will appeal and carry on the legal procedure.”

“I was prepared for the worst, but it still came as a huge blow to me, I didn’t know how to react, I felt numb.”

“This is unfair and unjust. I don’t accept the verdict,” Ms Lin added.

One of Mr Xia’s lawyers Wang Zhenfeng continued to insist that, despite the verdict, his client was innocent.

“I thought the lawyers’ defence might help in terms of the length of the sentence, but our defence didn’t change the result,” he told Sky News.

Mr Guo, before the sentencing, said in a statement: “Whatever he’s been charged with, it’s clear to everyone that it was only because he defended me that he has been imprisoned, and suffered as he has to this day.”

Mr Xia worked in the same law firm with another high profile human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was persecuted for his outspoken activities on freedom of press, human rights and other issues that the authorities in China want to silence.

A national campaign against lawyers and dissidents reached its peak in the summer of 2015, when more than 300 human rights lawyers and activists were systematically detained.

There are still more than a dozen being detained in China.

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