Free Xu Zhiyong, Ding Jiaxi, and All Prisoners of Conscience Immediately

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Free Xu Zhiyong, Ding Jiaxi, and All Prisoners of Conscience Immediately

(The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, April 10, 2023) We condemn the Chinese government’s sentencing of Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong, two of China’s most notable human rights defenders. “Their sentencing once again demonstrates the Chinese government’s hostility to peaceful advocacy of democracy and human rights, and marks a new low in the Chinese government’s human rights record,” said Ramona Li, Senior Researcher and Advocate for the group.

On April 10, the Linshu County Court sentenced Ding Jiaxi to 12 years imprisonment and 3 years deprivation of political rights, and Xu Zhiyong to 14 years imprisonment. The court, located in Shandong province, found both guilty of the crime of subverting state authority following closed-door trials.

The government consistently violated their rights under international and Chinese law throughout their detention and trial. Both Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong had been held in prolonged pre-trial detention for over three years, including periods in a form of incommunicado detention referred to as “residential surveillance in a designated location” where both were subjected to torture. Ding Jiaxi’s lawyers attempted multiple times to have the court dismiss his “confessions” as illegally obtained evidence because of they had been extracted under torture; the court rejected these motions.

Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong were refused access to lawyers for the first thirteen months of their detention, and their attorneys were refused copies of the files containing the information on which the charges were based. Witnesses cited by the prosecution, Wang Jiangsong and Dai Zhenya, publicly refuted testimony that the prosecution alleged they had provided. Family members said that authorities charged the two in Linshu county, far away from Beijing, to avoid public scrutiny of the case.

Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong were active in the New Citizens Movement, which promoted a form of civic engagement through grassroots advocacy for the implementation of the civil and human rights based on China’s laws and constitution. They were both detained amid a crackdown on human rights activists and lawyers following an informal gathering in southern Fujian province in December 2019.

Ding Jiaxi is also a Beijing lawyer who has provided support to many of the most marginalized and underprivileged groups in China, including education rights for the children of migrant workers and grassroots petitioners appealing to central government officials as a last resort to address wrongdoing by local officials. Xu Zhiyong was also a prominent lawyer who was an instrumental figure in pushing through legal reforms defending the rights of China’s internal migrant population.

In a pre-written statement released before his sentencing, Ding Jiaxi connected his work to his belief in the possibility of China’s “peaceful, rational, and non-violent” transition from an authoritarian state. He wrote: “No matter the many who have doubted me or the difficulties and setbacks I’ve encountered, including physical torture that I’ve suffered, I will not part from my steadfast convictions.”

In his own statement, Xu Zhiyong described his hopes for a liberal democratic China with free elections, equal access to education and job opportunities, and social support for even the poorest to have “enough to live a dignified life.” He said he had simply “called on Chinese people to become real citizens,” and explained the urgency of doing so, saying “we cannot saddle the next generation with this duty.”

Both Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong should be immediately and unconditionally released per the recommendation of UN human rights experts, who have found that the two have been arbitrarily detained in violation of international law. UN human rights experts have further characterized the crime of “subversion of state authority” as being so broadly worded that charges under the crime fail to provide adequate due process to the extent that they are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The heavy sentencing of Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong is a travesty of justice. At every step, Chinese authorities have taken the wrong turn: from detaining them in secret, torturing them, falsifying witness testimony, putting them on trial in secret, and now this heavy sentence,” said William Nee, Research and Advocacy Coordinator for CHRD.

“Democracies and international organizations around the world must stop paying only lip service to human rights. They must take concrete and credible measures to gain the release of Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, as well as the thousands of prisoners of conscience in China, in the Tibetan and Xinjiang regions and Hong Kong,” said Renee Xia, CHRD executive director.


Ramona Li, Senior Researcher and Advocate (Mandarin, English), +1 202 556 0667, ramonali [at], @RamonaLiCHRD

William Nee, Research and Advocacy Coordinator, CHRD, +1-623-295-9604, William [at], @williamnee

Renee Xia, Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012, reneexia[at], @reneexiachrd

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