Chinese human rights lawyer pleads guilty to subversion charges

Human Rights | Supporters say Xie Yang’s confession bears signs of coercion
by June Cheng
Posted 5/09/17, 11:56 am

In a Changsha courtroom Monday, Chinese human rights lawyer Xie Yang retracted earlier claims of torture, pleaded guilty to charges of subversion and disrupting court order, and denounced “Western anti-China forces.” Human rights groups and Xie’s family and friends called the trial “a mockery of justice,” noting his confessions seemed scripted and authorities barred foreign reporters from attending the trial.

In January, Xie hand-wrote a letter explaining that if he ever pleaded guilty, it would have been under duress.

“If, one day in the future, I do confess … that will not be the true expression of my own mind,” he wrote, stamping the letter with his thumbprints. “It may be because I’ve been subjected to prolonged torture, or because I’ve been offered the chance to be released on bail to reunite with my family.”

A lawyer from Hunan, Xie took on sensitive cases, representing the victims of forced evictions, rights activists, and petitioners. This work led to his arrest in July 2015 during a crackdown on human rights lawyers that saw 250 people detained. Officials released some after only a few days. Xie is one of the last lawyers to be tried, two weeks after Christian human rights lawyer Li Heping.

According to court transcripts, Xie confessed to attending human rights trainings in Hong Kong and South Korea that brainwashed him in “Western constitutionalism and other erroneous ideas.” He denied that officials tortured him in prison, even though in January his legal team released a transcript of meetings with Xie during which he detailed his interrogators’ torture tactics: They beat and kicked him, forced him to sit on a stack of chairs for 20 hours, and threatened to hurt his family if he didn’t confess.

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied the torture, calling it “fake news,” and barred Xie’s lawyers from representing him during the trial. In their stead, government-appointed lawyers represented Xie. Authorities detained one of Xie’s original lawyers, Chen Jiangang, last week in southern China and later released him in Beijing.

Prosecutors claimed Xie shared subversive ideas on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging platform, and that he used the messaging app Telegram to conspire with people in China and overseas to overthrow the communist system.

“I feel ashamed and deeply remorseful for my past actions,” Xie said during the trial. “Everyone should take me as a warning to certainly stay within the framework of the law, and avoid being exploited by Western anti-China forces.”

Xie’s wife, Chen Guiqiu, sarcastically praised the show trial in a statement: “Your play was performed beautifully … Changsha Intermediate People’s Court: History will remember your great trial.” Chen and the couple’s two daughters fled to Thailand earlier this year, where Chinese agents tracked them down. With the help of Texas-based China Aid and the U.S. Embassy, they arrived in the United States in March.

Authorities reportedly released Xie on bail after the trial, although his whereabouts are unknown, according to Radio Free Asia.

Two weeks earlier, a Tianjin judge sentenced Christian human rights lawyer Li Heping to three years in prison with a four-year reprieve for the same charge of subverting state power. One of the earliest human rights lawyers, Li defended house churches and victims of government land grabs, as well as the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng.

Before the closed-door trial and sentencing, Li’s wife Wang Qiaoling told China Aid that interrogators used electric batons and other torture devices on her husband. Human rights activists are afraid of what condition they will find Li in after his release. His brother, also a human rights lawyer, returned home in January after more than a year in secret detention, only to be diagnosed with schizophrenia due to the torture he endured in prison.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

June Cheng

June is the East Asia correspondent for WORLD Magazine. Follow June on Twitter @JuneCheng_World.

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