China Hands Lengthy Jail Terms to 2 Human Rights Lawyers

China Hands Lengthy Jail Terms to 2 Human Rights Lawyers
Sophie Luo Shengchun, the wife of jailed Chinese human rights lawyer, Ding Jiaxi, poses with a photo of him at her home in Alfred, New York, on July 28, 2022. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

BEIJING—A Chinese court sentenced two prominent human rights lawyers on Monday to jail terms of more than a decade each, a relative and rights groups told Reuters.

Xu Zhiyong, 50, and Ding Jiaxi, 55, went on trial behind closed doors in June last year on charges of state subversion at a court in Linshu county in the northeastern province of Shandong, relatives told Reuters at the time.

Xu and Ding are prominent figures in the New Citizens Movement, which sought greater transparency into the wealth of officials and for Chinese citizens to be able to exercise their civil rights as written in the constitution.

Ding’s wife Luo Shengchun, who lives in the United States and has pursued his case with U.S. State Department officials, told Reuters about the sentencing but said she had no further details.

“Their lawyers are forbidden from publishing court verdict documents and they do not dare to reveal where they were sentenced and under what charges,” she said by telephone.

She will keep pressing for information, she added.

“I will not let them put Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong in jail so easily.”

Xu received a jail term of 14 years and Ding was sentenced to 12 years, she added.

China’s foreign ministry said it was not aware of the cases.

The court, and the justice ministry, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The two had been held for more than three years, with Ding taken by police in December 2019 shortly after attending a gathering in southern China with about 20 other lawyers and activists.

Then he was held incommunicado for almost six months while being routinely tortured to extract a confession, his lawyer Peng Jian told the court.

Xu, a close friend of Ding’s who once wrote a searing open letter calling on Chinese leader Xi Jinping to step down, was detained in February 2020 after going into hiding.

Authorities have barred their lawyers from contact with foreign media, Luo added, in a practice that has become increasingly common in recent years so as to stifle publicity around rights-related cases.

Both had previously been imprisoned for their activism.

The Chinese communist regime has dramatically clamped down on dissent in recent years. Hundreds of rights lawyers were detained and dozens jailed in a series of arrests commonly known as “709” cases, referring to a clampdown on July 9, 2015.