Chinese human rights lawyer Li Heping has been released and has returned home to his family after almost two years in incommunicado detention.
Li, a Christian, is one of the most prominent lawyers detained in the crackdown by the Chinese authorities on human rights lawyers and activists, which began in July 2015. Over 300 lawyers, human rights defenders and their colleagues and family members were detained interrogated, detained or imprisoned in what is known as the “709 crackdown”. Like many of those detained Li Heping has spent years defending religious communities and other “sensitive” cases. As a result, he has been arbitrarily detained and tortured on several occasions and his family have been harassed and intimidated by the authorities.
On 25 April 2017, Li Heping was tried in a secret trial. On 28 April, it became known that he had been convicted of the crime of “subverting state power” and given a three-year prison sentence, suspended for four years. Although he should have been released at that time, he continued to be held by the authorities.
Although Li is now at home with his family, his wife Wang Qiaoling has reported that he is being monitored closely by the authorities. It is likely there will be restrictions on his freedom of movement and freedom of speech and expression for the duration of his suspended sentence.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has been protesting his detention since his arrest and on 26 October 2016 presented a petition with 2,148 signatories to the Chinese Embassy calling for his release.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW welcomes the release of lawyer Li Heping. While we are delighted to know that he has been reunited with his family, we remain concerned about the conditions on his release. Li Heping is innocent: like the other lawyers detained in this crackdown, he has been targeted because he defended the rights of Chinese citizens, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, even risking his own personal safety to do so. Therefore, a suspended sentence should not be seen as a “lenient” measure. We call on the Chinese government to overturn this sentence and to investigate, in accordance with domestic and international law, reports that Li Heping and other detained human rights lawyers have been tortured in detention.”