Chinese human rights lawyer Li Heping was convicted of the crime of ‘subverting state power’ on 28 April and given a three-year prison sentence, which has been suspended for four years. In this time he will have his political rights suspended and will likely be placed under constant supervision.
Li Heping has been detained since the ‘709 crackdown’ on human rights lawyers in July 2015, during which time he has been held incommunicado and is believed to have been tortured. Li is a Christian human rights lawyer who spent his career defending the rights of religious minorities and other victims of human rights violations in China. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has been protesting his detention since his arrest and on 26 October 2017, presented a petition with 2,148 signatories to the Chinese Embassy calling for his release.
Li’s trial began in secret on 25 April 2017. According to the court notification, Li pleaded guilty in the trial, and said he would not appeal. He also reportedly thanked the court. It is likely that his defence lawyer was state-appointed because the two lawyers appointed by Li's family were not aware of the trial.
Although the suspension of Li’s sentence means that he ought to have been released and reunited with his family, he is yet to be released.
Wang Qiaoling, Li Heping’s wife, has been outspoken about the injustices against Li and their family and has faced significant intimidation. According to China Aid, Li was coerced by the government to contact Wang and encourage her to travel to Tianjin to collect him. It is believed that this was an attempt by the Chinese government to apprehend Wang. Wang informed Li that she feared losing her freedom and told him to come to Beijing. Li said that he understood, and the call was disconnected.
In statements translated by China Change, Wang Qiaoling forcefully spoke about the injustice faced by her family:
“They told me that I should be happy with this outcome, because ‘your husband can come home.’ You lock someone up and torture them for nearly two years, and now you come and tell me that this is the best outcome? Why didn’t the family even know about the trial? If the sentence was pronounced today in the court in Tianjin, why was his lawyer [not] there? You come here trying to make me buy this story, but all you want to really do is make sure our whole family is under house arrest and that Li Heping stays in captivity, and that I stay silent.”
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “Although this suspended sentence has been dressed up by the Chinese authorities as a reprieve for Li Heping, he is neither free nor safe from future imprisonment and violations. He is yet to have been released despite the sentence having been supposedly ‘suspended’ for four years, and even if he is released, his safety, and that of his family, cannot be guaranteed. We note similarities with the case of prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who was sentenced to three years in prison with a probation period of five years in 2006, during which he was forcibly disappeared six times and severely tortured in detention. Li and his family may be vulnerable to similar treatment. We are also deeply concerned for the safety of his wife Qiaoling, whose words provide a vivid reminder that Li’s sentence is a miscarriage of justice and should be overturned by the Chinese government immediately. We call on the Chinese authorities to guarantee the family’s safely and ensure that Li Heping is released immediately.”