CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 22 September 2018

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China cranks up crackdown on critics

HONG KONG (SE): Three Chinese human rights campaigners, who were handed jail sentences on January 22 for publishing books on democracy and activism, are the latest victims of politically motivated national security charges used to silence government critics.

Amnesty International says in a report released on January 29 that two 44-year-olds, Tang Jingling and Yuan Xinting, together with 31-year-old Wang Qingying were convicted by the Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court for inciting subversion of state power.

They were handed sentences of five years, three-and-a-half years and two-and-a-half years.

“Today’s verdict against the three activists is a gross injustice. Their peaceful and legitimate work never threatened state security, this is solely about the authorities arbitrarily silencing government critics,” Patrick Poon, a China Researcher at Amnesty International, said.

“The authorities appear to be stepping up the use of spurious national security charges as they escalate their attack against human rights activists and peaceful critics of the government’s abuse of power,” Poon continued.

The state prosecution indictment says that Tang, Yuan and Wang “promoted the ideas of civil disobedience… with the goal of overthrowing the socialist system.”

However, the three rights advocates were not accused of having taken part in any civil disobedience.

The key evidence cited by the prosecution at the trial hearings in June and July last year was the publication of a series of books on civic activism, peaceful democratisation and civil disobedience.

They were also accused of participating in illegal activities from 2006 onwards, including commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre and the remembrance of Lin Zhao, who was executed during the Cultural Revolution.

Signing of the Charter 08 democracy manifesto, which was co-authored by imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate, Liu Xiaobo, was also on the list of accusations.

Poon maintains, “The prosecutor’s indictment itself makes clear that nothing the men did exceeded the boundaries of the right to freedom of expression. Their convictions and sentences must be quashed, and all three men must be immediately and unconditionally released.”

The triumvirate was known in southern China as The Three Gentlemen of Guangzhou by compatriot rights advocates for their willingness to take a stand for ideas in the face of state suppression.

Amnesty says that the case is marred by many procedural violations.

The court repeatedly blocked defence lawyers from calling witnesses. The initial trial in June was suspended after the judge rejected defence requests for Communist Party members to be prevented from adjudicating on the case.

Foreign diplomats were also prevented from attending the trial.

The three were initially detained in May 2014, along with scores of others, on suspicion of picking quarrels and provoking troubles.

They were arbitrarily restricted access to their lawyers and relatives in contravention of international standards and China’s criminal procedure law.

 

Some of their lawyers allege that their clients had been repeatedly beaten while in custody and during police questioning.

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