Civil rights lawyer Li Heping has been detained since mid-2015. He was one of hundreds caught up in a crackdown on dissent in China that year . On April 25, a court in the city of Tianjin gave Li a 3-year jail sentence, suspended for four years, for “subversion of state power.” The Christian lawyer’s sentencing was not publicly announced until three days later.
“Authorities held a closed door trial on the grounds it involved ‘national security,’ and Li’s wife was not informed of the trial or sentencing hearing until after it had finished,” said a report on California-based bilingual news website China Digital Times.
Since his detention, Li’s wife, Wang Qiaoling, has been monitored and intimidated for supporting her husband and speaking to the foreign press. On April 28, while walking on the street, Wang said she was surrounded by state security officials.
“Among them were Beijing state security agents, Tianjin state security agents, chief of the Tianjin police station, and the neighborhood property management people,” Wang said in a video translated on Chinachange.org.
“As they closed in on me, the state security officers demanded that we discuss Li Heping’s case. I thought it was a standard attempt to threaten us and asked them to present their ID badges. They refused,” she said.
“As we were arguing and haggling over this point, they told me that Li Heping had already been given a suspended sentence. I was extremely shocked. This meant that Li Heping had already been tried in secret,” she said.
Watch this CSW UK video appeal made by Li’s daughter, Li Jiamei, last year:
As a lawyer with the Beijing Global Law Firm, Li had irked the government by defending underground Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, and fellow lawyers persecuted by the communist state, such as Chen Guangcheng and Gao Zhisheng.
“As far as I know, in Li Heping’s ten-year career as a lawyer, he has opposed torture, defended the rights of religious believers, and appealed on behalf of those suffering injustice. Everything he has done can be discussed openly, and it is all transparent and upright,” Wang said.
Amnesty International said that for his work in human rights, Li has been recognized by the U.S. Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe.
Li’s sentence effectively means he will be silenced for four years. It renders him unable to work as a civil rights lawyer, as he had been before being detained in July 2015 when he was one of the 300-plus human rights lawyers and activists rounded up by the authorities. His brother, Li Chunfu, was also one of those detained in the crackdown.
After 500 days in secret detention, Li Chunfu was “released on bail” on January 12 this year. When his wife, Bi Liping, picked him up from a police station, she found him to be a shell of a man.
“Chunfu was thin like sticks, he was pale, his eyes lifeless,” Bi said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that not long after his release, a Beijing psychiatric hospital gave Li Chunfu a tentative diagnosis of schizophrenia.
HRW China researcher Maya Wang said that it’s no mystery what shattered the respected lawyer.
“Human Rights Watch has long documented the Chinese government’s use of torture, and human rights defenders are frequently treated harshly. Beatings, being hung up by the wrists, prolonged sleep deprivation, indefinite isolation, threats to one’s family — these are common techniques that can cause long-term physical and psychological harm,” Wang wrote.
Watch this Wall Street Journal video about what lawyer Gao Zhisheng experienced while detained for his rights work: