Chen Wei (left) and Chen Xi (right)
‘Tis the season for exceptionally harsh prison sentences. China seems to have made a habit of convicting its political activists at Christmas time, and this year is no exception. In the last week, two Chinese democracy advocates, Chen Wei and Chen Xi, have been sentenced to prison terms of 9 and 10 years, respectively. And today, a couple goes on trial for campaigning against forced evictions.
The timing of the arrests and convictions are no coincidence. Many believe Beijing has clearly chosen to jail activists during the holiday season, when human rights workers often take leave and the world is focused on Santa:
“Chinese authorities seem to have calculated that they would evade international scrutiny due to the Christmas holiday, so they have handed out one after another harsh sentences around this time to lesser known activists like Chen Xi and Chen Wei,” said Renee Xia, international director of the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Defenders.
The crackdown now and earlier this year is also very likely tied to tension leading up to the change in leadership next year. The December timing may also be an attempt to “clear house” before the Chinese New Year season hits.
Chen Wei and Chen Xi were both active in Tiananmen, both signed Charter 08, and have both have written a series of essays critical towards the government online.
Chen Xi just came off another 10-year sentence in 2006, and has now been sent back for writing 36 essays on political reform and human rights in China. The Guardian reports:
The intermediate people’s court in Guiyang, in south-west China’s Guizhou region, tried Chen Xi, 57, on charges linked to more than 30 political essays he published online.
“The judge said this was a major crime that had a malign impact,” his wife, Zhang Qunxuan, told Reuters by phone after the trial. The judge said Chen was a repeat offender who deserved a long sentence, she added.
Chen has insisted he was innocent, but will not appeal. “The court ignored all the points raised by the defence lawyer at the trial, so what point is there in appealing?” said Zhang.
Chen Wei, sentenced to 9 years last Friday, only published four essays online, which his wife claims were misinterpreted:
His wife, Wang Xiaoyan, told the BBC she was “very unhappy” with the verdict.
“I think today’s trial is just a show. It’s a performance. The verdict had been decided in advance. They don’t allow people to speak. There is no freedom of speech.”
She said his essays had been misinterpreted their meaning distorted, and he had done nothing to incite subversion.
“He is a very patriotic man. He did criticise the Communist Party, but that’s stating the facts. That is not subversion.”
Even more frustrating is the trial currently in session today against activist couple Ni Yulan and Dong Jiqin for “inciting a disturbance.” The two have been avid campaigners again forced evictions and unjust land grabs, and were arrested in the sweeping crackdown China made on activists in April.
Ni Yulan has been jailed before for “obstructing official business” and in 2002 she was beaten so badly by police that she has been in a wheelchair ever since (her kneecaps and feet were allegedly broken.)
AP has more on the trial today:
Looking thin and frail, Ni Yulan lay on a bed and used an oxygen machine to help her breathe during the hearing, her daughter, Dong Xuan, said afterward. Dong said she told the court about her mother’s run-ins with police since 2002 and how police beatings left her crippled.
Ni is charged with fraud, accused of falsifying facts to steal property. She is also charged, along with her husband, with causing a disturbance at a hotel where they had been detained by police.
Ni and her supporters deny the charges and say she is being punished for her years of activism, especially her advocacy for people forced from their homes to make way for the fast-paced real estate development that remade Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. Her outspoken defense earned her the enmity of officials and developers. Her family’s house in an old neighborhood in the capital’s center was also razed, and the couple became homeless.
Last week Ni was given the Human Rights Defenders Tulip award from the Dutch government.