Saturday, 24 September 2016

China's Legal Eagles Silenced

Beijing lawyer Xia Lin was convicted of fraud and jailed for 12 years
The hope to change China from within through a civil society has suffered yet another setback with the jailing of Beijing lawyer Xia Lin, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for fraud.

At his sentencing, Xia, his wife and supporters vehemently rejected the prosecutors' claim that he had defrauded four people of 4.8 million yuan (US$780,000).

But Xia and his supporters say the funds were legitimate loans, and that the charge was a reprisal for his combative legal work.

One of his most famous clients was Ai Weiwei
The 46-year-old had previously represented artist and activist Ai Weiwei when the authorities ordered Ai's company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd, to pay US$2.4 million in back taxes and fines for tax fraud.

Xia was then detained in November 2014 when he agree to defend Guo Yushan, an activist and writer in Beijing who was also detained and later charged with running an illegal business.

Guo was released in September last year.

As for Xia's case, it doesn't seem to have been processed according to rule of law; Chinese legal experts said in a petition in June that there were repeated delays in Xia's case, and he didn't have access to his lawyers.

While it was expected he would not win his case, Xia and his supporters didn't expect such a heavy sentence.

"After he heard the verdict, Xia Lin said the case had been procedurally unfair and he was being persecuted for his rights defense work, for the cases he took on," one of his defense lawyers, Ding Xikui, who was in court for the verdict, said. "He is planning to appeal."

Xia was detained after he agreed to defend Guo Yushan
In a tribute published on Tuesday on an overseas Chinese website, Guo said Xia "never altered his initial intentions. From a commercial lawyer to a human rights lawyer, the road of life he took became rockier and rockier, but more and more soul-stirring".

Xia is one of several hundred lawyers and rights activists jailed for their work on human rights issues in China. His supporters say his case was part of the government's campaign to silence Chinese rights lawyers who have challenged arbitrary state power.

Earlier this week more than 100 lawyers signed a petition calling on the National People's Congress to stop the police and other government authorities from harassing and persecuting criminal defense lawyers trying to represent their clients.

The letter said the abuses had "deviated from the course of legality, destroyed legal order, and thoroughly disappointed people's hopes in the government".

It's a worrying sign that rule of law in China has less meaning in reality and that rule by fear continues to grow.

These lawyers are so brave. They had thought the law would protect them while doing their work. But it appears the Party is beyond the law.

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