Case History: Li Heping
Human rights lawyer Li Heping (李和平) has returned home after nearly two years of detention. He was found guilty of “inciting subversion against state power” following a secret trial on 25 April 2017. The Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court announced on 28 April that Li Heping had been sentenced to three years' imprisonment with a four-year probationary sentence. Li Heping returned home on 10 May 2017, but he has remained under close control and surveillance since that time.
Li Heping is a prominent lawyer who began his human rights work in 2002, when he took on the cases of four members of the “New Youth Study Group” accused of “subverting state power”. Subversion of state power is a charge frequently levied against individuals that the Chinese government considers dissidents or activists.
Human rights lawyer, Li Heping (李和平), has returned home, after nearly two years of detention. He was accused of the crime of “inciting subversion against state power” and underwent a secret trial on 25 April 2017, nearly two years after his detention; a guilty verdict was announced on the presiding court’s social media account three days later. The court sentenced the human rights defender to three years’ imprisonment with a four-year probationary suspension; allowing Li Heping to return home eleven days later.
Li Heping continued to take on high-profile sensitive cases, defending environmental activists, religious leaders, and other human rights lawyers targeted by Chinese authorities, and has campaigned for the abolition of torture practices in China. The defender is a recipient of both The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe’s Human Rights Award as well as the United States National Endowment for Democracy’s Democracy Award for Religious Freedom. In retaliation against his work, he suffered increasing government pressure and harassment. In 2007, the defender was abducted and beaten by several men presumed to be plainclothes police officers. In 2009, Chinese authorities refused to renew Li Heping’s law license. In 2011, the human rights defender was disappeared during China’s Jasmine Crackdown.
Li Heping was taken by Beijing police on 10 July 2015 in the midst of a crackdown on human rights lawyers and other human rights defenders. In addition to disappearing Li Heping, local authorities also confiscated books, files, hard drives, and computers from Li Heping’s home, while failing to present a warrant for the arrest, search, or seizure. The defender’s whereabouts, and those of several of his colleagues, remained unknown for months, despite frantic searches by his family and associates in police stations around Beijing. Chinese authorities finally announced Li Heping’s custody at the Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center in January 2016, six months after his disappearance.
For the duration of Li Heping’s detention, authorities refused all visits from the defender’s family or the lawyer his family appointed for him. Li’s trial was held in a closed-door hearing under the pretext that the case involved issues of “national security”; the defender’s wife only learned of the trial after it had concluded. In Li Heping’s verdict, the court declared that Li Heping had repeatedly attacked the state’s political and legal system, attempted to provoke individuals to turn against China’s social system and colluded with subversive elements to carry out illegal activities to overthrow China’s socialist system and endanger both national security and social stability. Li Heping pled guilty to the charges against him and did not elect to appeal the verdict. During his four-year probationary period, authorities will likely maintain extensive and invasive monitoring and surveillance of the defender and his family.
Li Heping was only one of eight individuals still awaiting trial almost 22 months after detention in the 709 Crackdown; seven other human rights lawyers and activists remain in detention.
While Li Heping’s return to his family is a cause for celebration, Front Line Defenders condemns the Chinese authorities’ numerous violations of his judicial and procedural rights, as well as his current guilty verdict.
9 September 2015 marked two months to the day since a nationwide crackdown on human rights defenders began in China.
The whereabouts of at least 18 defenders remain unknown following their detention by police in July. It is thought that at least nine others are also detained. Many of those missing or detained are lawyers who have been at the forefront of the human rights movement in China over the past number of years.
Beginning on 9 July 2015, scores of human rights defenders, mostly involved in legal activism, were taken in for questioning by police in a number of cities across China. While many were released shortly after, it is reported that at least 27 remain in police custody. The families and lawyers of at least 18 of those detained have not been informed of where they are being held, nor have their lawyers been permitted to meet with them. No information has been received about their physical or mental well-being. All but one of those detained have been refused access to their lawyers, with some legal representatives informed that this is because their clients' cases involve 'national security'.
On 9 July 2015, human rights lawyer Ms Wang Yu and her husband Mr Bao Longjun, a legal activist, were detained and subsequently placed under 'residential surveillance' in an unknown location. They are being held on charges of 'inciting subversion of state power' and Bao Longjun also faces the charge of 'picking quarrels and provoking troubles'. The following day, a number of lawyers and legal assistants Messrs Wang Quangzhang, Xie Yuandong, Li Heping, Liu Sixin, Zhou Shifeng, Huang Liqun and Ms Li Shuyun were seized by police in Beijing. Their whereabouts are currently unknown, as are the whereabouts of Ms Wang Fang, an accountant at a law firm where some of the detained lawyers work, and Mr Hu Shigen, a human rights defender and writer who previously spent 16 years in prison as a result of his human rights activities. Three further human rights defenders, namely Messrs Gou Hongguo, Liu Yongping and Lin Bin, were also detained on 10 July and remain under 'residential surveillance' at an unknown location.
That same day, lawyer Mr Sui Muqing was detained in Guangzhou and has also been placed under 'residential surveillance' at an unknown location on charges of 'inciting subversion of state power'. On 12 July lawyer Mr Xie Yanyi was also detained in Beijing and subsequently placed under 'residential surveillance' at an unknown location on charges of 'disrupting court order' and 'inciting subversion of state power'. On 20 July Ms Gao Yue, an assistant to lawyer Li Heping, was detained and subsequently placed under 'residential surveillance' at an unknown location on charges of 'picking quarrels and provoking troubles' and 'inciting subversion of state power'. On 1 August, Mr Li Chunfu, the younger brother of Li Heping was disappeared following a raid on his home by police in Beijing. He has not been heard from since. In addition to the defenders named above, at least nine others reportedly remain in detention.