Case history: Xie Yang
On 26 December 2017, the Changsha Intermediate People's Court declared human rights lawyer Xie Yang guilty of inciting subversion of state power. The court further announced that Xie Yang would be exempt from any punishment.
As of 9 August 2017, human rights defender Xie Yang returned to his residence and regular work at the Weigang Law Firm in Changsha, Hunan Province although he remains under close surveillance by local authorities. The human rights defender, formally granted probationary release following his 8 May 2017 trial, remained under police control for the following three months.
Xie Yang is a Hunan-based human rights lawyer who represented the family of Xu Chunhe, a man shot dead by police in Heilongjiang Province in May 2015. He has also represented those involved in the New Citizens' Movement, the Chinese Democracy Party, Christians and victims of land grabs.
On 26 December 2017, the Changsha Intermediate People's Court declared human rights lawyer Xie Yang guilty of inciting subversion of state power. The court further announced that Xie Yang would be exempt from any punishment. The court's announcement followed a reconvention of its trial of the defender, almost eight months after the initial hearing of 8 May 2017. Xie Yang's confession during his 8 May trial directly contradicted the defender's previous written testimony and is believed to be the result of political pressure. Xie Yang was granted probationary release from detention four months after his trial date in August 2017.
Chinese courts have adopted "inciting subversion of state power" as a common charge against human rights defenders, and trials of these defenders are commonly held during major Western holidays, to take advantage of lighter media and diplomatic attention.
As of 9 August 2017, human rights defender Xie Yang has returned to his residence and regular work at the Weigang Law Firm in Changsha, Hunan Province although he remains under close surveillance by local authorities. The human rights defender, formally granted probationary release following his 8 May 2017 trial, remained under police control for the following three months.
Xie Yang is a Hunan-based human rights lawyer who represented the family of Xu Chunhe, who was shot and killed by police in Heilongjiang Province in May 2015. This event became one of the inciting incidents in the “709 crackdown”, a nationwide campaign targeting Chinese lawyers and other human rights defenders initiated on 9 July 2017; Xie Yang himself was arrested on 8 January 2016. Xie Yang has also represented those involved in the New Citizens' Movement, the Chinese Democracy Party, Christians, and victims of land grabs.
On 8 May 2017, the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court tried Xie Yang on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “disturbing court order”. The Court granted Xie Yang probationary release at the conclusion of the trial hearing, but the defender remained in custody for the subsequent three months, during which time he was granted extremely limited communication with family members. The Court has yet to release a verdict on Xie Yang’s charges.
On 13 July 2017, Xie Yang was allowed to return to work at the Weigang Law Firm, though he continued to reside in a unknown location under police surveillance. In an interview with international media on that day, Xie Yang expressed that he had regained some degree of freedom. He had reestablished communication with his family, and would once again be able to take on “sensitive” legal cases. However, the human rights defender remains under strict surveillance. In August, local authorities installed video cameras at the entrance to Xie Yang’s residence, claiming that they had been installed for his safety. These cameras were later taken down, upon the defender’s request.
Front Line Defenders calls on Chinese authorities to end their surveillance of Xie Yang and to quash the charges against him, as it believes these charges are solely a response to the human rights defender's peaceful and legitimate work in the defence of human rights providing legal protection to vulnerable individuals and groups in China.
Xie Yang (谢阳) is one of China’s “709 lawyers”, taken into custody in 2015 during an extensive government crackdown on human rights defenders, lawyers and activists. Xie Yang’s continued incarceration almost two years after his detention, makes his case one of the flagship cases of the 709 event. The 709 crackdown refers to a government offensive against human rights defenders, in particular human rights lawyers, which began on 9 July 2015 with the arrest of several high-profile lawyers and continued for months. On 8 May 2017, Xie Yang was finally granted a trial hearing. One month later, the court has yet to release a verdict on Xie Yang’s case and the defender’s current whereabouts remains unknown.
In communications with his lawyers in August 2016 and January 2017, Xie Yang reported having been tortured by officers in the Changsha detention centre where he was being held: acts of verbal harassment, threats, beating by guards and other inmates under guards’ orders, and hanging from the ceiling. Xie Yang’s January 2017 testimony, disseminated by his lawyer at the time, Chen Jiangang, drew the attention of international media as well as national governments. In late February 2017, the governments of eleven countries co-signed a letter to the Chinese government requesting a prompt investigation into allegations of torture against Xie Yang and other 709 detainees. Chinese authorities responded with a smear campaign against another detained lawyer, Jiang Tiangyong, currently under arrest in Changsha. Chinese media claimed that Jiang Tianyong had colluded with Xie Yang’s wife to fabricate the torture claims; in a televised interview, Jiang Tianyong confirmed this narrative. Jiang Tianyong’s family and colleagues believe that Jiang Tianyong’s statements were made under duress.
Chinese authorities have continued to harass Xie Yang’s family and legal counsel throughout his detention. In early March 2017, authorities attempted to block the emigration of Xie Yang’s family from Thailand to the United States; later that month, authorities compelled Xie Yang’s lawyer, Chen Jiangang, to drop Xie Yang’s case. When Xie Yang’s trial was finally scheduled for late April 2017 - almost two years after the defender’s arrest - human rights advocates and foreign diplomats planning to attend the trial were thwarted by a last-minute postponement of the trial to an unspecified date. Furthermore, on 3-8 May 2017, Chen Jiangang was detained during a family holiday in Yunnan Province and subjected to a 3,000 km cross-country police escort to his home in Beijing. Chen Jiangang believes that his forced escort was intended to occupy him during his former client, Xie Yang’s trial.
The trial was opened, with no public announcement, on 8 May 2017. During the trial, a judge inquired as to Xie Yang’s treatment in detention. Xie Yang stated that he had experienced no torture while detained, in contradiction to his signed testimony written earlier this year. Xie Yang’s family and colleagues believe that this statement was also made due to pressure by authorities.
Xie Yang’s trial concluded on the afternoon of 8 May 2017. As of 8 June 2017, no verdict has been announced.
Xie Yang has been kept in police custody in an unknown location since the end of his trial. After the conclusion of the hearing on the evening of 8 May, the defender’s wife called him from the United States and spoke with him briefly; she was able to reach him again by phone a few days later. On the occasion of Xie Yang’s birthday a few days after his wife’s second call, the defender’s parents were taken from their home to spend a few days with Xie Yang, under police supervision in a remote mountain setting in Hunan Province. Since this visit, no one has seen or heard from Xie Yang, and his whereabouts remain unknown.
On 1 March 2017, Chinese state-affiliated media published articles in Chinese and English claiming that allegations of torture perpetrated against lawyer and human rights defender Xie Yang were “nothing but cleverly orchestrated lies.” Xie Yang has been detained since July 2015, and multiple counts of torture and mistreatment have emerged since that time. The articles accuse Jiang Tianyong, a human rights defender and former lawyer currently held in incommunicado detention, of inciting Xie Yang’s wife to create these claims to draw the interest of western media.
Xie Yang, a resident of Huaihua City in China’s Hunan Province, is a human rights defender who has taken on, as a lawyer with Hunan’s Gangwei Law Firm, cases of Chinese activists and petitioners. On 11 July 2015, in the midst of China’s “709” crackdown on lawyers and other human rights defenders, Xie Yang was taken from his hotel room and placed under “residential surveillance” in an unidentified location and with no access to his family or legal counsel. Xie Yang was formally arrested on 11 January 2016 on charges of inciting subversion of state power and disrupting court order. During the few meetings he has been granted with lawyers since July 2015, Xie Yang has reported numerous acts of torture and mistreatment, including verbal harassment and threats, hanging from the ceiling, and beating by guards and by inmates instructed to do so by guards. Fellow inmates, Xie Yang stated, beat him with shackles and the guards beat him using their hands, feet, and sometimes their heads. According to the state media report released on 1 March 2017, the Hunan Provincial People’s Procuratorate carried out an investigation of the 2016 torture reports, but concluded that no torture had taken place.
Jiang Tianyong was disbarred from legal practice in 2009, but has continued supporting victims of human rights violations. He has been particularly active in defense of lawyers and other human rights defenders affected by the “709” crackdown. Jiang Tianyong has been missing since November 2016, after attempting to visit Xie Yang at the Changsha Detention Center where he is being held. Following his attempted visit, Jiang Tianyong was taken from the Changsha train station and has been kept in an undisclosed location since that time. No arrest warrant has been issued, but authorities have indicated that Jiang Tianyong is being held under suspicion of disclosing state secrets.
According to the state media reports, Jiang Tianyong, while in detention, has confessed that his accounts of torture reported in late 2016 were based on fabricated information, in an attempt to “cater to the tastes of western institutions and media organizations”. Some have expressed concerns that Jiang Tianyong’s confessions were themselves forced or fabricated. Jiang Tianyong’s wife has stated that she “does not believe a word in the…report”, the articles include further confessions by Jiang Tianyong to incite Xie Yang’s wife to support his alleged fabrication of information; they also state that Xie Yang’s wife has expressed satisfaction with Xie Yang’s legal proceedings since 2015. The articles do not mention Xie Yang’s more recent allegations of verbal abuse, sleep deprivation, and beatings, reported in a recorded testimony to his lawyers on 4 January 2017.
Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned about the cases of both Xie Yang and Jiang Tianyong, whose detentions have constituted violations of their human rights and of Chinese law. Front Line Defenders further believes that the detention of these two men are solely attempts to obstruct their peaceful and legitimate work providing advocacy and legal support to other victims of rights infringement in China.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in China to:
1. Immediately drop all charges against Xie Yang, as it is believed that they are solely motivated by his legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights;
2. Immediately and unconditionally release both human rights defenders;
3. Ensure that the treatment of Xie Yang and Jiang Tianyong, while in detention, adheres to the conditions set out in the ‘Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment', adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988;
4. Conduct an unbiased investigation into reports of torture against Xie Yang through an independent agency unaffiliated with the Changsha or Hunan Procuratorate;
5. Ensure that Jiang Tianyong has not been forced or coerced into making false confessions, and allow him immediate and unfettered access to his lawyers, in accordance with Chinese law;
6. Inform Jiang Tianyong’s family of his current location, in accordance with Chinese law;
7. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in China are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.
On 11 and 12 January 2016, the families of five human rights lawyers and a legal assistant received official notice that their family members had been formally charged. All six individuals had been held in secret detention for six months.
Mr Zhou Shifeng, Mr Wang Quanzhang, Ms Zhao Wei and Ms Li Shuyun have all been charged with subversion of state power, while Mr Xie Yanyi and Mr Xie Yang have been charged with inciting subversion of state power. The maximum penalty for the crime of 'subversion of state power' is life imprisonment. There is a 15 year maximum penalty for the crime of 'inciting subversion of state power'.
On 10 July 2015, Zhou Shifeng, Wang Quanzhang, Li Shuyun and Zhao Wei were detained by police in Beijing. On 11 July 2015, Xie Yang was detained in Changsha, Hunan province. On 12 July 2015, Xie Yani was also detained in Beijing. None of the six have been permitted access to lawyers and all have been held incommunicado since their detentions. They were among over 300 lawyers, legal assistants and human rights defenders who were detained, placed under residential surveillance, subjected to travel bans or harassed in the period following 9 July last year. It is believed that up to 20 other human rights defenders remain in some form of police custody, in addition to the aforementioned six.
Since 9 July 2015, the Chinese police have detained or questioned more than 100 human rights defenders and their family members.
While many of them have been released, at least six human rights lawyers, namely Ms Wang Yu and Messrs Zhou Shifeng, Wang Quanzhang, Huang Liqun, Sui Muqing and Xie Yang, remain imprisoned or under house arrest.
The human rights defenders were arrested and detained by police at different times between 9 and 11 July. Sui Muqing and Xie Yang are accused of inciting subversion of state power and have been placed under house arrest. Four lawyers from Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, Wang Yu, Zhou Shifeng, Wang Quanzhang andHuang Liqun, were taken from their homes or offices by police during this period and remain in detention. Wang Yu's husband and fellow human rights defender, Mr Bao Longjun, has also been detained by police in Beijing.
This most recent crackdown started on 9 July, when Wang Yu was kidnapped in the early morning after sending her friends a text message saying that the internet connection and electricity had been cut off at her home and that people were trying to break in. Shortly after her detention, more than 100 Chinese lawyers joined an open letter protesting her disappearance. Later some of those lawyers who signed the letter, as well as her colleagues from Beijing Fengrui Law Firm were detained.