Chinese human rights lawyers Xie Yang and Li Heping were released from prison Tuesday after being detained for nearly two years on charges of attempting to subvert the country’s ruling Communist Party. The two activists were originally rounded up in July of 2015, along with hundreds of other activists and lawyers, in the so-called “7-09 Crackdown” [JURIST report]. A video [materials, Weibo] released by the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court [official website] shows Xie reading a prepared statement [materials] before his release in which he appears to retract previous statements that he was tortured and denounces his activism. A statement from the Chinese Human Rights Defenders [advocate website], an organization that has closely followed events following the “7-09 Crackdown,” refers to Xie’s statement and the quick trial that preceded it a “mockery of justice.” Prosecutors accused [JURIST report] Xie of conspiring with people in and out of China to distort reports of police brutality, with the ultimate goals of undermining state power and threatening national security. Friends of Li say he is now with his wife and daughter at their family home in Beijing, adding that he appears “emaciated” and “unrecognizable” [Guardian report] in videos and photos [materials, Twitter] that have been shared on social media.
China has faced continued international criticism for its treatment of human rights defenders, ranging from filing of arbitrary criminal charges, suspension or dismissal of law licenses, and disappearances. In February, the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders released its annual report [JURIST report] highlighting intensified crackdowns on human rights defenders. In December the UN called on China to investigate the disappearance of human rights lawyer [JURIST report] Jiang Tianyong, after he had been missing for two months. The same month China suspended the law license [JURIST report] of prominent human rights lawyer Li Jinxing, over his apparent allegedly unacceptable behavior in court while defending a client. Last September China handed down a 12 year sentence [JURIST report] to prominent human rights lawyer Xia Lin. In July China announced plans to prosecute [JURIST report] prominent human rights lawyer Zhou Shifeng on charges of subverting state power, furthering its recent crackdown on political dissidents.