The European Union has condemned the recent convictions of Zhai Yanmin, Hu Shigen, Zhou Shifeng and Gou Hongguo, who have been detained since mid-2015 as part of a wave of detentions in China of more than 300 lawyers and human rights defenders. The EU said that the recent sentences have been in stark contrast to China’s stated commitment to the strengthening of the rule of the law. Last week, the lawyer Zhou Shifeng was sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty of “subverting state power”.
Mr Shifeng‘s trial lasted less than a day at Tianjin No.2 People’s Court in northeast China. Democracy activist Hu Shigen was sentenced to seven-and-a half-years on the same grounds and activist Zhai Yanmin was given a three-year prison sentence, suspended for four years, after being convicted of the same ‘crime’. “This wave of trials against lawyers and activists are a political charade. Their fate was sealed before they stepped into the courtroom and there was no chance that they would ever receive a fair trial,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International. “The Chinese authorities appear intent on silencing anyone who raises legitimate questions about human rights and uses the legal system to seek redress,” she added.
The EU urged the Chinese authorities to abide by their international obligations, including respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They should respect the rights of all citizens, as recognized by the Chinese Constitution, and release all those detained for seeking to protect these rights. Brussels said that the lack of adherence in the trials to China’s own Criminal Procedure Law and the many infringements of the defendants’ rights to a proper defense are contrary to Chinese and international law. The infringements often include the lack of access to lawyers of their own choice, as well as preventing detainees’ family members from attending the trials. The EU urged Beijing for the immediate release of the detainees and the reinstatement of their right to practice their profession. Moreover, all charges against other 2015 detainees should be dropped.