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Chinese rights lawyer Chang Weiping tried in secret as family members held by police

Detained rights lawyer Chang Weiping — whose lawyers say he has suffered torture in incommunicado detention — stood trial for subversion on Tuesday behind closed doors, as his wife was prevented from traveling to the court in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi.

Chang’s trial on charges of “subversion of state power” began at 9.00 a.m. local time at the Feng County People’s Court, as his wife Chen Zijuan tweeted that she had been pulled over at a highway exit and prevented from taking the exit for the court.

The sentence carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a minimum jail term of 10 years.

The trial lasted around 90 minutes, with sentencing to be announced at a later date, Chen said via her Twitter account.

“Chang Weiping, I stand here today at the highway exit for Feng county,” Chen, clad in a green suit and holding a large bouquet of flowers, says in a short video recorded as police and COVID-19 enforcement officials mill around her.

“I want to present these flowers to you. Today is your Good Friday; but also I think your day of glory,” she said. “I’m so sorry that I was unable to be there for you in person despite traveling more than 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) in the hope of seeing you with my own eyes.”

“But they have been holding me here on this highway for more than 10 hours now,” Chen says. “I just heard from the lawyer that the trial is over already.”

“But whatever the outcome, this has not been a fair trial. This trial wasn’t yours; instead it was the scene of their crime.”

Chang Weiping in an undated photo. Credit: China Human Rights Lawyers
Chang Weiping in an undated photo. Credit: China Human Rights Lawyers

Global response

German ambassador to China Patricia Flor hit out at the treatment of Chen.

“#ChangWeiping’s wife @zijuan_chen was held up at a roadblock when trying to enter Feng [county], where she wanted to attend the trial,” Flor said via her official Twitter account.

“It is unacceptable that relatives are obstructed from supporting a defendant. #Justice needs #transparency.”

The French embassy in Beijing also tweeted on Tuesday: “The French Embassy in Beijing stands with human rights lawyer CHANG Weiping and his family ahead of his closed trial on 26 July … and reiterates its support for human rights lawyers working for the rule of law in China.”

The British government account @UKinChina called for the release of Chang and all prisoners of conscience in China.

“#ChangWeiping, arrested in 2020 after raising issues of torture and #humanrights in China (including his own mistreatment) is today scheduled for trial behind closed doors,” the account tweeted.

“The UK calls for the release of all those currently detained for promoting fundamental rights and freedoms.”

Chen said she had been told she couldn’t visit Feng county because she had traveled from Dongguan in the southern province of Guangdong, which the authorities said contained medium- and high-risk areas for COVID-19.

“After that, an ambulance came to take me away to an isolation facility,” she told RFA.

“They are going too far,” she added. “I had no problem getting out of Xianyang Airport, and had called to inquire about the COVID-19 policy for [the area] but then they pulled me over in Feng county.”

“They used COVID-19 policy as an excuse.”

Chen, who was traveling with an older relative and an eight-year-old child, called a lawyer to get some food delivered to the car, but was prevented from receiving it by police at the scene.

Two friends of Chang’s, Tian Qiuli and Long Kehai, were also prevented from traveling to the court buildings, and ordered to return to nearby Baoji city by local police.

Tian’s hair was pulled by a police officer during an altercation, and they were later detained, Chen said.

Luo Shengchun, the wife of fellow detained rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi, slammed the authorities’ treatment of Chang’s family.

“It’s been really heard on [Chen] Zijuan, her mother and child, who have to stay overnight,” Luo told RFA. “I don’t know if they even have food to eat.”

Attendees targeted

Chang’s detention came after he attended a dinner with prominent activists in Xiamen, including the founder of the New Citizens’ Movement, Xu Zhiyong, in early December 2019.

He and several others who had attended that dinner were arrested in a nationwide operation.

The rights group Safeguard Defenders said in an October 2021 report on “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL) that the authorities have detained more than 57,000 people under the system since its inception in 2013, detailing a system of grueling interrogations and torture used to elicit “confessions” from detainees, who can be held for up to six months without access to a lawyer.

The report said Chang was tortured during six months of RSDL between October 2020 and April 2021.

Chang, who was only allowed to meet with a lawyer after nearly a year in detention, was strapped immobile into a “tiger chair” torture device for six days straight, and deprived of food and sleep, his lawyer said in September.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.