Two Chinese human rights lawyers who have been held for more than two years are expected to stand trial soon, according to friends and legal sources.
The imminent trial of one of the lawyers, Xu Zhiyong, was indirectly confirmed after the Intermediate People’s Court of Linyi in Shandong province issued a notice on Monday informing Xu’s lawyer that a pre-trial meeting would be held on Friday.
The notice, which was posted on Twitter by Shenzhen-based human rights lawyer Pang Kun on Tuesday, does not give a specific date for the hearing but said the meeting was intended to ensure “the smooth proceeding of the trial” in light of the “large volume of evidence and complexity of the case”.
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An informed source who requested anonymity said fellow lawyer Ding Jiaxi, who was arrested at about the same time as Xu, would also stand trial soon and a pre-trial meeting was being arranged.
“Xu’s lawyers will plead not guilty for Xu during the trial and defend him on the grounds that his arrest and detention violated legal procedures,” the source said, adding that the trial would take place soon after Friday’s meeting.
Both Xu, 49, and Ding, 54, are accused of subverting state power – an offence that can carry a life sentence.
They were arrested in late 2019 and early 2020 after attending a gathering with fellow activists and lawyers in Xiamen, a city in Fujian province, to discuss the development of civil society and democracy in China.
Another lawyer, Chang Weiping, was also arrested. Meanwhile Pang, who also took part in the meeting, was questioned by police but not arrested.
Li Qiaochu, Xu’s 31-year-old girlfriend, was detained in February last year. According to an indictment earlier this year, she was accused of “inciting subversion of state power” for publishing Xu’s articles online in September 2019.
Li had previously claimed in a Twitter post that Xu and Ding had been abused during their detention.
Xu has spent years advocating for civil rights, making him a frequent target of the authorities.
After campaigning for children’s rights and against corruption and the death penalty, the former law lecturer turned rights crusader was arrested in 2013 and later sentenced to four years in prison for “gathering crowds to disrupt public order”. Ding was also sentenced to three and a half years in jail under the same charges the following year.
Ding and Xu were released in 2016 and 2017.
Before his most recent arrest, Xu published an article in early 2020 on social media in which he called for President Xi Jinping to step down for his “inability to handle major crises”, including coronavirus outbreaks.
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