Three anti-corruption activists have been imprisoned today simply for exercising their freedom of expression and assembly and should be released immediately and unconditionally, Amnesty International said.
Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping were sentenced to six and a half years’ imprisonment by the Yushui District Court in Xinyu City, Jiangxi Province, while Li Sihua was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.
All three of them were originally charged with “illegal assembly” – which was later changed to the more serious charge of “picking quarrels and creating a disturbance”. Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping were additionally charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” and “using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement”.
“The charges against these activists were preposterous from the very beginning. Having a small private gathering and holding a banner in a lobby entrance demanding financial transparency from officials should not in any way constitute ‘picking quarrels’ and ‘illegal assembly’,” said William Nee, Amnesty International’s China Researcher.
“The harsh sentences are just the latest moves in the politically motivated crackdown on the New Citizens Movement. They are prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally,” said William Nee.
The trial of the three activists was held in Yushui District Court in Xinyu City, Jiangxi Province in December 2013, following their arrest early last year after demanding that high-ranking officials declare their financial and property interests. They are among dozens of people linked to the New Citizens Movement, a loose network of activists who aim to promote government transparency and expose corruption, and who have been detained and persecuted over the past year.
The court changed the charge from “illegal assembly” to the more heavy charge of “picking quarrels and creating troubles” six months after the trial and just days before the sentencing. This sudden change meant that Liu Ping’s lawyers, Si Weijiang and Yang Xuelin, were only informed of the date of the sentencing two days in advance. This violates the legal requirement of three days’ advance notice, and forced the lawyers to be absent at the sentencing due to other court appearances.
Liu Ping was reportedly tortured during detention and her daughter and mother were not allowed to observe the trial.
Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing legal scholar and a leading figure in the New Citizens Movement, was imprisoned for four years in January. Lawyer Ding Jiaxi was imprisoned for three and a half years, Li Wei and Zhang Baocheng for two years and Zhao Changqing for two and a half years in April.
Pu Zhiqiang, previously one of Liu Ping’s defence lawyers, was formally arrested on 13 June for “picking quarrels and creating troubles” and “illegally obtaining personal information” after attending a seminar in early May to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.