BEIJING, Sept 22 — A Beijing lawyer whose clients included artist Ai Weiwei joined the swelling population of Chinese rights advocates in prison today, when a court sentenced him to 12 years after convicting him on fraud charges.
The lawyer, Xia Lin, and his wife and supporters strongly rejected the prosecutors’ claim that he had defrauded people and said the case was part of the government’s campaign to silence Chinese rights lawyers who have challenged arbitrary state power.
There had been little doubt that the court in Beijing would declare Xia guilty: Defendants in politically sensitive cases rarely, if ever, walk free in China.
Even so, the heavy sentence came as a shock to his lawyers and supporters.
“After he heard the verdict, Xia Lin said the case had been procedurally unfair and he was being persecuted for his rights defence work, for the cases he took on,” one of his defence lawyers, Ding Xikui, who was in the court for the verdict, said in an interview.
“He’s planning to appeal.”
Before his detention nearly two years ago, Xia, 46, frequently represented clients who were at odds with the authorities.
They included Ai, the artist-provocateur whose works often dwell on censorship and oppression.
Xia represented the company that was a vehicle for Ai’s business affairs.
After Ai was detained in 2011, the authorities ordered the company to pay US$2.4 million (RM99.27 million) in back taxes and fines for tax fraud.
Ai said he had been detained because of his outspoken political views.
Xia was detained in November 2014 after he agreed to defend Guo Yushan, an activist and writer in Beijing who was himself detained and later charged with running an illegal business.
Guo was released in September.
Chinese legal experts said in a petition in June that the repeated delays in Xia’s case, and the denial of access to his lawyers, amounted to a flagrant violation of justice.
Xia “never altered his initial intentions”, Guo wrote in a tribute published Tuesday on an overseas Chinese website.
“From a commercial lawyer to a human rights lawyer, the road of life he took became rockier and rockier, but more and more soul-stirring.”
The charges against Xia were prosaic by comparison. The judge said that he had defrauded four people of 4.8 million renminbi, equal to about US$720,000, said Ding, the lawyer.
Xia and his supporters said that the funds were legitimate loans and that the charge was a reprisal for his combative legal work.
Xia’s prison sentence is the latest in a string of convictions of Chinese lawyers who have been engaged in human rights cases.
Starting in July 2015, Chinese police rounded up hundreds of lawyers and rights activists as part of a crackdown centred on a law firm in Beijing that was accused of fanning social discontent against the ruling Communist Party.
Most were later released.
But in early August, four were convicted on subversion charges and sentenced to as much as 7½ years in prison.
This week, more than 100 Chinese lawyers put their names to a petition calling on the national legislature to stop the police and other government authorities from harassing and persecuting criminal defence lawyers trying to represent their clients.
The letter said that the abuses had “deviated from the course of legality, destroyed legal order and thoroughly disappointed people’s hopes in the government”. — The New York Times