Activist Wang Wei released at the end of July

Dui Hua learned from an interlocutor of Chinese government that activist Wang Wei (王威) was released on July 27, 2022 after serving his full sentence.

Wang was among a group of ten activists disappeared in November 2016 after they gathered for a dinner in Shenzhen to discuss political and social issues.

This type of gathering, often called “citizens in the same city 公民同城,” was initially promoted by Xu Zhiyong and his New Citizen movement. The activity drew inspiration from a similar informal gathering “饭醉” [Lit: eat and drink, phonetically the same as “committing crime” 犯罪] that has been spontaneously done by netizens for several years.

Reports surrounding Wang’s initial disappearance were not clear. Some speculated he was detained along with Deng Hongcheng (邓洪成) and Xiao Bing (肖兵). For more than three years, there was no information regarding their cases. Wang and others’ names surfaced again in October 2020 when overseas activists learned of the sentencing of the ten activists.

In January 2020, Wang was convicted of subversion and given a sentence of five and a half years by a court in Shenzhen. Initial reports speculated that his sentence would expire in May 2022. However, based on the information received by Dui Hua, Wang likely was placed in Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location (RSDL) after his disappearance for more than five months. According to Chinese law, two days under RSDL can be counted as one day of a prison sentence.

Among the ten people sentenced, Deng was also convicted of subversion and received the longest sentence of 12 years. According to information provided to Dui Hua, Deng will be released on January 26, 2029.

Other activists received three to four and a half years of imprisonment, and all were released in 2020 and 2021.

Sentence for Hong Kong’s Captain America reduced upon appeal

Ma Chunman (馬俊文) is the second person to be tried for inciting secession under Hong Kong’s National Security Law (HKNSL). Prosecutors alleged that he shouted pro-independence slogans on 20 occasions. Dubbed “Captain America 2.0,” Ma frequently appeared at protests in 2019 dressed as the comic book character. In November 2021, the District Court convicted Ma and sentenced him to five years and nine months.

Ma’s sentence was reduced to five years of imprisonment by the Court of Appeal on August 2, 2022. The court gave complicated (and often conflicting) reasons in its ruling. The appeals court pointed out that the HKNSL doesn’t provide a definitive distinction between so-called “serious circumstances” and “less severe circumstances.” The court, considering the situation at the time, also deemed Ma’s case to be a “serious circumstance.”

However, the appeals court did not agree with the original judgment saying that Ma did not show remorse, which was one of the reasons why the case was considered to be serious. The appeals court, considering all aspects of the case, said that Ma’s criminal responsibility should be viewed as less severe than similar cases. The court thus determined that the original sentencing had been too harsh. The appeals court first changed Ma’s sentence to five years and three months, which was then further reduced to five years.

The interpretation of the HKNSL remains murky. On August 1, a Hong Kong magistrate hearing the case against the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China ruled that “the concept of foreign agent is a conclusion of administration, not an element that the prosecution has to prove.” The magistrate concluded that it was lawmakers’ and rule-makers’ intention to be “silent” on the criteria of what constitutes a foreign agent in order to “make some flexibility for the police.”

On July 27, the UN Human Rights Committee, a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, expressed concern over the broad interpretation of the HKNSL. The committee urged Hong Kong to repeal the law and abstain from enforcing it in until its repeal.

Founder of minor Taiwanese political party arrested

Yang Zhi-yuan (杨智渊), a Taiwan resident living in China, was placed in criminal detention by the Wenzhou State Security Bureau in the Zhejiang Province on August 3, 2022.

In a segment broadcasted during CCTVs’ prime time news program “Xinwen Lianbo 新闻联播,” the police showed up at Yang’s home and read him a detention notice for suspicion of splittism and inciting splittism, both endangering state security crimes. The authority accused Yang of long being involved in the “Taiwan Independence” movement.

Yang is a career community activist in Taiwan and one of the founders of a minor political party—the Taiwan Nationalist Party 台湾民族党. Yang began his political activism by joining the Democratic Progressive Party but soon quit. He co-founded the Taiwan Nationalist Party in 2011 to focus on promoting Taiwan statehood through referendum. He was also once affiliated with the now defunct pro-independence Taiwan Action Party Alliance.

However, people who claim to know Yang expressed surprise over his arrest. Several acquaintances said that Yang’s political views have changed over the years. Especially in recent years, he has been closely associated with adamantly pro-unification Taiwanese, and it is believed that Yang has taken a similar position: he established a citizen alliance in 2018 to reach out to pan-blue (pro-unification) groups in Taiwan. Some claim Yang had taken up permanent residence a couple of years ago in the mainland to explore business opportunities.

Yang’s detention came right after US Speaker of the House Pelosi departed Taiwan. The visit drew strong reactions from China, resulting in large-scale live-fire military exercises around the island and bans on Taiwanese food imports.

Yang’s legal predicament raises worries for the millions of Taiwanese living in China. The political system in Taiwan grants its residents freedom to explore and express different political views and to participate in political activities. However, Yang’s incident shows how unpredictable and uncertain their lives in China can be. Political views and activities, regardless of how long ago they were expressed or how much they may have changed over time, may still serve as pretenses to justify legal action against any behavior deemed problematic. With this, Taiwanese residents in China may be at greater risk of being victimized by an opaque legal system, becoming collateral damage in a larger political dispute.