Li Yuhan sentenced

After spending more than six years in detention, rights lawyer Li Yuhan (李昱函), now in her 70s, was sentenced by the Heping District People’s Court to six years and six months in prison for “fraud” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (PQPT) on October 25, 2023. According to reports, she has staged a hunger strike at the Shenyang No.1 Detention Center. She was hospitalized at least twice and her applications for medical parole have all been denied because she refused to confess and admit guilt.

The prolonged pretrial detention has taken a toll on Li’s physical and mental state. Li was targeted for handling sensitive cases, particularly her defense of prominent rights lawyer Wang Yu, who was among the first group of people to be detained in a nationwide operation against lawyers and activists in July 2015.

Li said she would appeal the sentence. There are six months remaining in her sentence. She should be released in April 2024.

Cheng Lei released & deported; Yang Hengjun remains in detention

Chinese-born Australian national Cheng Lei (成蕾) was deported to Melbourne on October 11 after spending more than three years in custody in Beijing. She worked as an English-language news presenter for Chinese state television before being placed under residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL) in August 2020. Cheng described the first six months under RSDL as the hardest of her years in jail. She was only given 15 minutes of fresh air a day from a small window at the top of the room with the curtains still drawn, and the lights were on 24 hours a day.

Her detention came at the height of tensions between Australia and China over COVID-19, trade, and human rights disputes between the two countries. The reasons for her detention were unclear until Cheng spoke about her ordeal after she regained her freedom. Her detention stemmed from her breaking a media embargo on a Chinese government briefing by just a few minutes, even though she did not reveal the details of the government briefing document she had reported on. In March 2022, she was tried in secret and subsequently sentenced to two years and 11 month in prison for “illegally procuring/trafficking in state secrets for foreign entities.”

Yet, another Chinese-born Australian national Yang Hengjun (杨恒均) remains in a detention center, waiting for the outcome of his trial for espionage—an endangering state security crime. The trial commenced in May 2021 behind closed doors. In a letter he sent to his sons, Yang described the dire conditions in the detention center and his rapidly declining health due to a kidney illness. Yang has been in custody since January 2019. Family and supporters are urging Australian Premier Minister Anthony Albanese to raise the case during his state visit to China, which begins on November 4.

Lu Siwei released on bail

On October 28, rights lawyer Lu Siwei (卢思位) was released on bail pending investigation one month after he was repatriated to China from Laos. Lu was arrested by Laotian police in late July while boarding a train for Thailand. He was en route to Bangkok to catch a flight to the United States where he was to reunite with his wife and daughter. The US State Department has condemned his forced repatriation at the request of China.

After being deported to China, Lu is being held in Xindu District Detention Center, Chengdu.

Ji Xiaolong sentenced

On October 27, rights activist Ji Xiaolong (季孝龙) was sentenced to four years and six months in prison for PQPT. He was detained in August 2022 for criticizing the grueling COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai and making online posts that allegedly were “insulting” to Chinese leaders. Ji also called on then-Shanghai ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary Li Qiang, who replaced the recently deceased Li Keqiang as premier in March 2023, to resign for “blindly following orders from the central government.”

Ji previously completed a 42-month prison sentence in February 2022 for the same crime over “down with the CCP” graffiti he wrote in a public toilet. 

Li Qiaochu’s trial remains in limbo

Since her trial for inciting subversion commenced in late June 2023 in Linyi, Shandong, no news about labor activist Li Qiaochu (李翘楚) has been reported. Li was first placed under RSDL in February 2020 after she exposed the treatment of Xu Zhiyong, her fiancé, in detention center. Supporters say Li’s health is worrisome as she suffers from chronic depression, but repeated requests for bail from her lawyer and mother had been denied.

Zeng Yuxuan repatriated to mainland

Zeng Yuxuan (曾雨璇), a PhD student from the mainland at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, completed her six-month prison sentence for sedition on October 12 after having served nearly all of her time in pre-trial detention. The conviction, handed down by the West Kowloon Magistrate’s Court, stemmed from a poster she possessed about the “Pillar of Shame” monument commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen protests. Upon release, she was immediately repatriated to China and has been incommunicado since then.

Hong Kong student sentenced for online posts made in Japan

Yuen Ching-ting (袁静婷), a student from Hong Kong attending university in Japan, was sentenced to two months in prison on November 3 for “doing acts with seditious intent” by the West Kowloon Magistrate’s Court. She pleaded guilty in an October 26 hearing. Yuen made a string of pro-Hong Kong independence posts on social media while she was studying in Japan from September 2018 to March 2023. She was arrested for inciting secession in March after returning to Hong Kong to update her identification card. Yuen was released on bail in June while waiting for sentencing. The verdict sets a precedent for similar cases in the future involving speech made on overseas social media platforms.