Australian author sentenced in Beijing

A week before China starts its week-long celebration of Lunar New Year, the Beijing Number Two Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Australian citizen and author Dr. Yang Hengjun (杨恒均) to death with two-year reprieve on February 5, 2024. The sentence, which came five years after Yang was first detained on espionage charges, is among the harshest given to a foreign national convicted of endangering state security crimes.

The sentence came three months after Australian Premier Minister Anthony Albanese visited China. The trip was meant to mend the relationship between the two countries. Albanese reportedly raised Yang’s case directly with Xi Jinping during the visit but did not disclose how Xi responded.

Yang is known for his moderate views and advocates for making gradual changes to improve governance and benefit ordinary people. He was believed to have been placed under residential surveillance in a designated location in January 2019 while visiting his elderly parents. He was arrested in August of the same year and indicted in October 2020. The first court hearing began October 2021.

Death with two-year reprieve is a unique punishment in China. The sentence is typically commuted to life at the end of the two years if the prisoner does not commit new crimes and no new serious crimes are discovered. However, the two years do not count as time served.

Yang will face more restrictions in obtaining clemency than ordinary prisoners do because he was convicted of endangering state security. Should his death with two-year reprieve sentence be commuted in 2026, these restrictions mean that he will have to wait longer for his life sentence to be commuted to a fixed-term one and to receive shorter sentence reductions. There will also be longer intervals between sentence reductions. 

Feminist labor activist sentenced in Shandong

Li Qiaochu (李翘楚) was convicted of inciting subversion of state power and sentenced to three years and eight months in prison by Linyi Intermediate People’s Court in Shandong on February 5, 2024. While the closed trial commenced in June 2023, it was suspended then resumed in December, and then suspended again when Li’s lawyers quit in protest.

In a copy of part of the judgment posted online, the court largely focused on Li’s relationship with her fiancé Xu Zhiyong (许志永) and her helping him post articles online. The court denied Li’s defenses and found that Li was fully aware of the subversive content of Xu’s writings and thus must have acted with the intent to incite subversion when posting those articles online.

Li suffers from serious symptoms of depression and auditory hallucinations. During the prolonged detention waiting for trial, her requests for bail were repeatedly rejected.

Li’s sentence will expire on August 3, 2024. It is not immediately clear if she intends to appeal.

Crackdown on 2019 “Xiamen Gathering” continues

Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaixi (丁家喜) were among those who were apprehended following a private gathering joined by rights lawyers and activists in the southeastern city of Xiamen to discuss current events and public affairs. Approximately 20 people were detained for participating in the gathering. Five years on, the crackdown on those who took part in this “Xiamen Gathering” ensues.

In January 2024, Zhang Zhongshun (张忠顺) was indicted for inciting subversion. He is currently held in Linshu County, Shandong.

Zhang was a lecturer at Yantai University and was sentenced in 2008 to three years’ imprisonment for “using a cult to undermine implementation of the law.” In his lectures, Zhang introduced controversial perspectives on topics like June Fourth and the crackdown on Falun Gong.

Case of lawyer Yu and wife transferred to Suzhou

Human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生) and his wife Xu Yan (徐艳) have been transferred from Shijingshan District in Beijing to Suzhou, Zhejiang.

On April 13, while en route to attend an event at the German Embassy in Beijing, the couple were taken away by police for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” They were arrested on May 21 and indicted. Police have reportedly added inciting subversion to Xu’s charges.

Tibetan monk released in Sichuan after completed sentence

Rinchen Tsultrim, a Tibetan monk from Sichuan Aba known for his blog posts that advocate for Tibetan culture and language, was released from Mianyang Prison in Sichuan on January 31 after completing his prison sentence of four and a half years.

Tsultrim was convicted of inciting splittism and sentenced by Aba Tibetan & Qiang Minorities [Ngaba] Autonomous Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court in March 2021.

Hong Kong Christian detained in Hubei for illegal business operations

Chen Yueli (陈越利, Stephen), a Christian from Hong Kong was reportedly detained in Chibi City, Hubei.

Chen was taken away by mainland police on December 19, 2023 in the West Kowloon Station Mainland Port Area, a custom entry point under the jurisdiction of Guangdong Customs. He was later arrested for illegal business operations. It is reported that Chen helped Xianning house churches print Sunday School materials for children.

Chen’s lawyer has been unable to visit him since January 2024. The police have denied requests on the grounds that the case involves “state security.”