Chinese authorities have yet to release human rights lawyer Li Heping after he was handed a suspended sentence on Friday, Li’s wife has said. His family have not been told where he is being held.
A court in the northeastern city of Tianjin convicted Li of “subversion of state power” after a closed-door trial last Tuesday. It handed down a three-year sentence with a four-year reprieve – meaning he can be released, but could be imprisoned if he breaks the law during the period of probation.
The time Li spent in detention should also count towards his sentence.
Li was known for defending prominent lawyers including Chen Guangcheng and Gao Zhisheng, and also practitioners of Falun Gong – considered an illegal cult in mainland China. He has been detained since July 2015 as part of China’s sweeping “709 crackdown” on human rights lawyers and activists.
Despite the suspended sentence, Li has not been allowed to return home, according to his wife Wang Qiaoling, who has been advocating for his release despite harassment from authorities and personal risks.
“I’m very happy that Li Heping is alive. But he is not free! He is being held by the authorities using a different method,” Wang said in a statement on Sunday.
She refused a request from state security personnel and Tianjin police to bring her and her daughter to Tianjin to see Li, fearing that they would be put under house arrest.
Wang also rebuked Li’s conviction and the secret trial, saying that she was not notified of the trial until state security told her about his sentencing.
“For a political prisoner like him, a three-year sentence with a four-year reprieve implies that his personal freedom will be limited for seven years,” she said.
The court said in a statement that it held the trial behind closed doors because Li’s case involved state secrets, and said he used overseas funding to “provoke dissatisfaction among people who do not understand our country’s social system.”
Sophie Richardson, China Director of New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch, said on Monday that “Chinese authorities do extraordinary damage to claims to respect the rule of law,” with the cases against human rights lawyers in the crackdown.
“Mitigating that means freeing Li immediately so he can return to his work, and ending all harassment and surveillance of him and his family,” she said.