Rights watch website founder Liu Feiyue may face an additional charge of “leaking state secrets,” after a local security bureau made a submission stating it had sufficient evidence to warrant the charge, according to NGO Amnesty International.
Liu is currently being held for “inciting subversion of state power,” a crime which can lead to five years behind bars – or up to 15 years for “ringleaders.” If convicted of the additional charge, Liu could face life imprisonment, according to Amnesty.
Amnesty cited Liu’s lawyer as saying that most of the case materials against Liu Feiyue are related to him exercising his right to freedom of expression through personal opinions he had made in public and posted on the website Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch.
Liu founded the website in 2006. It reports on human rights violations suffered by grassroots citizens in China, and also circulates information on detained human rights defenders in the country.
On Friday, the website cited Liu’s lawyer Yan Xin as saying that he plans to submit a document to the procuratorate recommending that charges against his client be dropped. According to the site, Yan met with Liu at the detention centre in Suizhou where he is being held, and Liu expressed that the charge of “leaking state secrets” was absurd and that he could not recognise it.
Liu was taken into custody on November 17 and formally arrested for “inciting subversion of state power” in December, according to NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).
In the NGO’s submission to the UN on Liu’s case in August, it said that his detention was an act of reprisal for his human rights advocacy.
“Suizhou City authorities have built a weak criminal case against Liu Feiyue while at the same time apparently aiming to punish him with a lengthy prison sentence,” it said.
Liu’s website also reports on petitioners – some of China’s most vulnerable citizens, who seek redress from the government over alleged rights violations. According to CHRD, many petitioners have publicly demonstrated and consistently called for his release since he was detained.
“Their advocacy in support of Liu is partly due to his online reporting work, as his website has been an important space for them to share stories about their experiences of alleged abuses,” the NGO said.
Liu is among other citizen journalists who remain behind bars in China. Huang Qi, the founder of another rights watch website, was detained about 10 days after Liu, on November 28.
Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu, a couple who ran a blog tracking protests in China based on information from social media, were detained for the crime of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in June 2016.
Lu was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this month. His girlfriend Li was released, but no verdict or announcement from the court was publicly issued, according to CHRD.