Two years after a Chinese human rights lawyer was detained on suspicion of "subversion" for taking part in a gathering in the southwestern Chinese city of Xiamen, his wife says she has growing concerns for his safety, with no trial date yet made public.
Ding Jiaxi is currently being held under incommunicado criminal detention in the Linshi Detention Center in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong following his initial detention in the wake of a December 2019 gathering of dissidents and rights activists in Xiamen.
He has been denied permission to meet with either family members or a lawyer, with detainees accused of subversion and held under "residential surveillance at a designated location" (RSDL) and criminal detention.
Ding’s wife Luo Shengchun told RFA that her husband is in poor health after two years in poor conditions.
"The food is still a steamed bun and a bowl of soup ... there is still no hot water or infection control, and hygiene is very poor," Luo said. "Ding has arthritis, diarrhea and swollen legs."
"You can file a complaint and make freedom of information requests, but they just ignore all of it," she said.
Ding's detention came after he attended a dinner with prominent activists in Xiamen, including the founder of the New Citizens' Movement, Xu Zhiyong, in early December 2019.
He and several others who had attended that dinner were arrested on Dec. 26, including Zhang Zhongshun, Dai Zhenya and Li Shuai.
"They have designated the New Citizens' Movement ... an 'illegal organization', and linked the charges against Xu Zhiyong and Ding to a rights website run by an overseas-based NGO," Luo said.
She said the evidence being used against the detainees includes participating in a Telegram group chat, articles and online posts, and organizing classes in non-violent resistance.
"They regard non-violent resistance as evidence of subversion of state power," Luo said. "Even friends discussing current affairs together has become evidence of subversion."
Chinese authorities may use the lull around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays to subject prominent human rights defenders to unfair trials while much of the international community is distracted, PEN America and the overseas-based China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network warned last week.
"Human rights lawyers Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi are facing charges that carry a potential life sentence—yet their only true ‘crime’ has been to peacefully advocate for reform," PEN America research director James Tager said in a Dec. 20 joint statement by the two groups.
"We want these officials to know that we are paying attention, and we urge the international community to do the same," Tager said. "The government must drop these charges against Xu and Ding and recognize that peacefully calling for reform is not — and should never be treated as — a crime."
Peaceful expression of political views
CHRD research coordinator William Nee said the entire case against Ding and Xu was built on their peaceful expression of political views on participatory citizenship.
He added: "Key government witnesses have withdrawn their testimony and the ‘evidence’ left is based on what police extracted by torturing Ding and Xu."
Expert commentators have long warned that Chinese authorities tend to pursue criminal trials against prominent dissidents in late December, when many members of the international community — such as diplomats, journalists, NGO workers, and human rights activists — are out-of-office or otherwise distracted during the holiday season, PEN America and CHRD said.
Luo said she fears the authorities could also try the two men in secret.
"One possibility is a secret trial in which they are handed an arbitrary jail term without any witnesses ever appearing in court," she said. "It's illegal, as is not allowing defense attorneys to read the case files, not allowing them to defend their clients in court."
"The other possibility is that they wanted to take it through a legal process, but they don't have any evidence, and that's why they're delaying."
Shaanxi-based rights lawyer Chang Weiping was formally arrested in April this year on suspicion of "subverting state power" and is currently detained in a detention center far away from Baoji city, after also attending the Xiamen meeting.
Chang's wife Chen Zijuan said said she has had several visits from police in Baoji putting pressure on her not to speak out about his case.
"I work in Shenzhen," Chen said. "The Chang Weiping task force of the Baoji municipal police department in Shaanxi and the Shaanxi provincial police department have come here nine times, both to my home and to my workplace to talk to my boss, just to put pressure on me."
"They told my employer to set up a working group to deal with me, to prevent me from speaking out publicly."
Xu's partner, the rights activist Li Qiaochu, has been formally arrested by Shandong police, who are holding her in a psychiatric hospital in Linyi city.
Li, who was recently given the Cao Shunli Memorial Award for her rights activism, was initially detained on Feb. 6, 2021 on suspicion of "subversion of state power," and held at the Linyi Detention Center.
Her detention came after she posted details of torture allegations by her partner, the detained rights activist Xu Zhiyong, and rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi, to social media.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Gao Feng.