Two years after three NGO workers were detained in the central Chinese province of Hunan, their families have received news of sentences handed down to two of them.
Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi, and Wu Ge Jianxiong, who ran the Changsha Funeng NGO, were tried for "subversion of state power" in September after being held incommunicado for nearly 18 months, according to Cheng's wife Shi Minglei, who arrived in the U.S. with the couple's daughter on April 7, 2021.
The overseas-based rights group Front Line Defenders said the three had been tried between Aug. 31 August and Sept. 4, 2020 for "subversion of state power" at the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court.
The families weren't informed of the trial, and were therefore unable to attend, it said.
Wu's father, the Zhejiang-based lawyer Wu Youshui, said his son had been handed a three-year jail term, while Liu was sentenced to two years' imprisonment in a judgment handed down on July 20, 2021.
But there was no information given on the sentence handed down to Cheng, he said.
"All of the judgments and sentences in this case should be made public, including an explanation of how the constitution of the People's Republic of China has been implemented," he told a videoconference launching his new book about the Changsha Funeng case.
Shi Minglei told the same videoconference: "Cheng Yuan's sentence remains a mystery ... This is evil far beyond what we could have imagined. All we can do is keep a record of the truth and fight against lies."
Shi said the couple's daughter was there when state security police arrested her father, and has suffered from flashbacks, anxiety, and the pain of separation.
"For me personally, the decision [to go to the U.S.] was a very tough one, but a child should be able to be free from fear, and it wasn't the wrong decision," Shi said.
Legal processes flouted
Wu, who has recently published a book in Chinese titled The Stolen Right to a Defense, said the rules about legal processes are very clear, and had been flouted in the Changsha Funeng case.
"Even if the case involves state secrets or matters of personal privacy, and can't be tried in public, the judgments must be made public in all cases," Wu said, adding that the authorities had acted illegally throughout, denying the defendants meetings with lawyers and failing to inform their families of developments in the case.
He added: "I will always regard this as an illegal sentence. As Wu Ge Jianxiong's father, I will never support it."
Wu told an online book launch event that he wrote the book to tell the rest of the world about the state of China's judicial system.
The three defendants have been denied meetings with attorneys hired by their families since being detained on July 22, 2019.
The lawyers were told in March 2020 that the defenders had "dismissed" them and that the government had assigned them government-funded lawyers.
But the families said they believe that the lawyers were fired under duress, and said they have had no contact with the government-appointed lawyers.
Changsha Funeng co-founder Yang Zhanqing, who now lives in the U.S., has previously said that the three men were targeted because their rights work had received overseas funding, which the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regards as "collusion with hostile foreign forces," and a threat to its national security.
In a statement co-signed by the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the Rights Practice, Front Line Defenders said the three men had "advocated for the rights of marginalized groups and worked to protect the rights of the most vulnerable people in society."
Changsha Funeng sought to prevent discrimination and ensure equality in line with Chinese law by using the courts to strengthen protections for individuals living with disabilities and with HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, it said.
It called on the Chinese authorities to "promptly implement the recommendation of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, made over six months ago, to release the three immediately and provide them compensation."
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.