Li Xiongbing, July 15, 2021
July 13, 2021, a summer day in Beijing. The sun was emerging after a rain shower. I waded through puddles on the road heading for Beijing South Railway Station.
It was getting pretty late when the high-speed train arrived in Linyi. Getting off the train, I ran into a former colleague whom I hadn’t seen for years but had long wanted to meet. Whether by a heartfelt wish or divine coincidence, it is such crossing of paths, accidental or planned, that fill life with richness. On this trip, I was to go to Linshu County Detention Center in Linyi City to meet Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜). Having been accused of subverting state power, he has been detained for more than a year and six months. I know Linyi because of a blind citizen who years ago was imprisoned, and placed under house arrest after being released from prison, for helping victims of China’s violent birth control policy.
On the morning of July 14, I came to the Linshu County Detention Center and was told by the police at reception to “wait for notice” after submitting a request form for interviewing my client.
In the afternoon, I went to the Linyi City Procuratorate, which was responsible for the case, and contacted the prosecutor of the case asking for continuing to review the case file. Ding Jiaxi was placed under residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL) from December 26 2019 until June 19 2020, when his arrest was approved. After the end of the two-month investigation period, the Shandong Provincial Procuratorate three times approved the extension of the investigation period for five months. On January 18, 2021, after the completion of the public security investigation, the case was transferred to the Linyi City Procuratorate for review and prosecution, and the latter twice returned the case to the Public SecurityBureau for supplementary investigation. Currently, the case is under a third review by the Linyi City Procuratorate.
Up until then, the Procuratorate had informed the defense lawyers that because the case “involved state secrets,” they were not allowed to take photos or make copies of the case files and were only allowed to review them under the prosecutors’ supervision. The defense lawyers believe that this restriction on copying case files violates Criminal Procedure Law and restricts lawyers’ defense rights. They filed objections requesting to correct errors and to allow lawyers to take photos or copy case files, but the requests were denied. There are more than 40 volumes of files with information on many people, time, places, procedures, and evidence. Not being allowed to copy files has impeded the lawyers from getting all the facts of the case and preparing for the defense.
Just as I finished reviewing the case files in the evening and was walking out of the Linyi Municipality Procuratorate building, the Linshu County Detention Center called and informed me that I was allowed to meet Ding Jiaxi in the afternoon of July 15.
On the morning of July 15, with the half-day spare time before the meeting, I went to the Linyi Municipality Procuratorate again and reviewed some key procedures and evidence, the two supplementary investigation case files submitted by the Public Security Bureau, and other related files.
At noon, I set off from the hotel and rushed to the Linshu County Public Security Bureau Law Enforcement and Case Management Center 50 kilometers away, where I was to meet with Ding Jiaxi remotely in a video meeting room. At about 2:50 p.m., after the staff finished setting up the video and audio equipment, the meeting began.
The meeting went on for more than two hours till 5 p.m. Compared with last time, Jiaxi looked like he was doing better, being his usual self. “Thank you for coming all this way, Lawyer Li,” he said as he sat down, showing his familiar and optimistic smile. “For seeing you this is nothing!” I said, my worry eased by his appearance. The meeting started with some chit-chat between old friends. I relayed his wife’s letter to him, and after learning that his wife is having fine movement difficulties in her right hand, he asked me to tell her that he had also had a similar issue in the past and that she should massage her hand to recover.
When he heard what his younger daughter Shasha had said in a recent RFA interview, he expressed a deep sense of joy and said that Shasha’s speech was insightful and incisive. Upon learning about the situations of Tang Jitian (唐吉田, a human rights lawyer), Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄, a dissident), and Wang Aizhong (王爱忠, a dissident), he grew worried and sad. He asked me to send his condolences to Tang Jitian and Guo Feixiong, encouraging them to persevere and reassuring them that their loved ones would recover and get through their difficulties. Tang Jitian’s daughter and Guo Feixiong’s wife are both seriously ill, they live abroad but Tang and Guo are not allowed to leave the country to take care of them. Friends are very concerned.
Jiaxi said that he had met with Wang Aizhong twice in Guangzhou and admired Wang’s ability, character, and courage. He said that it’s an honor to be imprisoned for standing up for truth and justice. Jiaxi wished for his friends to bring his message of encouragement and support to Wang’s wife.
Upon learning that he and Chang Weiping each received this year’s China Human Rights Lawyer Award during the 5th China Human Rights Lawyers Day event, he stressed that he shouldn’t get this award, and it should have been awarded to the many lawyers who have worked hard quietly. He said that Chang Weiping is a young and outstanding lawyer worthy of attention and honor. He has been worried about Chang Weiping’s situation and encouraged Chang’s family to face it bravely. Jiaxi said that since his last meeting with me, the detention center has slightly improved its hygiene supplies and extended the yard time a little upon my complaints, although it is still very short.
Beyond the very poor conditions, detention centers in remote areas are more backwards when it comes to basic concepts such as abiding by law and protecting human rights. This is a sorrow of countless people involved in criminal proceedings in China.
Towards the end of the meeting, Jiaxi and I discussed the possible directions of the case and what’s coming up in the judicial procedure. I told him the overall situation of the case based on my review of the case file: the case has 41 volumes of initial investigation files, two supplementary investigation files, and three more so-called “fund-related evidence files.” We talked about potential defense strategies and the procedural and evidentiary rights we plan to fight for going forward.
On this trip, I also met with the prosecutor in charge of the case review and prosecution. I had previously submitted a written request for declining prosecution, this time I reiterated the defense lawyers’ view in person: there are no facts supporting Ding’s criminality; on the contrary, his words and deeds in the case are a model of adherence to the Chinese Constitution and law, fulfillment of civic responsibilities, care for social welfare, and promotion of national development, social progress, as well as honest and diligent government. He shall not be indicted according to the law.
I told the prosecutor: the Chinese Constitution stipulates that Chinese citizens have the right to criticize and make suggestions to state agencies and officials. For a long time, issues such as education, medical care, elderly care, judicial fairness, open government affairs, honest government and anti-corruption, and official property disclosure have been at the center of the national economy, people’s livelihood, and major policy issues. Ding Jiaxi is someone with a background in both science and law. He is an outstanding intellectual with both academic and career achievements. He is a man of integrity, selfless, kind, and courageous. He promotes rights of equal education for both the children of urban residents and rural migrants, wherever they are, without discrimination. He is an advocate of clean administration, transparency in officials’ property, and the protection of legitimate rights and interests of vulnerable groups. None of this is criminal or illegal.
The progress of a country, the improvement of national well-being and the protection of human rights are themselves a process of policy reform and system change. The abolition of “custody and repatriation” (收容遣送), “custody and education” (收容教育), and “re-education through labor” (劳动教养), the transformation from planned economy to market economy, and the establishment of governing the country according to the law, all of these progresses are the result of the efforts of thousands of scholars, experts, and members of the public. Seeking improvement of the system does not equate to the subversion of the regime. Ding Jiaxi’s behavior, whether in terms of civil rights protection, public welfare, system reform, or oversight of power, has nothing to do with subversion of the regime and does not constitute a crime. As his defense lawyer, my opinion is: do not prosecute Ding Jiaxi. I look forward to the procuratorate dealing with the case fairly and in accordance with the law.
Li Xiongbing, July 15, 2021, written while travelling by high-speed rail.
From a Successful Lawyer to a Civil Rights Activist — An Exclusive Interview With Ding Jiaxi, China Change, March 19, 2020.
Prominent Human Rights Activist Ding Jiaxi Tells Lawyer Details of Torture Throughout His Year in Custody, China Change, February 5, 2021.
The Aftermath of a Gathering: Arrest, Flight, Hiding, and Family Separation, Yaxue Cao, January 27, 2020.