In a surprising move, a Chinese human rights lawyer has withdrawn earlier claims that he was tortured while in detention.
Lawyer Xie Yang rejected the claims in a court appearance on Monday in the Chinese city of Changsha. He instead admitted guilt to subverting state power and creating disorder in the court.
His statements were published on Chinese social media.
Xie Yang has worked on some of China’s most sensitive human rights cases over the years. He has long criticized the government and the country’s legal system.
Earlier this year, his lawyers reportedly said Xie told them he had been hit and kicked while in jail. Xie said his attackers threatened to leave him physically disabled.
After the claims were published, 11 countries sent letters to China. They asked the government to investigate.
Chinese officials say Xie’s statements in court support their belief that his earlier claims of torture were “fake news.”
Observers say officials may now think his “open trial” will lessen the attention the case has received, both within China and overseas. But experts say it is unlikely people will forget the case.
Blow to “rule of law”
For rights activists and lawyers, the trial still shows abuse of the legal system by Chinese officials and a lack of respect for the rule of law. Xie’s statements in court have only raised more questions about his treatment and led to calls for his unconditional release.
The United States says it remains deeply concerned about the case and Xie’s well-being. The U.S. State Department said his statement to the court “appeared to be given under duress.” It called for his release and for the release of other lawyers being detained in China.
Zhang Zhongshi is one of Xie’s lawyers. Zhang says the trial harmed the rule of law in China.
“For such a long time, he was disconnected from society without being allowed to meet anyone [from his family] or given any [legal] assistance,” Zhang said.
The lawyer said the trial showed how Xie has completely lost his legal rights. Zhang met with Xie in November, more than a year after he was detained.
In January, Xie wrote a letter and sealed it in wax. He wrote that if he ever admitted to a crime “that will not be the true expression of my mind. It may also be because I’ve been subjected to prolonged torture.”
His lawyer said he knew that Xie was tortured. Zhang said “I personally overheard him being tortured and saw with my own eyes where he had been hit in the head.”
Xie is one of more than 300 lawyers to be caught up in a nationwide campaign aimed at those helping dissidents and government critics. Most of the lawyers have been released. But 32 have been charged with crimes and seven are waiting for their trials to begin.
For most of the past two years, Xie was not permitted to speak to his lawyers. The court appointed a lawyer to represent him at his court appearance on Monday.
Xie’s wife Chen Guiqiu fled the country and is now in the United States. She says her husband has not been permitted to speak to his lawyers since February.
She says people in the detention center where her husband is being held say he is closely watched and controlled. She said he is barred from using money or speaking with other prisoners.
“If others speak with him, they will be punished and if he speaks with others, Xie would be punished. He was also frequently beaten by death row inmates. And now, he has denied all of these facts,” Chen told VOA. “Isn’t that strange?”
Chen said it may be a long time until she learns what happened to her husband. Xie’s trial ended on Monday, but the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court did not announce a ruling.
Because of his admission in court, it is likely the court will find him guilty. But it is not known how long his sentence will be.
I’m Jill Robbins.
VOA’s Joyce Huang and Bill Ide reported this story from Beijing. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted their reporting for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
fake – adj. not true or real
duress – n. force or threats meant to make someone do something
wax – n. a hard substance that becomes soft when it is heated and that is used to make various products (such as candles, crayons, or polish)
death row – n. the part of a prison where prisoners who will be killed as punishment for their crimes live until they are killed
inmate – n. a person who is kept in a prison or mental hospital