On April 16, 2009, Liu Yao (刘尧), prominent Shenzhen rights defense lawyer, was released after a fourth trial, on April 10, in which he challenged his conviction of “intentional destruction of properties.” In detention since December 2007, Liu was initially sentenced to four years, a term later cut down to two years. The latest ruling, rendered by the Heyuan Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, further reduced his sentence to 18 months, with a “two-year suspension,” meaning that Liu would not have to serve time. As long as the conviction stands, however, Liu will not be able to practice law.
Over the past year and a half, Liu’s case captured the attention of the legal community in Shenzhen and in different parts of the country.
Liu represented residents of Paitou Village, in Heyuan City, Dongyuan County, Guangdong Province, whose land was expropriated by the local government to make way for a new power station planned by the Fuyuan Industrial Group. In June 2008, Liu was sentenced to four years in prison by the Dongyuan County Court for “intentional destruction of properties” after he went with a group of villagers to try to stop work at the construction site.
In protest, 36 lawyers from 10 provinces and cities sent a joint petition to the Heyuan Municipal Intermediate People’s Court in Guangdong, which voided the June 2008 ruling for lack of clear evidence and remanded the case to the lower court. In December 2008, the Dongyuan County Court reduced the sentence to two years without giving any explanation. Liu appealed again to the Heyuan Court. In early February 2009, 511 lawyers signed a joint petition challenging the new sentence and called for a new trial.
Upon his release, Liu told Human Rights in China (HRIC) that though he is glad that he is free now, he intends to appeal his case. He maintains that he is innocent and believes that he will eventually be cleared because the evidence against him had been planted.
Li Fangping, one of Liu’s lawyers, said, “From the reduction of the sentence from four years to two years and then to 18 months with a two-year suspension – you can tell that the prosecution’s case was problematic. I hope that the international community will continue to pay attention to this kind of cases and the situation of the rights defense lawyers in China.”
“Liu’s case is yet another example of the misuse of the legal process to harass and intimidate rights defense lawyers,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China. “In fact, what Liu did – helping to defend the rights of powerless villagers – contributes to the progress of China as a society governed by the rule of law.”
HRIC urges the Chinese government to deliver on its promises and commitments to its people and to the international community as articulated in its National Human Rights Action Plan.
For background information on Liu Yao's Case, see: