In an appeal submitted last week, Liu Yao (刘尧), a well-known former rights defense lawyer sentenced to 20 years in prison and a fine of RMB 1.4 million ($221,000) for “extortion,” “fraud,” and “buying trafficked children,” asks the Guangdong Provincial Procuratorate to vacate his conviction. Liu contends that his prosecution and conviction had resulted from massive procedural violations by some 60 officials in Heyuan City’s procuratorate and courts, in reprisal for his exposés of corruption among Party and government officials in that city.
In a case that resulted in a draconian prison sentence unmatched by those from the prosecution of other rights defenders, lawyers, or dissident intellectuals in recent years, Liu, 56, alleges that the charges against him were fabricated through the distortion of facts and evidence, and pursued with numerous procedural violations by the police, procuratorate, and court authorities in Henyuan City and the Yuanchang District.
In the second half of 2015, using his real name, Liu posted online allegations that he also reported to the Communist Party of China’s Guangdong Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection that a Party official, He Zhongyou (何忠友), unlawfully supported the requisition of a vast tract of farmland, including basic (subsistence) farmland in Heyuan, by the Guangdong Kangquan Eighteen International Eco-health Tourism City, Ltd., to build a golf course. Chinese regulations explicitly prohibit the use of basic farmland for private development (Arts. 2, 15, 17, Regulations on the Protection of Basic Farmland ). Liu also reported to the Commission that then head of the Heyuan Municipal Public Security Bureau, Peng Dingbang (彭定邦), had inexplicably stopped the investigation of 12 businessmen selling counterfeit steel products under the “Shaogang Brand” (the brand name used by the famous Shaoguan Iron and Steel Company) and urged the Commission to investigate Peng on suspicion of taking bribes.
Liu was seized by several unidentified individuals on December 26, 2015, and detained by the Yuancheng Branch of the Heyuan Public Security Bureau on suspicion of “providing state secrets overseas” (a charge that was later dropped) along with “extortion.” He was sentenced in April 2017 by the Yuancheng District People’s Court, Heyuan City. His appeals lawyers, including the well-known rights lawyer Li Fangping (李方平), pressed for an open appeal court hearing. Nearly 20,000 Heyuan residents signed a petition requesting the same. In August 2017, The Heyuan Municipal Intermediate People’s Court upheld the lower court’s verdict without a hearing.
Liu has maintained that the charges against him were entirely based on distortion of the facts. He argues that the “extortion” charges were based on distortion of his work helping villagers and peasants seek fair compensation for land lost or damaged due to development; that the “fraud” charges were based on his role in helping village committees draft applications for local government funding for communal construction projects and on distortion of attempts made by others to pass on to him fraudulently obtained government funds in order to frame him; and that the charge of “buying trafficked children” was imputed on him on the basis of Liu and Liu’s wife’s adoption of a son from his birth mother.
Liu’s son from a former wife Zou Zhaoxing (邹肇星) was convicted in the same trial of extortion charges and was sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of RMB 100,000 (around $15,800). Liu’s wife, Lai Wei’e (赖伟娥), was tried separately in November 2016 and sentenced to one year in prison for “buying trafficked children.”
In an open letter issued in February 2018, “A Call for Help,” Lai Wei’e said that both Liu Yao and Zhou Zhaoxing are suffering reprisal because Liu responded to the Chinese government's call to “fight corruption and advocate integrity,” defying the rich and mighty to expose, using his real name, these law-breaching high-level officials.
He Zhongyou is currently a member of the Guangdong Provincial CPC Standing Committee and the Secretary of the CPC Political and Legal Affairs Commission in Guangdong. Peng Dingbang is the Deputy CPC Secretary of Heyuan and Secretary of the CPC Political and Legal Affairs Commission of Heyuan.
A self-taught lawyer, Liu began practicing law in 2003 in Shenzhen, Guangdong, and took on cases representing peasants in land dispute cases. He served 16 months in prison (2008-2009) for “intentional destruction of property” for helping villagers of Bainitang in a resistance action against the construction of the Lankou Hydropower Station on their land.