China opened the trial of a famous lawyer and veteran legal advocate on Thursday, International Human Rights Day, in a move that rights activists denounced as a show of Beijing’s defiance of human rights and universal values.
Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a Washington based NGO comprising domestic and overseas Chinese human rights activists, reported the action against legal scholar Hao Jinsong at Dingxiang County People’s Court in China’s central Shanxi province on Thursday.
Hao has been detained since Dec. 17, 2019, and had been held at Wutai County Detention Center in Shanxi. He has been charged with "provoking troubles, defamation and fraud."
As a pioneer of public interest lawsuits, Hao for years had been fighting for social justice and the rule of law through his lawsuits against government agencies and state-controlled monopolies.
Targets railroads in China
He is best known for lawsuits against the powerful Ministry of Railroads, challenging its refusal to give tax receipts for goods bought on trains, and its ticket pricing policy.
He has attracted less international attention than other activists because he deliberately restricted himself to less political cases. As a proponent of gradual change, Hao insisted that democracy could only be won "at the right pace.”
Nevertheless, he was detained at the end of 2019 and charged in January 2020.
Hu Jia, a well-known Chinese human rights activist, told VOA he believes Beijing deliberately scheduled the trial to begin on Thursday, Human Rights Day.
“They want to show their defiance of the human rights by choosing a day when human rights are promoted throughout the world,” he told VOA.
He added that for the first time, he himself was forced out of Beijing to “take vacation” at a secret location in southern China ahead of the U.N.-backed occasion.
'Opposite side of human rights'
Chen Jiangang, a rights lawyer who fled China last year, said Beijing no longer cares about its international image as it once did.
“The regime under Xi Jinping has put itself on the opposite side of human rights, democracy and rule of law,” he told VOA. “To try a human rights activist on International Human Rights Day, it deliberately tries to show its defiance against universal values.”
Both Hu and Chen urged the international community to pay attention to Hao’s case and advocate for his unconditional release.
Multiple activists told VOA that they were put under stricter surveillance ahead of Human Rights Day.
Secret police involved
Gao Yu, a retired journalist, told VOA that secret police blocked her from attending events at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Gao added that Wang Yu, a rights lawyer, was taken by the secret police to Tianjin so she couldn’t attend similar events at European embassies to mark the occasion.
VOA also learned that rights lawyers Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang and their families were prevented from leaving home on the day. Even their children were prevented from attending school.