Federal Human Rights Commissioner Markus Löning issued the following statement today (12 August) on the refusal of Chinese authorities to allow representatives of EU embassies to observe the trial of civil rights activist Wang Lihong:
“Representatives of the Chinese Government have emphasized time and again that China is a country governed by the rule of law. Public and transparent trials are a key element of the rule of law. I thus cannot understand at all why the Chinese authorities have hindered the observation of Wang Lihong’s trial by representatives of German and other European embassies.
Both the accusations against Wang Lihong and the inappropriate length of her pre-trial detention have created the impression of political persecution. I call on the responsible authorities – in part on grounds of her health – to release Wang Lihong from pre-trial detention immediately and to stay her trial.
It is high time for the Chinese Government to respect and protect its citizens’ freedom of opinion and assembly.”
Wang Lihong is a Beijing civil rights activist who has been advocating for years on behalf of groups including the homeless, petitioners without financial resources and the families of imprisoned human rights activists. She has also fought for arbitrary acts committed by the authorities to be cleared up. In October 2010 she was sentenced to eight days of administrative detention after having joined friends in celebrating the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo.
The current charges against Wang Lihong concern a past matter: in April 2010 Wang took part in a peaceful protest before a court in the southern Chinese province of Fujian which was sentencing three Internet activists to imprisonment. On a charge of having “assembled a crowd of people with the aim of disrupting traffic”, she was taken from her Beijing apartment on 21 March 2011; her detention was officially announced on 21 April 2011.
Before the start of the trial today, Amnesty International criticized the severe limitations that had been placed on both Wang Lihong’s contact with her defence lawyer, Han Yicun, and her lawyer’s access to the relevant files. According to Han Yicun, Wang is in poor health after four months of pre-trial detention; the health problems she is suffering include chronic back pain. He said that she had refused, however, to sign a confession.
Under high security and with a heavy police presence, the trial was opened today at the People’s Court of the Chaoyang district of Beijing. Despite the searing heat, some 150 peaceful demonstrators of all ages and roughly 30 foreign journalists gathered in front of the courthouse. Many of the demonstrators carried signs and chanted “Wang Lihong is innocent” as a police vehicle appeared to bring the defendant to the courthouse.