In China, Christian human rights activist faces mistreatment, fabricated charges, supporters say

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Li Qiaochu, a prominent Christian and labor rights activist in China, has been imprisoned for more than a year. Her supporters say she wrongly faces a charge of inciting subversion and worry she is being mistreated while in detention.

The People’s Procuratorate of Linyi City, in the eastern province of Shandong, filed the indictment before the Intermediate People’s Court on Feb. 28. They accused Li of working to overthrow China’s socialist system and charged her with inciting subversion of state power, a charge punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Li’s boyfriend, Dr. Xu Zhiyong, is a 49-year-old imprisoned rights activist and constitutional scholar who is a leader with the New Citizens’ Movement. The loose movement of activists oppose corruption, campaign for civil and political rights, and organize meals to foster discussion about social and legal issues, BBC News reported in 2014.

The indictment charges that she posted Xu’s subversive writings online in September 2019.

Xu served four years in jail through 2018 on charges of disrupting public order, according to the Hong Kong-based Catholic news site UCA News. He was arrested again in 2020 and remains in prison for attending a meeting about democracy and for writing an article calling on China’s President Xi Jinping to resign for poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Teresa Zhao, a close friend of Li, rejects the charges and said she was prosecuted because of her relationship with Xu.

“Li would never have done anything illegal to incite the subversion of state power,” Zhao told the South China Morning Post. “I and her other friends call for a fair and objective trial.”

“We are particularly worried about her physical and mental health, and if she is being abused in detention. We hope that she can be released on medical parole as her family has requested many times,” her friend added.

Li’s supporters say this testimony is fabricated and authorities are using it to frame the woman, the Christian human rights non-profit ChinaAid reports. These supporters include Luo Shengchun, the wife of another imprisoned activist, Ding Jiaxi.

Zhang Zhongshun, the alleged witness named in the indictment letter, has reportedly told Li’s’s attorney he did not know the accused, her relationship with Xu, or the blog which the indictment claims he has testified about.

Li suffers from hypothyroidism, depression, and heart disease, according to the writers’ human rights advocacy group PEN America.

“Li is being punished for having the temerity to refuse to be silent about the abuse that both she and Xu have suffered,” Summer Lopez, senior director of free expression programs at PEN America, said March 15. “We are particularly concerned about Li’s health, and we fear that Li may be experiencing abusive and degrading treatment as we speak. We call for Li’s immediate release, and for Linyi officials to reverse this unjust decision.”

Li spent four months in secret detention in 2021 before being released on bail. In early 2022 she spoke about her own time in detention, alleging round-the-clock surveillance, constant abuse, and difficulty meeting her medical needs.

In August 2021 Li’s attorney charged that the prison authorities had suspended her access to her medication, which she must take. As a result, she suffered from auditory hallucinations, impaired consciousness, and other symptoms. Her family applied for bail but this was rejected.

The 31-year-old Li was born in Beijing in 1991. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from York University in England. She is a former research assistant of the School of Labor and Human Resources of Tsinghua University

Previously, Li alleged that Xu was being mistreated in prison, ChinaAid reports.

In February 2021, after seeing Xu and his lawyer, Li took to Twitter to charge that Xu was facing mistreatment in prison. She charged that he was “severely tortured” at the end of April 2020 after he was transferred. She said on Twitter that in May 2020, for more than a week, “Xu was tied to an iron chair for more than ten hours a day, his limbs immobilized, and he struggled even to breathe.”

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“He was limited to drinking water during the same period and was only provided one small, steamed bun for each meal,” she said. “He was hungry and thirsty every day.”

When he was going in and out of his cell, he had to wear both a black hood and a heavy motorcycle helmet, she said.

As a result of her Twitter post, she was asked to meet with Beijing police. She was criminally detained on suspicion of subversion of state power. On March 15, 2021 she was formally arrested on the same charge by the Procuratorate of Linyi City.

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