Chinese Catholic worshippers wait to take communion at a Mass at a house church near Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China. Christian human rights lawyer Li Heping, who has defended Christian house churches was recently convicted of 'subversion of state power.' (Photo: AFP)
A respected Christian human rights lawyer has been convicted of “subversion of state power” at a secret trial in China, almost two years after he was first detained in a sweeping crackdown.
Li Heping was sentenced to three years in prison with a four-year reprieve, the court in the eastern city of Tianjin said on an official social media account, meaning he should be released but could be arrested and jailed at any point, the Guardian newspaper reported.
The trial was held behind closed doors last week because “the case involved state secrets”, the court said, but was only just announced.
Li was swept up in a nationwide crackdown on rights lawyers and activists in July 2015, where police detained or questioned about 250 people.
Li’s case drew attention around the world, and EU officials, as well as the embassies of 11 countries, called for his claims of torture while in custody to be investigated.
“A suspended sentence does not mean he’s free until we actually get to see him and he’s allowed to speak freely, and given what we’ve seen in the past that probably won’t happen,” said Eva Pils, a professor at King’s College London and longtime friend of Li.
Li became well known for defending the disenfranchised, including Christian house churches, victims of forced evictions and free speech advocates. He worked within the scope of China’s legal system, rather than taking to the streets in protest. One Chinese security agent reportedly once told Li that the state considered him “more dangerous than Bin Laden.”
….As we enter the first months of 2022, we are asking readers like you to help us keep UCA News free.
For the last 40 years, UCA News has remained the most trusted and independent Catholic news and information service from Asia. Every week, we publish nearly 100 news reports, feature stories, commentaries, podcasts and video broadcasts that are exclusive and in-depth, and developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes.
Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to – South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters who cover 23 countries in south, southeast, and east Asia. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don’t have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.