Wife of jailed Chinese dissident denounces sentence
Chinese authorities have sentenced two of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers to more than a decade in prison, each on subversion charges. Sophie Luo Shengchun, the wife of jailed dissident Ding Jiaxi, speaks with The World’s Marco Werman.
As a photo of her husband Chinese human rights activist Ding Jiaxi is on display in the background, Sophie Luo testifies during a hearing before The Congressional-Executive Commission on China on Capitol Hill on February 3, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Two prominent Chinese human rights lawyers have been sentenced to more than a decade in prison, Human Rights Watch said Monday, the latest in a crackdown by the ruling Communist Party on its critics.
The rights group said Xu Zhiyong, 50, was sentenced to 14 years and Ding Jiaxi, 55, was given 12 years in prison under the vague charge of “subversion of state power.” Such proceedings are conducted under intense secrecy.
Xu and Ding are among a generation of Chinese who held out hope that the ruling party would adopt a more liberal approach to governance after the political chaos of the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution and the bloody crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The current party leader and head of state, Xi Jinping, has quashed such beliefs with a renewed emphasis on strict party control over civil society and free speech. He and the loyal members he chose for the Politburo Standing Committee justify their monopoly on political power by citing China’s success as the world’s second-largest economy, with its tightly enforced social stability and rising global influence.
Both Xu and Ding had served multiple years in prison for their dissident stances and promotion of those deprived of a voice within the country’s authoritarian political system.
Sophie Luo Shengchun, a Chinese activist, is Ding's wife. She spoke to The World's host, Marco Werman, from exile in New York.
Marco Werman: Your husband as well as a fellow legal scholar, have been in detention for more than three years. They had a closed-door trial last year. On Monday, they were sentenced to 12 and 14 years, respectively. What were they found guilty of?
Sophie Luo Shengchun: Subversion of the state power, both of them.
Subversion of state power. Can you help us understand what that actually means?
This is a crime that is very ridiculous from my lawyer's point of view, because they didn't do anything to subvert this government.
As I said, your husband and his colleague have already been in detention for more than three years and on Monday were sentenced to at least another dozen years each. What are conditions like for them in prison?
They are not allowed to have paper and pen. They don't have hot water. They sit in a small room without going outside. They eat every day only a soup.
How has your husband dealt with that? I mean, do you think he's able to keep up his spirits?
Absolutely. Although they have no book to read, no pen and pencil to write, they write in their mind in their freedom of thinking, they're doing meditation and doing exercise every day. They have a lot of ideas still.
Now, your husband, Ding Jiaxi, and his colleague, Xu Zhiyong, founded something called the New Citizens Movement. It advocates for a transition to democratic rule in China. Is it a real threat to Chinese authorities?
I think the original purpose is to do a transformation gradually, to let people's voice out through the government, let the government do reformation and to improve the situation in China, to set up the civil society. But unfortunately, the government, especially the present government, this dictator, he's so idiotic, he doesn't know these smart people. He's doing things for the benefit of people, for the benefit of the country's future. So, they see it as a threat.
Is the ultimate goal of the New Citizens movement to basically replace the current government of Xi Jinping.
Not necessarily; the New Citizens Movement's target is for [a] beautiful society, for every citizen to be a real citizen, but not a subject to build up a healthy society.
The New Citizens Movement, from what you're saying, though, does basically paint a picture of the current government being wrong on a lot of things. And that seems like a fairly powerful charge to be making.
They are always afraid of the voice of people. Of course, as a dictator, they see it's dangerous to them.
Now, your husband released a statement before the sentencing. What did it say?
The theme of it is the dictatorship must go away from the stage of history. Democracy will win. And he believes that if China continues to do autocracy, authoritarian governance, they will die for sure. What they promote is peaceful, rational and nonviolent.
Now, another one of your husband's colleagues, Xu Zhiyong, also shared with you a letter before he was sentenced this week. What did his letter say?
He described a word, the agenda of which was democracy with freedom, with rule of law. He described that in detail. What does that mean? Both of them advocate people, get rid of the dictatorship and build a country with freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Yeah. So, both activists paint a very different future for China without dictatorship. Is there any chance of appeal or reduced sentence?
Both of them will appeal, but I don't see any possibility to reduce their years. But for me, this is not so important anymore because I don't care about their sentence anymore. What I tell you is how shall I get rid of this authoritarian government?
As I listen to you describe the letters and the final statements from your husband and from Xu Zhiyong, they're advocating a very radically different vision for China, one that is dangerous to express in public. Do you have any sense of how many other people in China share their views?
That is the terrible sad fact, that not too many people in China really know them [or what they're saying].
So, you're saying that people in China aren't even aware that your husband and his colleagues are making these statements?
That's true. Only the people that can climb the firewall, climb the censorship of the internet. Only those people know what happened to these two people and what their real ideas are. In China, almost no people hear the voice. Many of my friends, when I check with them, they don't know. To be frank, I'm so sad that not too many people know they are doing these kinds of illegal things to put a legal citizen into jail.
I gather the only way you have to communicate with your husband is through letters. I'm wondering if you would be able to share with us some of the thoughts you included in those letters to him. What do you tell him?
Oh, I tell him everything. I know my letters are well monitored, but I still write whatever I want to say to him. I tell him what I experienced in detail after his detention, and I tell him every day what I think I saw, I thought. My letter is the way for me to miss him. I always believe [in] hard communication because he can't write. I want him to hear my voice.
I was going to ask you how you keep your spirits up, but it sounds like letter writing is one of the ways.
Absolutely. You are right. Letter writing is one of my ways to survive. For the first three years he was in jail, his letters to me were my spiritual food. It's the happiness with friends, and my thankfulness to friends that have made me survive today and my husband's encouragement, also.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity and length. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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