Xu Zhiyong

China: Heavy prison sentences for human rights activists ‘disgraceful’

Responding to the lengthy prison sentences handed to Chinese legal scholar Xu Zhiyong and human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi, Amnesty International’s China Researcher Alkan Akad said:

“The disgraceful sentencing of prominent Chinese human rights defenders Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi is a blatant violation of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. They should be released immediately and unconditionally.

“No one should be jailed simply for attending a peaceful meeting. Having faced torture and other ill-treatment during years of arbitrary detention, Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi now face more than a decade behind bars after rigged and secretive trials.

“These sentences lay bare the increasingly dire situation for human rights defenders across China under President Xi Jinping’s administration, where trying to improve the lives of others through legitimate human rights work is met with arrests, torture and lengthy jail sentences.”


Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi were sentenced to 14 and 12 years in prison respectively by a court in Shandong province on Monday, according to a tweet posted by Ding Jiaxi’s wife.

Xu and Ding are both prominent members of the New Citizens’ Movement, a loose network of activists founded by Xu in 2012 to promote government transparency and expose corruption.

They were among dozens of lawyers and activists targeted after attending an informal gathering held in Xiamen, a city on China’s southeast coast, in December 2019, in which they discussed the civil society situation and current affairs in China.

Later that month, police across the country began summoning or detaining participants in the Xiamen gathering.

Ding was held incommunicado in “residential surveillance at a designated location” for more than a year after being taken away on 26 December 2019.

Friends of Xu Zhiyong say he went into hiding after the meeting in December 2019. In early February 2020, Xu criticized President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests and called on him to resign.

On 15 February 2020, Xu was detained while staying at the home of a fellow activist and subsequently also held incommunicado in “residential surveillance at a designated location” until 21 January 2021.

Both men were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment during detention, including long hours of interrogation and being bound to an iron “tiger-chair” with their limbs contorted for more than 10 hours per day for many days.

This treatment violates the absolute prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment under international human rights law.

The authorities investigated Xu and Ding’s cases together until 20 January 2021, after which they were charged with “subversion of state power” and their lawyers were informed that their cases would be handled separately.