Detained activist fears disappearance of zero-covid protesters in China | China

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Detained human rights activist Ding Jiaxi has expressed concern for young protesters who have disappeared since taking part in the “blank paper” protests against zero-Covid that stunned China last year.

According to names collected by activists, at least 16 of them are still in police custody, while Ding herself has been detained for more than three years.

On Friday, he met his lawyer Peng Jian via video link. The two met for the first time since Ding was awarded the US State Department’s Global Human Rights Defenders Award on February 1. According to his wife, Luo Shengchun, who lives in Northern Virginia, she was grateful to learn of the honor.

Ding is also worried about his own health. She asked Peng to get her a multivitamin. “The beard on Ding’s chin has basically turned white,” a representative for Peng wrote on Twitter, adding that Ding is “frequently unwell”.

Ding, a human rights lawyer, was detained on 26 January 2019 after attending a meeting with about 20 other activists in the port city of Xiamen, where they discussed human rights and the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, among other matters. Several other attendees were also arrested, while some fled the country. Another high-profile participant, legal scholar and lawyer Xu Xiong, went into hiding but was caught in Guangzhou in February 2020.

Ding and Xu were the de facto leaders of the New Citizens Movement, a network of activists founded in 2010 that called for greater government transparency. Both were detained in 2013 for signing an open letter calling for greater scrutiny of the wealth of China’s leaders. But even after being released from jail, he continued to advocate political reform.

Ding Jiaxi’s wife Luo Shengchun poses with a portrait of her husband at their home in Alfred, New York, last year. Photograph: Brendan McDiarmid/Reuters

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that the arrests of Ding, Xu and other activists after the Xiamen meeting received less international attention than before. But advocates hope the US government’s award may draw attention to Ding’s plight. Teng Biao, a New Jersey-based human rights scholar and friend of Ding, said international pressure can sometimes help improve the treatment of political prisoners, even if it does not affect the outcome of their case.

Ding’s video meeting with Peng is the second since her trial on June 24, which took place behind closed doors. Ding, along with Xu, was accused of “subverting state power”, whose trial is believed to have been held at the same time. Xu also had limited contact with his lawyers: he was originally represented by Liang Xiaojun, whose license was revoked in December 2021. Two other lawyers have stepped in to replace Liang.

No judgment has been pronounced in either case.

Ding awaits the verdict, Luo said. He will be able to go to jail from his detention center after the verdict is pronounced. “Perhaps there he can find a pen and pencil.”

Last year, President Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term as China’s leader, making him the most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong. Next month he will also be anointed as Speaker for a third term at the annual parliamentary meetings known as “Two Sessions”. The scope for dissent has reduced to almost zero under his rule.

Amnesty International has raised concerns that Ding and Xu have been tortured. But Luo said Xu and her husband were flexible. They are “very determined”, she said. “As a wife I love my husband but I also admire them both… Mr. Xi Jinping puts the best of people in jail.”

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