The sentence for Xia Lin, artist Ai Weiwei’s one-time defence lawyer, has been reduced from 12 to 10 years following an appeal to a Beijing court on Friday morning.
A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, Xia was detained in 2014 and later charged by the police for fraud. His original verdict was delivered last September.
RTHK reported that Xia’s wife and brother were allowed to attend the proceedings at the Beijing Higher People’s Court.
Prominent activists that the lawyer defended also include Tan Zuoren – who investigated the construction quality of structures affected by the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, and Guo Yushan – a mainlander accused of supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy protests.
The prosecution argued that he defrauded some RMB 10 million in order to pay off gambling debts.
Hong Kong-based NGO China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) cited Xia’s lawyer Tong Zongjin as saying that the court did not conduct a hearing on Friday, but simply issued a reduced sentence for Xia.
“Appeal hearings in China are usually done by delivering only the written verdict and courts often ignore defence lawyers’ arguments,” Amnesty International researcher Patrick Poon told HKFP. “[This] exemplifies the problem of China’s criminal system.”
“It’s rare, though, to have sentence reduction for [an] apparently political prosecution,” added Poon.
Tong told the CHRLCG on behalf of Xia that somebody had “set him up as an act of revenge” because he defended a series of human rights activists.
“Throughout the proceedings, [Xia] did not surrender and has not betrayed any friends,” said Tong. He added that Xia would take care of himself and would not attempt suicide.
Xia Lin’s case comes amid the expansion of the Chinese government’s targets for prosecution under President Xi Jinping. In recent years, the lawyers who represent political and human rights activists have increasingly faced prosecution. In 2015, over 200 activists and lawyers were detained within a short period of time on and around July 9 – the so-called “709 crackdown.”