China rights activist stands trial for ‘allegedly instigating the subversion of governmental authority’

The release of Li Qiaochu has been urged by a US congressional commission, stating that she requires immediate medical attention, according to reports.

Li Qiaochu, a human rights activist who has been detained in China for nearly three years, is facing trial in Shandong province on charges of “inciting subversion of state power”.

Prior to the trial, the chairs of the US congressional commission on China called for Li’s unconditional release, citing reports of her urgent medical needs as a labor rights and feminist activist.

If convicted, Li could face a sentence of up to five years, or potentially longer if she is considered a ringleader.

Li’s lawyer, Li Guobei, reported being barred from entering the Linyi intermediate people’s court, where the trial was scheduled to take place, by two security guards. However, one of Li’s other lawyers was allowed access to the court.

Li is the partner of Xu Zhiyong, a human rights lawyer currently imprisoned and one of the leaders of China’s embattled civil rights movement. In November, a Shandong court upheld the convictions of Xu and another human rights lawyer, Ding Jiaxi, for subversion of state power, sentencing them to 14 and 12 years in prison, respectively.

During a meeting with her lawyer in April, Li expressed that her feelings for Xu “had never changed”, as per statements from her supporters. They also highlighted that Li’s family has been denied multiple requests to meet her.

Li was arrested on March 14, 2021, after being subjected to several months of “residential surveillance at a designated location” – a form of detention employed by China’s police to hold individuals outside traditional prisons, without access to family or legal counsel. Following her release from this period of detention, Li described the experience as “black hoods and handcuffs, closed rooms, 24-hour white lights”.

Previously employed in Tsinghua University’s sociology department, Li has worked as a researcher and activist since at least 2017. During that time, she collaborated with other volunteers to support migrant workers who were evicted from their homes in Beijing. She later participated in various MeToo campaigns and assisted Xu in maintaining the website Beautiful China, where they published articles about China’s civil rights movement.

Concerns have been raised about Li’s physical health by her supporters, who shared that she was denied access to anti-depressants while in detention. In 2020, she revealed that she had been secretly weaning herself off the medication in anticipation of a future arrest.

Sarah Brooks, the head of Amnesty International’s China team, stated: “Li’s trial highlights the deeply repressive environment for anyone who tries to advocate for human rights in China, even when their activities are entirely peaceful and protected under international law.”

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