The first sentence has been handed down today following the many arrests and detentions this spring, to 47-year-old Chengdu legal rights activist Li Shuangde.
Following his detention on March 23, Li was convicted Wednesday on charges of credit card fraud and sentenced to four months in prison and fined RMB 20,000. According to legal rights organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Li's prison sentence applies retroactively and his term will be up in late July.
Li's day in court was originally scheduled for Tuesday morning, but according to Li's supporters and former lawyer, Ran Tong, the trial was postponed after the presiding judge learned that Ran intended to plead not guilty on Li's behalf.
Supporter Xing Qingxian was at the courthouse Tuesday, and wrote this account:
On May 31, I arrived early at 8:50 at the entrance to the Jinjiang District
courthouse, which was being renovated. Things inside the courthouse were normal, not nervous like when we'd arrived for court before. Later I heard from the lawyer that court would go into session at 11, so the friends I'd come with and I went to a nearby teahouse to have some tea and wait. At 10:45 we went in through the court security check and up to the hall on the second floor of the court. There we saw Li Shuangde's mother and chatted for a bit before going into courtroom #5. The courtroom was small and there weren't enough seats for the more than ten of us.
Jijiang Court summons to court for the date May 31, 2011
As we went in we saw a young woman sorting some papers, possibly the court secretary. The judge hadn't yet arrived, so we waited until about 11:15 and then judge Lǚ came in and sat down. She looked through some files, then went out. A bit later, a male judge came in and said his cases would go to session first, and asked us to leave. As we left we saw several young criminals being brought in. We waited out in the hall, and some time later a female judge came to notify us that Li's trial would not be held today and that we should go and wait for further notice. Lawyer Ran Tong asked why, and the judge said that seeing as we he was prepared to make a plea of not guilty, that they needed to contact [Li's] family to appear in court to support the proceedings. Both Ran Tong and a friend of the family told the judge that nobody had said they were going plead not guilty, and also that they wanted confirmation that Li Shuangde had confessed, to see if that was his true wish. Ran Tong had studied the evidence submitted for the case and felt that Li Shuangde wasn't guilty. As a legal professional, there was no way that Li Shuangde wouldn't have known that his actions hadn't constituted any crime. Judging also from the evidence submitted by the prosecution, Li Shuangde's confession made no sense, and nor did we understand it. As Ran Tong had received notice from the court rather late, there hadn't been any time for him to meet with Li Shuangde beforehand, and he hoped to be able to question him in court. Lawyer Ran Tong told the judge that if Li Shuangde had confessed, and that was his true intent, then he would not represent Li in court. The judge wouldn't agree.
We quickly ate some lunch, and then lawyer Ran Tong rushed over the the detention center, hoping both to meet with Li Shuangde and ask him what his true wishes were, as well as to update him regarding the evidence in the case. But the detention center said that Li Shuangde had already been transfered to another facility, and wasn't being allowed to meet with anyone. Even stranger, Li Shuangde's mother called Ran Tong shortly thereafter and told him not to go back to see Li Shuangde again.
Ran returned Wednesday morning to the detention center where Li had been held, and was told by staff there that Li had already been taken to the Jijiang District court and assigned a new lawyer.