Diplomats turned away from trial of prominent activist in China

Reuters · 05/11/2023 07:50
Diplomats turned away from trial of prominent activist in China

By David Kirton and James Pomfret

- Diplomats from several countries including the United States said on Thursday they were prevented from attending the subversion trial of rights activist and lawyer Guo Feixiong in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

Guo, 58, has gained international attention for his campaigns on issues including corruption and censorship and his allegations of mistreatment by Chinese authorities during more than a decade spent behind bars on previous charges.

His latest detention in 2022 came a year after he was stopped from leaving the country to visit his dying wife in the U.S., sparking further outcry.

"Today, U.S. diplomats were blocked from attending the court proceedings of Guo Feixiong, a lawyer who is facing trial in Guangzhou for his peaceful advocacy," the U.S. Embassy in China said via its Twitter account on Thursday.

"We continue to call for Mr. Guo's speedy release so he may be reunited with his family."

Diplomats from Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands and Britain were also turned away and told by a court clerk that foreign visitors would prior approval from higher authorities, four of the diplomats told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

The Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court and China's foreign ministry did immediately respond to requests for comment.

Guo, whose real is Yang Maodong, is facing charges of "inciting subversion of state power."

Details of the charges levelled at him are thin and Guo's lawyer declined to comment.

China has clamped down on dissent since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 and rights groups say hundreds of lawyers and activists have been detained in recent years. China says it respects the rule of law and individual rights and rejects criticism of its human rights record.

Two prominent rights lawyers, Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong, were in April both sentenced to more than a decade in jail.

In early 2021, Guo was stopped by officials at Shanghai airport as he tried to visit his ailing wife in the United States.

His public pleas to leave were rebuffed and his wife died around a year later of cancer. Two days after that, Guo was arrested by Guangzhou police and has been kept in detention since, according to rights groups.

The U.S. State department said in an earlier statement that Guo had been subjected to "years of mistreatment, imprisonment, routine harassment and surveillance, and denied foreign travel for his peaceful advocacy on behalf of the Chinese people."

(By David Kirton in Shenzhen and James Pomfret in Hong Kong; Editing by John Geddie and Bernadette Baum)

((james.pomfret@thomsonreuters.com; +852-28436390; Reuters Messaging: james.pomfret.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.))