By Jerome A. Cohen
Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison for subversion. But, since we have not yet seen the court’s judgment and don’t know the details of his long detention, we cannot be certain what this sentence means.
Wang has been held in pre-trial and post-trial detention since July 2015, and detention time served is usually deducted from the sentence (with one-to-one credit for the days of regular detention and only half a credit for the days during which he was held in “residential surveillance at a designated location” or RSDL). This probably means that Wang can be expected to be released in April 2020 and perhaps even earlier, depending on how long he was confined in RSDL rather than regular criminal detention. BUT the court may have deviated from the practice of giving credit for time already served prior to sentence, which would mean no release until mid-2023!
In light of the harsh sentences rendered to some other lawyers punished in the 709 crackdown, IF the court has followed the standard sentencing practice, it appears that the Chinese Communist Party/government has gone relatively (and unexpectedly) light on Wang. So many factors go into the sentencing decision. How has he behaved? What shape is he in? Has he made any apparently sincere commitment to abide by the secret promises usually extracted from a convicted person to be a “good boy” upon release? Has the Party decided to look lenient because of the intense world interest, the abusive and unusually lengthy pre-sentence detention Wang suffered and the current widespread international condemnation of China for its abominable misbehavior toward the three Canadians who are being punished in retaliation for Canada’s handling of America’s extradition request of the Huawei executive?
Pressures on Wang not to appeal must be very great. Some convicted defendants decline to appeal because they know that the appeal process will not result in a favorable outcome and only extends the time they will remain confined in conditions that are often much more uncomfortable than the prison cell that awaits them once the appellate process has run its course. To be sure, we don’t know in what kind of shape Wang is mentally and physically and whether he has been subjected to any of the horrific “medical” treatment designed to break the will of so many political defendants. He may not be in condition to carefully weigh the wisdom of an appeal. If he is still capable of rational decision and retains his courageous determination, he may wish to appeal simply to avoid the inference that he accepts the decision as a correct and just one.
In any event it should be noted that only giving half sentencing credit for time served in RSDL is grossly unfair, since conditions tend to be more coercive than if the suspect is detained in an ordinary jail, even though an ordinary detention cell can be extremely uncomfortable. RSDL is not “house arrest” in one’s own home but in that of the secret police. I think double credit should be given for every day of RSDL until that vile detention practice is abolished, as it should be!!
The Code of Criminal Procedure limits RSDL to a three-month term that can be renewed once. Yet I have long suspected that police have meted out more than the maximum six-months RSDL term on some occasions by purporting to charge the hapless suspect with another “national security” offense that supposedly deserves their investigation. This may have occurred in the Wang case and perhaps the delay in issuing the judgment is related to an attempt to obscure that situation.
Wang Quanzhang, wife and son (Wang Quanxiu via AP)