Caixin
May 11, 2018 07:16 PM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Legal Activist Ends Four-Year Prison Term for ‘Making Trouble’

Jia Lingmin stands on the pile of rubble where her home used to be on Oct. 25, 2010. Photo: VCG
Jia Lingmin stands on the pile of rubble where her home used to be on Oct. 25, 2010. Photo: VCG

Red tape and the failing of China’s justice system turned Jia Lingmin’s life upside down.

When she was a private-school teacher eight years ago, Jia began petitioning the government after her home was torn down by developers who were backed by local officials. In May 2014, she was arrested and more than a year later imprisoned for four years for “picking a quarrel and making trouble” linked to her use of legal knowledge to help herself and other evictees fend off illicit redevelopment.

Jia, who was released from prison earlier this week, is the latest among hundreds of grass-roots activists who have paid a hefty price for taking on rogue developers, who are often backed by local governments.

Jia, 53, and her husband had lived in a rural house in a run-down area in Zhengzhou in Central China’s Henan province until June 2010, when the couple was abducted by people apparently hired by a developer. They were later dumped in the middle of a remote road 12 miles from their home.

By the time they returned, their home had been torn down by demolition workers who had been hired by the government-backed developer, Jia said in a recent interview with Caixin.

The run-down area had been selected for redevelopment by the district government, a move that Jia said they did not oppose, but they tried to hold on to their home due to a disagreement with the developer over compensation.

“The forced demolition was a gross violation of the law because we were not even served with an official demolition license as required by law,” she said.

Now homeless, Jia and her husband embarked on a precarious journey of petitioning various authorities, accusing the government of dereliction of duty and injustice. City police repeatedly ignored their appeal for help against the forced demolition, Jia told Caixin.

She quit her job as a private-school teacher and began to teach herself law with books on a wide range of legal issues, such as China’s Tort Law, while she continued pressing district and city governments and courts to address her grievances. In the meantime, she paid numerous visits to other evictees in Henan and neighboring provinces who faced similar problems, providing them with legal advice to fight off rogue developers who often have the backing of local governments.

Many desperate evictees living in areas as far as the island province of Hainan reached out to Jia as she gained national fame as “a grass-roots promoter of the law.”

Her activism came to an abrupt halt in May 2014 when she was arrested on accusations of “picking a quarrel and making trouble,” a controversial crime that has long been dismissed by critics as a tool that authorities use to stifle civil activism.

In November 2015, she pleaded not guilty, but was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison by a court in Xinxiang, another city in Henan.

While in prison, she continued pushing for an arbitration ruling against city police and a lawsuit against the city government for dereliction of duty linked to the illicit demolition of her home.

On April 23, she was escorted by several police officers into a Xinxiang court as a plaintiff, where she presented her case accusing the city government and police of inaction.

Wearing her orange overcoat, Jia remained calm and smiled to supporters ahead of the court hearing, but she looked weary.

Jia and her husband filed the case after the Zhengzhou government earlier rejected their request for an arbitration ruling over alleged police inaction.

The couple sought a court order for access to police call-center records, which city police said had been discarded because so many years had passed. The case is still pending.

She was greeted by family, friends and activists on Monday when she was released from prison in Xinxiang.

Jia said she will continue pursuing the case because her four-year detention “has not changed her a bit.”

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)

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