Li Jianfeng, a former senior judge in China, has been granted political asylum in Canada in a coordinated effort by led by China Aid. He arrived in Vancouver on the evening of September 23. Li was imprisoned for more than a decade after the Tiananmen Square Massacre for using his position to aid vulnerable groups; he endured beatings and hard labour during that time.
Li was arrested in February 2002 in China’s coastal Fujian province and was convicted two years later of “illegal weapon possession” and “subverting state power.” Li was the first person in mainland China to be convicted of “subverting state power,” a serious charge that replaced “counter-revolution” after the massacre at Tiananmen Square.
Before his conviction, Li used his position as a judge in the Fujian Intermediate People’s Court to improve the condition of his community, ruling in nearly 100 cases and directly assisting 431 people.
Secretly, he began organizations called “labour alliances,” support networks of business owners, police, judges and human rights defenders to aid socially vulnerable groups and human rights activists through both public and semi-public methods. He also covertly published a book titled Labour Alliance, calling on people to defend themselves through civil disobedience.
While helping relocate approximately 100 workers from a film company in Ningde, Fujian, Li’s efforts interfered with the off-the-books, family interests of Jing Fusheng, a high-ranking official. In retaliation, Jing pushed for public security to arrest Li without any valid evidence. Two years after being detained, Li was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
In an interview with China Aid, Li said, “I did not have any political ambitions. I simply wanted to be a good Christian and a conscientious citizen, but even the most basic of these actions in China come at the expense of long-term imprisonment.”
Li’s years in incarceration were a brutal experience, which often included beatings, denial of medical treatment and intense labour. The day of his arrival, he and seven others were beaten by prison authorities, and the injuries inflicted were severe enough to put Li into a coma.
Throughout his time in prison, Li said he was often brought to the brink of death. In 2012, he witnessed a fellow prisoner, Huang Chuanchan, be beaten to death by prison guards for protecting a Catholic bible. Despite the risks, Li created a group of imprisoned Christians, five Catholics and Protestants, who converted more than 40 other prisoners.
After serving 11 years of his original 16-year sentence, Li was released in April 2013. When he returned to the outside world, he found he had no family, no money, no home, and his health was ailing from mistreatment. China Aid led a group of international organizations to bring Li to Bangkok and help him apply for political asylum from the UN Refugee Agency.
During his time in Bangkok, Li was visited by various individuals who had been instrumental in the efforts to rescue him, including China Aid’s founder and president, Bob Fu, and vice president, Kody Kness.
Pastor Chen of the South Korea-based North Korea Aid Association, Boxun President Wei Shi, and then-Speaker of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile Penpa Tsering also made trips to meet with Li. Local Christian organizations donated to cover the medical treatment for the injuries Li sustained in prison.
Li was welcomed by officers from the UN Refugee Agency and the Canadian government as well as a Christian group organized by Hong Yujian, senior pastor of Faith Chinese Baptist Church, on Fraser Street in east Vancouver.
Fu, who headed the effort to relocate Li to Canada, expressed his gratitude for the successful campaign. “On the eve of China’s dictator, Xi Jinping, being welcomed to the White House, we are so happy to accomplish this long-term rescue mission and finally welcome Judge Li Jianfeng to a land that is free from persecution and fear. We call upon the international community to continue to press China to release those thousands of prisoners of conscience like Judge Li. We will not relent until that day comes.”
China Aid is “an international non-profit Christian human rights organization committed to promoting religious freedom and rule of law in China.” This article first appeared on their site and is re-posted by permission.