Wife of imprisoned Chinese human rights lawyer, Sophie Luo, speaks at the 14th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

On the case of her husband, Ding Jiaxi:

“I fell in love with Jiaxi the first time I met him. I’ll never forget it – I was studying thermal physics at university, working in the lab when he walked in. He had the most captivating sunny smile!”

“public security officials in Beijing detained him and ultimately sentenced him to three and a half years in jail for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” Paradoxically, that same year, Xi Jinping came to power and promised to stamp out all corruption in China. But it is clear now, ten years after Xi took power, his goal wasn’t to promote transparency but to cement his own power”

“My colleagues even told me I should hide his passport. It was like a scene from a movie – I so desperately wanted him to stay. But he insisted, and I understood – his mission was in China.”

“I haven’t spoken to Jaixi since December 2019. I feel pain in my heart every day.”

On totalitarian China:

“But the CCP is terrified of its citizens talking to one another.”

“When we ignore the dictators, it only empowers them. Their actions and ideologies become more and more toxic until it’s everyone’s problem!”

“Totalitarianism is a virus – just like COVID-19 spread across every international border and infected every corner of the earth. We must stop China now before it’s too late!”

Full Remarks

The world is waking up to China’s horrific human rights abuses — from the millions of Uyghurs being held in re-education camps and forced labor camps to the rights violations like forced disappearance, brutal torture, and arbitrary detention of thousands of human rights defenders.

Today, I am here to tell you the story of one of those rights defenders – my husband, Ding Jiaxi. Actually, I want to tell you our story, the story of Jiaxi and me. I hope I am not too emotional today, so I can finish the story without falling apart.

My husband is a very successful lawyer. He was studying for his Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering when he took an interest in the law & started studying it in his free time and passed the bar exam on his first try.

I fell in love with Jiaxi the first time I met him. I’ll never forget it – I was studying thermal physics at university, working in the lab when he walked in. He had the most captivating sunny smile! I’m a depressed person by nature and was introverted and pessimistic at that time. But Jiaxi was so upbeat and outgoing. He completely changed my whole outlook on life and the future – after we began dating, my college friends barely recognized me, as Jiaxi brought out the sunshine in me.

I remember the first question I asked Jiaxi was why he wanted to be a lawyer. He told me that since he was young, he’d seen too many people who couldn’t speak for themselves, and he wanted to speak for them. He wanted to change our society and make people happy! And the best way he could think to do it was to become a lawyer. In 2003, he set up a law firm in Beijing named De Hong, which means “grand virtue” in translation. After a decade, De Hong Law Firm had grown to over 20 employees and $4 million a year in revenue.

Yet while running a successful law firm, Jiaxi decided to pause that work and learn about issues that deeply concerned him. In 2012, Jiaxi went to the U.S. for eight months to conduct research at Fordham University as a visiting scholar. While he was there, he wrote a research paper comparing democratic processes in every country from East to West. He learned so much because the internet isn’t censored in the U.S., unlike China. He could look up anything and contact anyone.

As soon as he came back to China, he felt the grip of the Chinese Communist Party, the CCP, and their intense control of the internet. He devoted himself full time to activism. He advocated for citizens to understand & assert their rights protected in the Chinese constitution, like freedom of speech and assembly. He openly requested that top Chinese officials disclose their assets. This demand was a call both for government transparency and an end to government and Party corruption.

But the CCP is terrified of its citizens talking to one another about their rights as citizens and human beings. When Jiaxi and his friends posted an open letter urging China’s leaders to reveal their wealth, more than 7,000 people responded. Not long after that, public security officials in Beijing detained him and ultimately sentenced him to three and a half years in jail for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” Paradoxically, that same year, Xi Jinping came to power and promised to stamp out all corruption in China. But it is clear now, ten years after Xi took power, his goal wasn’t to promote transparency but to cement his own power and CCP control over China.

I made the difficult choice to move to the U.S. in 2013 to protect our two daughters and avoid being held hostage. In 2017, after Jiaxi was released from jail, he came to visit us in upstate New York for two months. Everyone tried to convince him to stay in the U.S. My colleagues even told me I should hide his passport. It was like a scene from a movie – I so desperately wanted him to stay. But he insisted, and I understood – his mission was in China.

As expected, after Jiaxi returned to China, the police placed him under constant surveillance, and his movements and interactions in public were limited. In December 2019, he spent a weekend in Xiamen with some like-minded friends. They ordered take-out food and discussed current affairs. And that alone was enough for the Chinese police – they “disappeared” Jiaxi on December 26, 2019, and “disappeared” his friend, well-known legal scholar Xu Zhiyong on February 15, 2020. They were held under RSDL – residential surveillance at a designated location – a form of incommunicado detention that can last up to six months. For six months, I didn’t know where Jiaxi was, why he was being detained, or if he was even alive. I now know that under RSDL, he was tightly strapped to an iron “tiger” chair and interrogated. He was deprived of sleep, subjected to noise torture, starved, dehydrated, kept in pitch darkness, and not allowed to shower.

What the CCP is doing is completely illegal. Jiaxi wasn’t formally arrested until June 2020. He wasn’t allowed to meet a lawyer for 13 months. And when he finally did, the lawyers were forced to sign confidentiality agreements forbidding them from copying case files, discussing case details, interviewing with media, or speaking publicly about the case. In August 2021, Chinese authorities indicted and charged him with “subversion of state power,” a crime that could put him in prison for as long as the CCP likes just for meeting up with his friends to discuss current events and human rights!

I haven’t spoken to Jaixi since December 2019. I feel pain in my heart every day. I keep my job as that’s the only time I can forget the pain, but I spend every second of my spare time working on his case. I wish the U.N. or the American government would intervene and say – we know this is a fake case. Release them now or face sanctions.

But instead, they continue to fall for China’s lies. The CCP says they don’t use torture, but then they do. They say China is democratic, but they put people in jail just for attending a friend’s gathering! Behind me stand thousands of Chinese families suffering like Jiaxi and me!

When we ignore the dictators, it only empowers them. Their actions and ideologies become more and more toxic until it’s everyone’s problem! Just like what happened with Putin and Ukraine. The erosion of human rights in China is a threat to human rights everywhere! Totalitarianism is a virus – just like COVID-19 spread across every international border and infected every corner of the earth. We must stop China now before it’s too late!

Thank you.

Speakers and Participants

Sophie Luo

Activist, wife of Chinese political prisoner Ding Jiaxi

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