China’s Continued Act of Prosecuting Free Speech: Li Qiaochu

China’s Continued Act of Prosecuting Free Speech: Li Qiaochu
Human Rights Defender Li Qiaochu. © Private via Amnesty International, December/2023


Dara Masita

Human Rights Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defence.

China has sentenced another human rights defender to prison under the “inciting subversion of State power”. Li Qiaochu is a worker’s and women’s rights activist who has advocated for human rights since 2017. On February 4th, 2024, the Linyi Municipal Intermediate People’s Court in Shandong Province sentenced Li Qiaochu to 3 years and 8 months of prison. 

“Inciting subversion of State power” is laid down in Article 105(2) of the 1997 revision of the People’s Republic of China’s Penal Code. It is used as a legal tool to target political activists and human rights defenders in exercising human rights, especially the freedom of expression. In this case, Li was targeted since she shared accounts of her partner, Xu Zhiyong, and another human rights defender, Ding Jiaxi, experience in prison. Who has been sentenced to 14 years and 12 years respectively. 

Li exposed the Chinese prison official’s torture of Xu, as well as the ill-treatment she experienced herself during custody. Additionally, the Court also mentioned that she has been running a blog with Xu that contains topics of human rights, democratic reforms, and social justice movements which contributes more to the “inciting subversion of State power.” Li’s other notable contributions to human rights include helping the forcibly evicted migrant workers secure jobs in 2017, #MeToo campaigns, and volunteering during the Covid-19 outbreak.

China has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Li’s exposition shows that China has failed to uphold Articles 1 and 16 of the CAT as torture and ill-treatment are practiced by state officials.  On top of that, China is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 12 of the ICCPR concerning freedom of expression unfortunately contradicts China’s charges of “inciting subversion of State power.”

This Court’s verdict and Li’s conviction highlight the struggles human rights defenders face in China. It is hard to ensure human rights protection in a state without the freedom of expression. China would need to amend its penal code to reassure the international community that China is a state that holds human rights to a high degree.

Sources and further reading:

“Li Qiaochu” (FrontLineDefenders) <> accessed 12 February 2024.

 “China: Activist Li Qiaochu unjustly convicted ‘for speaking out about torture” (Amnesty, 2024) <> accessed 12 February 2024.


Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (adopted 10 December 1984, entered into force 26 June 1987) 1465 UNTS 85, art 1 and 16. 

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171 (ICCPR) art 12