Trump Says He Helped Free U.C.L.A. Players in China. Critics Ask, What About Activists?

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The college basketball players, from left, Cody Riley, LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill at a news conference in Los Angeles last week. They had been accused of shoplifting in China. Credit Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

President Trump has suggested that he saved three American college basketball players, who had been detained in China for shoplifting, from prison terms as long as a decade.

But experts say the players for the U.C.L.A. team, who were accused of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store in Hangzhou, China, probably would have been released even if Mr. Trump had not raised the case with President Xi Jinping during a visit this month to Beijing.

Shoplifting is considered a relatively minor crime in China, and foreigners convicted of minor crimes are often deported rather than given prison sentences.

“It’s nonsense,” Fu Hualing, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, said of Mr. Trump’s assertion that his intervention was solely responsible for the athletes’ release. “I would be surprised if they were even prosecuted.”

Mr. Trump’s comments intensified criticism from human rights activists, who said that by focusing on the players from the University of California, Los Angeles, the president squandered a chance to help free Chinese dissidents, lawyers, journalists and scholars facing far harsher sentences or constraints on their freedom.

Here’s a look at some of the Chinese activists whose cases experts say Mr. Trump should have raised in Beijing:

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Liu Xia, center, with a picture of her late husband Liu Xiaobo at his funeral in July in Shenyang. Credit Shenyang Municipal Information Office, via Associated Press

The Democracy Activist

After the death in July of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was China’s most prominent democracy activist, many advocates wondered what would happen to his wife, the artist Liu Xia.

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Ms. Liu, a painter and photographer, expressed a desire to relocate overseas after her husband’s death, but activists say that she is being held in unofficial custody away from family and friends.

William Nee, a China researcher for Amnesty International, said Ms. Liu was being punished “simply for being the wife of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.”

Friends of Ms. Liu hoped Mr. Trump, whose administration had previously called for her freedom, would raise the issue with Mr. Xi during his Beijing visit. But Mr. Trump has not said whether he did so, and the Chinese authorities have not offered any new details about her fate, adding to fears that the government may continue to restrict her freedom.

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Ilham Tohti, a scholar who documented the abuse of Uighurs in the semiautonomous region of Xinjiang, was convicted of promoting separatism. Credit Andy Wong/Associated Press

The Dissident Scholar

Ilham Tohti had long called on the Chinese authorities to show greater respect for the culture of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority who live primarily in Xinjiang, a western autonomous region. Mr. Tohti, an economics professor, documented abuses by the police in Xinjiang and urged the government to do more to defuse tensions between Uighurs and Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group.

In 2014, Mr. Tohti was arrested and later convicted of promoting separatism. The government portrayed him as a demagogue who embraced hatred and violence. He was sentenced to life in prison, and the authorities have rebuffed calls to lessen his punishment.

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Li Wenzu, the wife of Wang Quanzhang, in Bejing in July protesting her husband’s disappearance into custody in 2015. Credit Damir Sagolj/Reuters

The Human Rights Lawyer

As a lawyer, Wang Quanzhang gravitated toward controversy, taking on cases that involved religious worshipers accusing the government of persecution and activists protesting forced demolitions of houses.

But in the summer of 2015, Mr. Wang’s career came to an abrupt end when he was detained by the police as part of a crackdown on hundreds of human rights lawyers across China. He was later accused of subverting state power and inciting social unrest.

While a vast majority of the lawyers were later sentenced to prison or released, Mr. Wang remained in limbo. His lawyers and relatives have not been permitted to meet with him. His wife has said that she does not know if he is dead or alive.

Continue reading the main story

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Missing Widow of China’s Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo, Surfaces in Video

Ilham Tohti, Uighur Scholar in Chinese Prison, Is Given Human Rights Award

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