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China imprisons another prominent rights lawyer

November 21, 2017

Rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong has been handed a two-year jail term on the charge of "inciting subversion of state power." The verdict is the latest in a crackdown on activism that international critics fear is worsening.

Human rights activist Jiang Tianyong
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Jiang Tianyong sat in the court room wearing a black down jacket and an expressionless look on his face as the judge passed down a two-year jail sentence. The conviction is the latest instance in the Chinese state's sweeping crackdown on activists through what human rights group Amnesty International has labelled as "sham trials."

Prosecutors in the central city of Changsha accused Jiang of using social media to defame the government and judicial authorities, as well as inciting others to subvert state power. The Intermediate People's Court, which is controlled by the ruling Communist Party, also accused him of fabricating claims that another rights lawyer had been tortured in custody.

Read more: Chinese author Ma Jian: 'The Communist Party keeps their people well-fed, but in a cage'

In its verdict, the court said that Jiang "has long been infiltrated and influenced by anti-China forces and gradually formed the idea of overthrowing the existing political system of the country." It also found him guilty of traveling abroad for training aimed at overthrowing the Chinese government and having "applied for financial support from foreign anti-China forces."

The lawyer had made a name for himself representing politically sensitive clients, such as practitioners from the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual group, Tibetan protestors and victims of a 2008 contaminated milk scandal.

He was disbarred in 2009 but remained a high-profile activist against China's human rights situation, even working alongside experts from the UN human rights commission. The UN's special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, said he had feared Jiang's previous disappearance was in part retaliation by the authorities for his work with the body.

Jiang had also previously held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Beijing and, as recently as last year, met with Germany's top diplomat and vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel (who at the time was serving as German economy minister).

Forced confession?

In 2015, Jiang publicized claims that fellow rights lawyer Xie Yang had been tortured, beaten and deprived of sleep while in police custody — a practice many say is common, despite being banned by Chinese law. The allegations sparked widespread condemnation of Beijing from western governments and saw Xie's wife and children later flee the country.

Jiang was arrested by state forces in November and was not heard from again until March, when he allegedly admitted in an interview with a state newspaper that he had made up Xie's story of being tortured. He was later shown on state television reiterating those claims.

Read more: Opinion: A dark week for China's lawyers

Amnesty China expert told the Associated Press news agency that Jiang's "so-called confession and apology, most likely extracted under duress, were nothing more than an act of political theater directed by the authorities."

Following Jiang's sentence, Germany's ambassador to China, Michael Clauss, said in a statement that the activist had been "obviously prejudged through a 'confession' aired by Chinese TV before his trial had even begun."

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dm/rt (AP, dpa, AFP)