Chinese dissident stands trial after 2 years in detention

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Originally published by AP on August 14, 2017

A prominent activist who called himself the Ultra Vulgar Butcher as he put pressure on local Chinese officials he said had done wrong stood trial Monday accused of subverting state power, a court confirmed.

Wu Gan’s one-day trial took place and the verdict will be announced later at an unspecified date, the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court said in an online statement.

“I will be convicted not because I am really guilty, but because of my refusal to accept a government-appointed lawyer, plead guilty in a televised propaganda confession, and for exposing torture, mistreatment, and violence and prosecutorial misconduct,” Wu said in a pretrial statement released through his lawyers. His lawyers could not be reached by phone on Monday.

Wu was one of the first lawyers and activists caught up in an intense crackdown by authorities that began in 2015, and he had been in pretrial detention for more than two years.

Vaguely defined subversion charges are frequently leveled against human rights activists and perceived political foes of China’s ruling Communist Party. Convictions, which are a virtual certainty, sometimes lead to prison sentences of a dozen years or more.

Wu had become known for attention-grabbing stunts. In one, he posed for online portraits brandishing knives that he said he would use to “slaughter the pigs” among local officials who’d done wrong.

He also worked as an administrative assistant at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, which had worked on sensitive cases and became the focus of the authorities’ crackdown that began in July 2015. Hundreds of lawyers, activists and others were detained in a coordinated nationwide sweep that sent a chill through China’s activist community. Many were soon released.

Wu had been detained two months earlier, in May 2015, after travelling to the southeastern city of Nanchang to put pressure on a judge. Defense lawyers had been denied access to files in a case in which four men were serving prison time for a double murder despite a later confession from a fifth man. Wu had said on social media that he planned to hold a mock funeral for the judge, and was arrested after unfurling a banner that insulted him.

Human rights groups have said that the authorities are persecuting Wu and that it is ironic that his fight for justice for the four men — who were exonerated last year — had cost him his own freedom.

“He is merely being punished for refusing to stop his innovative and legitimate campaigns for justice in China,” Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

Activists like Wu and the lawyers focused on individual cases instead of challenging Communist Party policy at the national level, making them a greater headache for local officials than for Beijing. But their ability to organize and bring people out on the ground apparently made authorities nervous.

Frances Eve, a Hong Kong-based researcher at the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders , said that Wu was “being persecuted for his protected freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly.”

“His case has been rife with abuses, including torture, denial of legal counsel, and prolonged pretrial detention,” she said. “He should be immediately and unconditionally released, and by going along with this sham trial, the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate Court is complicit in the human rights violations committed against him.”

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