Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin on Tuesday handed down an eight-year jail term to an outspoken human rights activist detained amid a nationwide crackdown on lawyers and associated activists.
Detained rights activist Wu Gan, 42, known by his online nickname "The Butcher," was sentenced by the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court after being found guilty of "incitement to subvert state power," the court said in a statement.
"He engaged in a series of actions that incited the subversion of state power and the overthrow of the socialist system, seriously harming national security and social stability," according to the indictment against Wu.
"Wu Gan began to develop subversive thoughts after growing dissatisfied with the current political system in this country," the court said. "He then used online information platforms over a long period of time to send out large volumes of posts attacking the government and the constitutional state system, disseminating his subversive ideas."
"In league with a number of followers of illegal religion, professional petitioners, a minority of lawyers and others, he carried out an act of performance art in the guise of protecting people's rights ... leading to an illegal assembly and the disturbance of public order," it said.
Wu had also "libeled others" online and spread "false news and information," including about government departments, the court said.
Wu's defense attorney Ge Yongxi rejected the verdict and sentence.
"The Butcher is innocent, and this harsh sentence was unjust, and he will definitely be appealing," Ge said.
He said Wu had told the court that he was honored to receive the sentence and that he would "roll up my sleeves and redouble my efforts."
He said the harsh sentence is likely linked to the fact that Wu had refused to confess to the charges against him during interrogation and torture at the hands of police.
"I think they were in a big hurry to finish the hearing, so Wu Gan never got the chance to say he would appeal the sentence," Ge said. "But he told me last time we met that he would definitely appeal if found guilty."
"I think the main issue here is that Wu Gan still holds the view that none of his actions constituted a crime, and he has no intention of doing a deal with the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party," he said.
"So of course the party will punish him."
Security was tight outside the court buildings, with roads outside sealed off behind a police security cordon, eyewitnesses said.
Two of Wu's supporters, Lu Zuoyu and He Zongwang, who traveled to Tianjin in the hope of attending the hearing, were taken away from the area by police, Lu told RFA.
"He Zongwang and I got there in the morning to attend the Butcher's hearing, only to be stopped by more than a dozen plainclothes cops who wouldn't let us [into the court]," Lu said. "We got into an argument with them, so they grabbed us and put us in their vehicle and took us down to the local police station."
"The whole place was under security lockdown, and you couldn't even walk past [the court] on the opposite sidewalk ... and they weren't allowing traffic down there either," he said.
Tortured during interrogation
Wu's lawyers say he has suffered torture under interrogation since his initial detention in the eastern province of Jiangxi.
In a complaint filed to the Tianjin municipal state prosecutor's office, they wrote that Wu had been interrogated "more than 300 times" since his incarceration began.
"Wu Gan has been subjected to illegal treatment during his detention," the complaint said.
It said Wu had been repeatedly and illegally held in solitary confinement, tortured, and deprived of his right to complain and to access legal advice.
The complaint called on the prosecutor's office to investigation the allegations, "to find out which departments and individuals are responsible."
Wu was initially detained by police during a performance protest he titled "Selling my Body to Raise Funds" in Nanchang city in eastern Jiangxi province.
He was trying to help finance a legal defense for Huang Zhiqiang, Fang Chunping, Cheng Fagen, and Cheng Lihe, who were jailed in Jiangxi's Leping city for robbery, rape, and dismembering a corpse.
The four received suspended death sentences in 2000 that were later commuted to jail terms, but their lawyers and rights activists say their confessions were obtained through torture, and that the men are victims of a miscarriage of justice.
Meanwhile, the official media has hit out at Wu for his criticism of the police shooting of a man at a railway station in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang in May 2015.
Wu likely drew the ire of authorities by expressing doubts online over the credibility of the government’s investigation of the killing, rights groups have said.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.