A court in the central Chinese province of Hunan on Tuesday handed down a two-year prison term to human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong for subversion, following a process that has been denounced by his family as a show trial.
Jiang, who pleaded guilty to "incitement to subvert state power" at the Intermediate People's Court in the provincial capital Changsha on Aug. 22, was sentenced in a hearing on Tuesday morning, a video clip published online by the court showed.
Jiang's sentence was based on his setting up of a campaign group in support of rights lawyers detained in a nationwide police operation targeting the profession since July 2015, the court said.
Jiang had "speculated" on politically sensitive cases and "incited others to illegally gather in public places" and "stirred up" public opinion, the indictment said.
He had also "seriously harmed state security and social stability" by "attacking and slandering the current political system, and attempting to overthrow the socialist system," it found.
"He also hyped up the reports that [detained rights lawyer] Xie Yang had been tortured," it said.
Jiang was handed a two-year jail term, and deprived of his political rights for three years. He told the court he wouldn't be appealing the sentence, it said.
"He was sentenced to two years," Jiang's father Jiang Lianghou told RFA after attending the hearing on Tuesday. "He accepted the sentence, but we don't."
Jiang's sister Jiang Jinping said she and her father had been brought to Changsha under escort by the state security police ahead of the sentencing.
They were permitted a brief meeting with Jiang at the Changsha No. 1 Detention Center after the hearing, she said.
"We are in the detention center right now, eating with my brother, and there are state security police here too," Jiang Jinping said. "He is saying he won't appeal."
"We asked him if he was satisfied with the outcome, and he said he is pretty disappointed," she said, before trailing off. "We're in here now," she said. "He basically wanted to tell us not to worry."
Jiang's U.S.-based wife Jin Bianling said the sentence was "unacceptable."
"We find this sentence unacceptable," Jin said, dismissing her husband's "confession" at his trial.
"The evidence that was submitted in court showed that everything my husband did was done in the broad light of day, so I don't accept this judgment or the charges against him."
"It is now a full year since Jiang Tianyong was detained, and the lawyer I hired to represent him has been unable to meet with him," she said. "I didn't even see this government-appointed lawyer until the trial on Aug. 22, when Jiang confessed."
‘Charge doesn’t stand up’
Jin said the confession is unlikely to be genuine, or willingly made.
"From what detained lawyer Li Heping said when he got out of jail ... we can tell that Jiang Tianyong was probably tortured or subjected to extreme duress before he made that confession," she said.
"He also said that he wouldn't appeal," she said.
Jin called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to allow Jiang to leave China and be reunited with his family in the United States.
Fellow rights lawyer Zhu Shengwu agreed.
"This charge doesn't stand up, and doesn't match the alleged crimes, he was denied access to a lawyer, and prevented from speaking out on behalf of other lawyers," Zhu said.
"The main aim here isn't to target this individual lawyer, but to target solidarity among the entire legal profession," he said.
In his trial, Jiang told the court that he was guilty, and remorseful over his actions.
But his trial followed a similar pattern to those of other lawyers and activists detained in a nationwide crackdown on the legal profession and non-government groups since July 2015.
Previous detainees accused of subversion-related offenses have later been released to live under close police surveillance alongside their families. Those who refuse to "confess" are typically handed heavy jail terms.
Detainees in this group are also typically held at unknown locations with no access to lawyers or family visits while awaiting trial, and have reported being tortured or coerced into televised "confessions" following threats to their families, rights groups say.
The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which compiles reports from groups in China, called for Jiang's immediate release.
"China must immediately release prominent human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong," the group said in a statement on its website.
"His conviction is the latest in [President] Xi Jinping’s ongoing attack on rights lawyers, which has raged since the summer of 2015," it said.
Jiang’s sentence is a form of political reprisal for his outspoken support of detained lawyer, and partly for his meeting with Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, during Alston’s mission to China in August 2016, CHRD said.
Alston later specifically called for Jiang’s release and described how Chinese officials had closely monitored Alston’s access to members of China’s civil society, it said.
More than 300 lawyers, law firm staff, rights activists and relatives have been detained, questioned, or placed under surveillance or other restrictions in a nationwide police operation targeting the legal profession launched in July 2015.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.