A court in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin has rejected an appeal by rights activist Wu Gan, known by his online nickname "The Butcher," against his eight-year jail term for subversion.
Wu, 42, was detained during China’s 2015 crackdown on lawyers and sentenced on Dec. 26 by the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court after being found guilty of "incitement to subvert state power."
His defense lawyers appealed the verdict with the Tianjin Higher People’s Court, saying that while Wu had admitted in court to having thoughts of subverting state power, thoughts alone do not constitute a crime.
Wu’s social media posts, published articles, interviews with foreign media, taped lectures, his observation of 12 cases, and his use of performance art all were protected by his constitutional rights, his lawyers argued.
But the appeal court upheld the original verdict and sentence on Apr. 17, Wu's father Xu Xiaoshun told RFA.
"The verdict was upheld," Xu said. "No, it's not fair ... but personally I always thought it would turn out this way."
"There's very little I can do," he said, adding: "I am in hospital after being hit by a vehicle ... and can't even walk."
Calls and messages to Wu's defense lawyer Ge Yongxi went unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
Some of Wu's supporters were placed under house arrest ahead of the appeal decision, to prevent them from traveling to Tianjin, sources said.
Among them was Hunan-based He Jiawei, who is now under close surveillance at his home after being detained en route to Tianjin, fellow activist Xiao Biao said.
"I called [He Jiawei] this morning, and he said there were police on the train checking people's ID," Xiao Biao said. "He was detained the moment he got off the train and taken to a police station."
"He said he was waiting for the state security police from Zhuzhou [in Hunan] to arrive and bring him home," he said.
Wu's lawyers also had argued that state power isn't the same as the power of a political party, and that Chinese people have the right to subvert political power, especially in an authoritarian system.
Rights groups say that subversion charges are frequently used by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to target rights activists and dissidents whose opinions it won't tolerate.
According to the indictment against Wu, 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."
It said he had "begun to develop subversive thoughts" after growing dissatisfied with the current political system, and had used online platforms to send out large volumes of posts attacking the government.
But his lawyers said the harsh sentence was 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.
Wu was interrogated "more than 300 times" since his incarceration began, according to a complaint filed by his lawyers alleging torture during detention.
He was repeatedly and illegally held in solitary confinement, tortured, and deprived of his right to complain and to access legal advice, they said.
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 raise funds for 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 they were the victims of a miscarriage of justice.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.