A lawyer who exposed wrongdoing and corruption among officials in the northern Chinese province of Hebei has been jailed for 14-and-a-half years on charges of "blackmail," RFA has learned.
Wu Quan was handed the sentence by the Qiaoxi District People's Court in Hebei's Zhangjiakou city, which found him guilty of the charge, after being held in pretrial detention since December 2017.
Wu's former defense attorney Huang Hanzhong said he was surprised by the harsh sentence.
"The case against Wu was unusual in that it [the material facts it rested on] was entirely fabricated, rather than being a wrong decision or miscarriage of justice [based on undisputed facts]," Huang told RFA on Wednesday.
"The case was totally fake."
Wu's detention came after he wrote an article criticizing Wang Jiang, chairman of the Zhangjiakou Municipal People's Political Consultative Conference, for being behind the forcible requisitioning of farmland, the sale of a factory making alcoholic beverages at a below-market price, and covering up a mining disaster.
"Family members of those affected by the mine disaster turned to Wu Quan for to fight for their rights," Huang said. "Wu Quan learned the facts of the mine disaster during the process of representing them."
"So he reported it to the relevant departments and found that municipal authorities in Zhangjiakou had colluded with the mine owner to cover up the mining disaster," he said.
Huang dismissed the allegations of "blackmail" against Wu, saying the case hadn't been proven and that there was no motive for such a crime.
He said the Zhangjiakou police department had put out a public call for "evidence" against Wu after they detained him.
"They crowd-sourced this so-called evidence after they arrested Wu Quan," Huang said. "They had no evidence of any crime having been committed before they detained him."
Tortured by police
Wu Quan had also been subjected to torture by police, who were looking for a "confession," Huang said.
Wu's hands and feet were handcuffed to the interrogation chair for 48 hours straight, and he was denied access to sleep and water for long periods of time, he said.
"He was locked up in a place where there was no heating in the basement for a long time, and subjected to methods of continuous fatigue, interrogation, and sleep deprivation, which is torture," Huang said.
Repeated calls to Wu Quan's family members and defense lawyers went unanswered or unconnected on Wednesday.
The public announcement calling for "evidence" against Wu on Dec. 19 read: "Wu Quan, male, lawyer from Weizhou township, Wei county. Criminally detained by the Zhangjiakou City Public Security Bureau on Dec. 18, 2017 on suspicion of extortion and blackmail."
"In order to ascertain the facts of the case in accordance with the law and to effectively combat the crime, we are now soliciting clues about his criminal offense," the statement, which was posted to the Zhangjiakou police departments social media and mass SMS messaging service, said.
"Anyone with knowledge of the case may provide the Zhangjiakou Municipal Public Security Bureau with clues," it said.
Another rights lawyer tried
Meanwhile, authorities in the southwestern region of Guangxi held the trial of rights attorney Chen Jiahong for "incitement to subvert state power" on Tuesday.
However, Chen didn't attend court owing to coronavirus restrictions, participating via video link instead.
His attorney Chen Yang declined to discuss the case.
"I really want to talk about it, but it is inconvenient to talk about it, and I daren't," Chen Yang said.
"Inconvenient" is frequently used by rights activists, lawyers and dissidents to refer to official pressure, harassment, or surveillance as the reason for their refusal to speak to the media.
Court blocked off
Hunan-based rights attorney Xie Yang, who went to the court buildings on Tuesday, said police had cordoned off the street near the court building.
"I think all other court business was suspended just for the trial of Chen Jiahong," Xie told RFA. "They didn't let his mother sit in the public section; they said there wasn't enough room."
"I had an altercation with them ... I said they should allow his parent to see her child for ethical reasons," he said.
Chen was detained in April 2019 after he posted calligraphy to social media that read: "Liquidate this evil bureaucracy and promote democracy!"
Xie said he wasn't optimistic about the outcome.
Chen was a vocal supporter of Wang Quanzhang, Yu Wensheng, and other rights lawyer detained in a nationwide operation that began on July 9, 2015 and saw more than 300 lawyers and activists detained, questioned, or placed under surveillance and travel bans.
Chen later had his license to practice as an attorney revoked in an annual review process often used to target outspoken lawyers.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.