Authorities in the central province of Henan on Friday jailed a Chinese man for life after he got into a scuffle while under detention by "interceptors," officials sent to stop people making complaints against local government in other cities, his lawyer said.
Gong Jinjun was found guilty of "intentional injury" and handed a life sentence by a court in Henan's Hebi city after a Nov. 14, 2013 scuffle between unofficially detained petitioners and their interceptors left one person dead and another injured.
Gong was detained after going to petition in Beijing and was taken to an unofficial detention center for petitioners at Majialou, on the outskirts of the capital, his lawyer Liu Shuqing told RFA.
Gong and three others from Hebi were then picked up by interceptors sent by local government to escort petitioners home, and were denied food and water on the train journey, which can take up to nine hours.
Liu said the sentence was handed down after a two-day trial that ended in February 2015, during which Gong pleaded not guilty.
"I just got a call from his brother, who said that he had been sentenced to life imprisonment," Liu said. "I am very disappointed in this capricious judgement ... which was much harsher than I had expected."
"The evidence presented was simplistic, and in no way constituted proof that Gong had shoved or jabbed anybody," he said. "That's why it has taken them so long to reach a decision."
"He simply didn't do it, and the evidence doesn't support the accusation that he did," Liu said. "He should have been found not guilty and released."
He said Gong, who had been arguing with interceptors over their treatment of the detainees at the time of the incident, regards himself as an injured party and denies having killed anyone.
"All of the so-called confessions they cited were forced out of him," Liu added. "This was a case of trying to find something to pin on him."
Critics have hit out at the practice of using interceptors and "reception centers" like Majialou, which have no basis in Chinese law, to prevent local people from complaining about local governments in Beijing, thereby blotting their leaders' records.
However, political commentators say the role is seen as intrinsic to Beijing's nationwide "stability maintenance" system of domestic security, which out-spends the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the ruling Chinese Commmunist Party's annual budget.
Henan-based rights activist Wang Yi said Gong's case is a typical example of official retaliation against petitioners, who have long complained of arbitrary detentions, beatings, and other forms of official retaliation after they lodge complaints, often about forced evictions, loss of farmland, or other abuses of state power.
"In my opinion, the Chinese Commmunist Party is behaving unreasonably, and lawlessly," Wang said. "They are putting on a show to look like the rule of law, but they manipulate the process at will."
"There is no such thing as justice."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.