Nanjing court hands second subversion sentence to critic of Wuhan pandemic cover-up

Guo Quan gets four years for online criticism of officials who covered up the emergence of COVID-19 in Wuhan.
By Jenny Tang and Gao Feng for RFA Mandarin
Nanjing court hands second subversion sentence to critic of Wuhan pandemic cover-up Chinese dissident and former Nanjing Normal University lecturer Guo Quan, seen with his mother Gu Xiao in this undated photo, was sentenced for "incitement to subvert state power" on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022, after having been held in for nearly three years in pretrial detention.
Courtesy photo

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Nanjing have jailed a prominent democracy activist for a further four years on subversion charges after he criticized the government's handling of the pandemic as it emerged in Wuhan, Radio Free Asia has learned.

The Nanjing Intermediate People's Court handed the four-year jail term to former Nanjing Normal University lecturer Guo Quan for "incitement to subvert state power" on Dec. 20, after he had been held for nearly three years in pretrial detention.

Guo stood trial on the charges on Sept. 9, 2021, where he was accused of seeking to "divide the people from the ruling party" and negate the existing political system by advocating multi-party democracy, on the basis of less than 20 articles criticizing the CCP's COVID-19 response, social injustice, and official corruption. 

Guo, 54, who has also served as a judge, addressed the court for nearly two hours, presenting a systematic legal defense of the articles.

He was initially detained by Nanjing police on Jan. 31, 2020 and held at the Nanjing No. 2 Detention Center on charges that were unknown at the time.

Guo had previously served a 10-year jail term from 2009 on the same charge after he set up the China New People's Party in 2007 in a bid to campaign for multi-party democracy in China, an idea that has been banned by Beijing.

Guo's lawyer Chang Boyang said his client had likely gotten a harsher sentence because it was his second conviction for subversion.

"Back during the pandemic in Wuhan three years ago ... he expressed his opinions on the attempts to cover up the extent of the outbreak on WeChat," Chang told Radio Free Asia on Wednesday.

"The charges against him really didn't stand up, but he was handed this four-year jail term mainly because of his earlier sentence, as repeat offenders are dealt with more severely," he said.

'There is nothing we can do'

Guo's octogenarian mother Gu Xiao that she was unable to attend the sentencing hearing for health reasons.

"I didn't attend because I'm not in good health," Gu said.

She said two of Guo's defense lawyers, Chang Boyang and Shi Weijiang, had planned to go but had been unable to due to testing positive for COVID-19.

"The lawyer called me afterwards and told me he had been sentenced to four years," Gu said.

She said there was nothing to be done about it.

"If they want to pin another crime on him, what can we do? There is nothing we can do. Can we talk back or protest against it?"

Gu, who said she has never agreed with Guo's political activism, dismissed Guo's plan to appeal the sentence.

"It's not going to happen," she said. "Appealing is 100 percent pointless. I have hired more than a dozen lawyers for him [over the years] but it hasn't done any good."

"He's already served three years, so I just have to wait one more year," Gu said. "I just hope I can stay alive that long."

She added: "I was a very good person and I have lived a good life, a very ordinary and low-key life, but this son of mine has turned my old age into a living hell. Even if he comes back [from prison], he won't have a job, and I will have to support him instead of the other way around."

Sending a warning

U.S.-based commentator Hu Ping said Guo had managed to make a difference to the democracy movement in China, despite the consequences he now faces.

"He practices freedom of speech and association, and won't give in even under huge pressure," Hu said. "He has definitely made a contribution to the Chinese democracy movement, and his case has attracted international attention."

Hu said Guo was likely jailed at this time to send a warning to anyone who took part in recent "blank paper" protests against COVID-19 curbs in the wake of a fatal lockdown fire in Xinjiang's regional capital Urumqi.

"We have lost contact with a lot of people [since the protests] and their whereabouts are still unknown," Hu said of fellow democracy activists in China.

"They're bringing out the older cases and pronouncing these judgments with great fanfare, because they want to threaten and intimidate the public, to shock them," he said. 

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.


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