A court in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu has handed a four-and-a-half year jail term to a prominent rights activist after finding him guilty of "incitement to subvert state power."
Ge Jueping was sentenced by the Suzhou Intermediate People's Court after being held for three years and eight months in pretrial detention.
Ge attended the sentencing hearing via video link, owing to coronavirus restrictions, his wife Lu Guoying told RFA after attending the hearing.
"He was unshaven and didn't look very well," Lu told RFA. "It seemed that he was a bit wobbly on his legs when he stood up, and there was no color in his face. He looked haggard."
Ge, who has been diagnosed with hypertension, heart palpitations, and parotid gland cancer, has not received proper medical treatment at the detention center, the overseas-based rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in a statement on Thursday.
The sentence means that he still has more than a year of his sentence to serve.
"I nearly passed out on the spot when they read the sentence of four-and-a-half years in court," Lu said. "Partly because there is the issue of whether he will survive that long; we don't know when the cancer could recur, especially in the harsh environment that he is now in."
The court found that Ge had committed incitement, for which he should be held legally responsible, Lu said.
"After the verdict, I heard the judge asking him,'Ge Jueping, do you want to appeal?'," Lu said. "Whereupon Ge cursed him as a "gangster', which I took to mean that the whole case was corrupt."
Others also held
Ge Jueping was among a group of at least nine rights activists detained in Jiangsu's Suzhou city since 2016, when China played host to the G20 leadership summit in Hangzhou.
He got involved in rights activism after petitioning over the forcible demolition of his home 10 years ago, and has been a vocal online critic of official wrongdoing.
The court judgment said Ge's online articles and posts had been "one-sided," and manufactured "false injustices ... with systematic and continuous hype of sensitive cases and incidents."
"Their purpose was to gradually erode and disintegrate Chinese Communist Party rule," it said.
Ge's case is also linked to that of Suzhou People's Liberation Army (PLA) veteran Fan Mugen, who stabbed two demolition workers sent to destroy his home in December 2013.
Ge later retweeted a post in support of Fan's actions, and this retweet form a key plank of the prosecution case.
"Our solidarity with Fan Mugen was also in solidarity with our own rights activism," Lu said. "The [governments] are all forcibly demolishing and relocating households, [then] hiring social workers to beat people up."
"Such solidarity is normal, and has nothing to do with 'incitement to subvert state power'," she said.
Ge's defense lawyer Zhu Yingming said his client is innocent.
"The only reason this dragged on for so long is that there was insufficient evidence to convict," Zhu said.
Many cases brought
Ge's case is the latest in a string of similar cases to be brought against peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
On June 19, police in Liaocheng city in the eastern province of Shandong also formally arrested poet Zhang Guiqi, known by his pen name Lu Yang, on charges of "incitement to subvert state power."
Zhang, a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, was detained on May 1 this year for comments critical of the government made under his screen name "Luxi Fanatic."
He is being held incommunicado at the Liaocheng City Detention Center, CHRD said.
Call for Xi Jinping to resign
Authorities in the southwestern region of Guangxi meanwhile held the trial of rights attorney Chen Jiahong for "incitement to subvert state power" on Tuesday.
Chen was detained in April 2019 after he posted calligraphy to social media that read: "Liquidate this evil bureaucracy and promote democracy!"
Chen was a vocal supporter of Wang Quanzhang, Yu Wensheng, and other rights lawyers 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.
China's state security police have also formally arrested dissident Xu Zhiyong for subversion after he called publicly on President Xi Jinping to resign.
Xu, who has already served jail time for his spearheading of the New Citizens' Movement anti-corruption campaign, penned an open letter to Xi while in hiding following a gathering of pro-democracy activists and lawyers in December 2019, calling on him to step down.
He is currently being held incommunicado on charges of "incitement to subvert state power" in "residential surveillance at a designated location" (RSDL), a form of detention that allows police to hold anyone they say is suspected of crimes linked to national security without contact with family or a lawyer for up to six months.
Rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi is a co-defendant in the same case, and has been detained under RSDL on the same charge.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.