Human rights activists have denounced as a sham the trial of a leading Chinese civil rights lawyer who authorities claim tried to topple China’s one-party state.
Jiang Tianyong, 46, was put on trial in the central city of Changsha on Tuesday morning having vanished into the custody of security services last Novemberduring a crackdown on lawyers described as China’s “war on law”.
China’s Communist party-controlled media claimed Jiang – whose past clients include activists such as the exiled dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng – had confessed to the crime of “inciting subversion of state power”.
“I’m ashamed of it,” Jiang told the court, according to the English-language China Daily, which sent a correspondent to cover proceedings in a sign of Beijing’s determination to shape the narrative around the prosecution.
According to the state-run broadsheet, Jiang admitted to attending overseas training sessions where he was encouraged to reject China’s political system and ruling party. “So I wanted to make a change,” he reportedly said.
In an apparently mistranslated statement, published by the state-run Global Times and later deleted, Jiang added: “I wish to convey to the public my dissatisfaction toward the Communist party of China, the government, the police and the judicial system … in order to achieve the goal of change in the current system and overthrow the party.”
In an online video released by the court, Jiang appears asking for clemency: “Please give me another chance to be a human being … and to make up for my wrongdoings … Once I am free I will never return to my old ways … I sincerely ask the court to set me on a path towards the sunshine.”
The Chinese Human Rights Defenders group rejected Jiang’s claimed admission of guilt. “Any confession likely the result of torture,” it said on Twitter.
Jiang is the latest in a string of prominent human rights lawyers to stand trial for political crimes. Since Xi Jinping became China’s top leader almost five years ago, the human rights community has faced a severe crackdown that diplomats and observers say is the worst in almost three decades.
China’s heavily controlled media, however, paints a contrasting picture of the developments that have taken place under Xi. In a front-page story, apparently timed to coincide with Tuesday’s trial, the China Daily quoted Chinese academics who heaped praise on the “transformative changes” witnessed since Xi became leader in late 2012. “China has made great progress in advancing the rule of law,” claimed Jiang Guohua, a law professor.
The China Daily added: “The president has attached great importance to promoting the rule of law and has pledged on numerous occasions to build a law-based socialist country.”
William Nee, a Hong Kong-based activist with Amnesty International, said that despite attempts to portray Jiang’s trial as open and fair, it was in reality a stage-managed farce.
A guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion, he said. “The authorities should end these sorts of sham trials and support lawyers and legal advocates like Jiang Tianyong rather than suppressing them.”
Jiang’s wife, Jin Bianling, who lives in the US, told Reuters she considered the trial and the videos a “show” by authorities to make Jiang appear guilty.
The court said on social media that it had adjourned, without giving a timeline for the release of the verdict or further hearings.
By Tom Phillips
Additional reporting by Wang Zhen