China has sentenced a prominent rights activist to eight years in jail for subversion in what critics are calling the harshest sentence passed in a government crackdown on activism that began more than two years ago.
Wu Gan, a blogger better known by his online name “Super Vulgar Butcher”, plans to appeal against the eight-year sentence handed down by the Tianjin Municipality’s No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court, his lawyer Yan Xin told Reuters.
Wu regularly championed sensitive cases of government abuses of power, both online and in street protests. He was detained in May 2015 and charged with subversion.
The activist criticised China’s political system online and used performance art to create disturbances, as well as insulting people and spreading false information, according to a statement from the court posted on its website.
“He carried out a string of criminal actions to subvert state power and overthrow the socialist system and seriously harmed state security and social stability,” the court said.
Before his arrest, Wu used his platform to cast doubt on the official version of events in an incident in early May 2015, in which a police officer shot a petitioner in a train station in northern China’s Heilongjiang province.
His sentence is the most severe in what rights groups have called an unprecedented attack on China’s rights activists and lawyers, known as the 709 crackdown, which began in full force on July 9, 2015.
The hardline approach to rights activism has shown no sign of softening as Chinese President Xi Jinping enters his second five-year term in office.
Court Video Released
In the other case concluded on Tuesday, rights lawyer Xie Yang received no punishment after being found guilty of inciting subversion and disrupting court order, the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court said on social media.
The court released a video of the proceeding, in which Xie said he accepted the outcome and will not appeal. He also thanked authorities and said he will be a law-abiding citizen.
Xie had worked on numerous cases deemed sensitive by Chinese authorities, such as defending supporters of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. In May, he confessed to the charges against him in what rights groups called a scripted “sham” trial.
In January, Xie’s wife and lawyer released detailed accounts of torture suffered by Xie at the hands of the authorities, which were widely reported on in the international media.
Chinese state media branded those reports “fake news” and said the accounts were concocted as a means of gaining attention. Xie’s lawyer told Reuters he stands by the account.
The decision to hand down both sentences the day after Christmas, when there would likely be less attention from diplomats and international observers, “reeks of cynical political calculation”, said Patrick Poon, Hong Kong-based researcher for Amnesty International.
China’s foreign ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Wu’s detention led to his father, Xu Xiaoshun, also taking up activism. Xu told Reuters in July he felt compelled to speak out on his son’s behalf after authorities asked him to say Wu was guilty.
The crackdown has also spurred other family members to become activists.