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Chinese Rights Lawyer Confession Troubles Rights Groups

FILE - Human rights activist Jiang Tianyong speaks to journalists in Beijing, China, May 2, 2012. Jiang detained in connection with a sweeping crackdown on lawyers and activists stood trial Aug. 22, 2017, on charges of subversion of state power.

A court in Changsha of Hunan province Tuesday put prominent rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong on trial, in which he pleaded guilty to charges of inciting subversion of state power and denied that he had been tortured by police.

But Jiang’s wife and rights groups denounced it as “another show trial,” saying that they find it hard to believe that Jiang has confessed under his own will.

Videos clips of what the court called an “open” hearing were posted on the court’s official Weibo account for public viewing.

Guilty plea

In his closing remarks, Jiang was seen to have made a public confession to his alleged crimes.

“I fully realize that I’ve incited subversion of state power to try to topple the socialist regime – a violation of the Criminal Law and a criminal act. I plead guilty with all my hearts. And I deeply regret for what I’ve done,” Jiang read from a pre-written statement to the court.

While asking for a lenient sentence from the judge, Jiang added he hopes other rights activists can learn from his lessons.

Critical of government

During the hearing, prosecutors accused Jiang of having had issued more than 33,000 Twitter posts before 2009, in 214 of which he was said to have attacked the government with a language that incites subversion of state power.

He was also accused of having accepted interviews by foreign media, including VOA, to “smear” both the judiciary and government while having supported other rights defenders including Zhang Kai, Xie Yang and Liu Xing to fight for their causes.

Both Jiang and his defense lawyer raised no objection to all accounts of accusations, in one of which, he was named the one who had instigated Xie’s wife to falsify Xie’s torture allegations while in police custody.

The court announced it will hand down a verdict on a later date.

A testimony to Jiang’s innocence

Insisting on in Jiang’s innocence, his wife, Jin Bianling, argued Tuesday’s open trial was instead a testimony to her husband’s push for justice.

“Anyone with a sense of rationality will see that, behind all the accusations, Jiang has done nothing wrong but to support socially-disadvantaged groups in his pursuit of social causes,” Jin, who has lived in the U.S. since 2013 to avoid Chinese government harassment, told VOA over a telephone interview.

Prior to his arrest in November, 46-year-old Jiang had taken on numerous high-profile cases, including those of Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan protesters and victims of the 2008 contaminated milk powder scandal before being disbarred from his activism in 2009.

He had criticized an ongoing government crackdown on dissents, which has seen hundreds of rights lawyers and activists detained or sentenced since July of 2015.

Another 'shame trial'

Though disheartened, Jin said she remains convinced that Jiang had been medicated and tortured after being held incommunicado for months without access to his family or lawyers of the family’s own choosing.

She added she was, in particular, saddened to learn of her father-in-law’s forced presence in court, who she said has to witness his son’s “shame trial” in his 70s after himself having been through the Cultural Revolution.

Jin said she expects Jiang and his parents to be forced into disappearance in the future after the court sets him free on bail, similar to what has happened to lawyer Xie.

But she vowed to petition to the U.S. government for Jiang’s unlawful treatment and immediate release.

Deepening crackdown on dissidents

Maya Wang, China researcher of Human Rights Watch, said that Jiang’s trial resembled to those of many other rights activists, some of whom were forced to confess in exchange for release on bail while others like lawyer Zhou Shifeng still received a heavy 7-year sentence after having pleaded guilty.

“It’s very difficult to believe that he had confessed of his own free will. I think what’s shown really is the authorities’ increasing use of the judiciary [to criminalize rights activists.] Of course, the Chinese judiciary is long known for being controlled by the party,” Wang told VOA.

The Hong Kong-based researcher further argued that even the more pro forma aspects of these political trials, such as some access to family and open trials, are done as signs of the authorities’ deepening crackdown on human rights defenders.