Zhai Yanmin Sentenced as Black Friday Trials Begin

Authorities are moving forward with for several detained since last July’s “Black Friday” crackdown, which saw as many as 300 human and activists detained, more than 20 of whom remain behind bars after more than a year. On Tuesday, a Tianjin court tried activist Zhai Yanmin, delivering a surprisingly light three-year suspended sentence. Covering Zhai’s sentence, state news agency Xinhua explains his light sentence, and quotes from his court statement language long used by state media and Party officials:

He pled guilty and declined his right to appeal.

Zhai was first exposed to concepts such as the “color revolutions” and “peaceful transition” online, the court said in a statement. He then joined an underground church led by and gradually developed plans to overthrow the state socialist system.

Since 2012, Zhai has attempted to incite people to subvert state power by use of the online resources, the court said in a statement.

[…] “I accept all the charges,” Zhai said in his final statement, “With the help and education of the government, I recognize the severity of my crimes. I plead guilty and express my sincere remorse.

“I am sorry to the country and my family… If I could go back I would never have become a member of hostile forces or associated with those individuals driven by ,” he said. [Source]

See CDT’s explanation of the terms “hostile forces” and “ulterior motives,” both commonly used by officials and state propaganda outlets.

At The Guardian, Stuart Leavenworth reports that the light verdict handed to Zhai hints that he may have aided in investigations into his colleagues, and describes the Fengrui law firm believed to be at the center of the “Black Friday” crackdown:

Zhao Yamin [sic], who has been accused of working with rights lawyers from the Fengrui law firm, was given a relatively light sentence, suggesting he might have cooperated with the investigation.

[…] Zhai’s three-year sentence was suspended for four years, meaning he will live under restrictions and surveillance during that period, and could be sent to prison if he talks to journalists or resumes his public activism.

[…] Until authorities shut it down in July 2015, the Fengrui law firm was known for defending the disenfranchised and those trying to build in China. Wang represented feminist activists, members of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, and Ilham Tohti – a Uighur academic who was last year jailed for life after advocating for his fellow Muslims in the far western province of Xinjiang. [Source]

As many as four others are set to stand trial this week—activists Gou Hongguo and Hu Shigen; lawyer ; and lawyer , director of the Beijing Fengrui law firm.

Ahead of this week’s trials, authorities announced the release of two detainees on bail. Twenty-five-year-old legal assistant Zhao Wei and prominent rights lawyer Wang Yu, neither of whom can yet be confirmed to truly be free, were reportedly released following alleged confessions that similarly contained official language, blaming foreign forces for training members of China’s burgeoning civil society in attempt to destabilize China. Both of the confessions appear aimed at buttressing cases against other detained lawyers—Zhao’s against her former boss Li Heping, and Wang’s against her colleague Zhou Shifeng—both expected to stand trial this week.

At The Washington Post, Simon Denyer reports on additional propaganda accompanying this week’s trials, including Wang Yu’s televised confession and Zhai’s court statement, seeking to establish Chinese human rights advocacy as a foreign plot to destabilize China:

[…In addition to ’s confession…t]wo other videos, released on the same day and widely shared on social media by the government and Communist Party, accused “diehard lawyers” — and Wang in particular — of being part of a Western-backed plot to topple the government.

[…]The twin videos, shared by the Communist Youth League and government agencies including police departments and courts, drove that point home with gusto.

The first, viewed more than 6 million times by late Tuesday, included images of chaos and destruction from Syria, Egypt, Libya and Ukraine, contending that countries stirred up by the United States “all sunk into war, turbulence and desperation.”

[…] The second video, with about 5 million views, specifically accused Wang of being bribed and wooed by foreigners “to provide bullets in the fermentation phase of the color revolution.” [Source]

The Los Angeles Times’ Julie Makinen reports on selective media presence and state media coverage of Zhai’s secret trial, and on earlier state media smears of Zhou:

Authorities have tried to give the proceedings an air of transparency by handpicking a few media outlets from Hong Kong and Taiwan to be present in the courtroom. But family members of the accused have complained that they have not been allowed to contact the defendants during their year-plus detention and that the defendants were not allowed to choose their attorneys.

Zhai Yanmin, 55, was sentenced Tuesday after a three-hour trial. The state-run newspaper China Daily said he had posted comments on the Internet that “harmed national security and social stability” and “organized protests to disturb the public order.”

[…] Last year, a number of state-run media outlets ran identical articles accusing Zhou and his lawyers of forming a “major criminal gang that organized and planned the creation of an uproar in more than 40 sensitive cases and that seriously disturbed social order.” The lawyers also sought to undermine the Communist Party and enrich themselves, the report claimed.

On Tuesday, foreign reporters who tried to enter the courtroom at the Tianjin Municipal No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court found roads near it sealed off, and they were met by a large number of police.

Some journalists were then taken by bus to a nearby hotel where they were allowed to watch a “live transcript” from the trial projected onto a screen. [Source]

More on state media coverage of the complete and expected secret trials this week from The Telegraph’s Neil Connor:

Zhai, aged 55, was associated with Beijing-based Fengrui, a law firm which specialised in rights cases that has been branded a “criminal  organisation” by state media.

Three lawyers at the firm – Hu Shigen, Zhou Shifeng and Li Heping – are also facing similar charges this week.

[…] The four “had conspired and plotted to subvert state power, and had ‘established a systematic ideology, method and steps to achieve it.’” state news agency Xinhua said on Tuesday.

Prominant Fengrui lawyer Wang Yu had been released earlier this month, state media said, and the Global Times newspaper on Tuesday quoted her saying she was “ashamed and remorseful” for her actions. [Source]