Wu Gan Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison

Activist Wu Gan, also known by his online moniker “Super Vulgar Butcher” (超级低俗屠夫), has been sentenced to eight years in prison for “subversion of state power.”  His sentencing, announced by authorities over the Christmas holiday period, follows a secretive trial in August, which came after two years of pretrial detention. Wu was detained in May 2015 in a precursor to the “Black Friday” or “709” crackdown on rights lawyers and —including many from the Beijing Fengrui law firm where Wu worked. His eight year sentence becomes the harshest to be given amid an ongoing crackdown on human rights activism and legal advocacy. At The New York Times, Chris Buckley reports on Wu’s style of advocacy and refusal to cooperate with authorities for a lesser sentence, and how his lengthy sentence represents the Xi administration’s short tolerance for rights activism:

[] became renowned among rights advocates for helping organize boisterous protests outside courthouses and government offices to support plaintiffs and defendants who accused officials of abusing their power. Mr. Wu, easily recognized by his shaven head and goatee, relied on social media, a wide and fluid network of online supporters and abrasive mockery to spread his message. He had humorously likened himself to a butcher disposing of foes of human rights.

The verdict underlined how under President Xi Jinping, determined activists like Mr. Wu, who once survived at the edges of official tolerance, have come under concerted attack from the police, prosecutors and courts, with the state news media often acting as a cheerleader.

[…] “I will never regret what I have done and the choices I have made up to now,” Mr. Wu said in the pretrial statement that human rights groups shared online.

He wrote: “I will be convicted not because I’m really guilty, but because I refused to accept a state-designated lawyer, would not plead guilty and go along with media propaganda, and insisted on exposing their savagery in torturing and abusing me, as well as the prosecutors’ cover-ups and dereliction of office.”

The Tianjin Second Intermediate People’s Court, where Mr. Wu stood trial, said he had “acknowledged that he had violated the criminal law.” But the court’s brief summary did not say Mr. Wu had pleaded guilty, and it noted that his lawyers disputed the prosecution’s case. Mr. Wu’s defense lawyers, Yan Xin and Ge Yongxi, refused to comment after the trial. [Source]

At The Guardian, Benjamin Haas quotes Amnesty International’s Patrick Poon castigating Chinese authorities for exploiting the holiday season vacuum of international attention to announce the verdict—a common trend:

Rights groups condemned the sentencing over the Christmas period, a common tactic for Chinese courts when sentencing high-profile dissidents. Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel peace prize laureate, who died in custody in July, was sentenced to 11 years for on Christmas Day 2009.

“It is disgraceful that the Chinese authorities have chosen the day after Christmas to deal with two of the remaining people left in legal limbo from the unprecedented July 2015 crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists,” said Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. “Carrying out unfair trials and politicized sentencing of human rights defenders at the very time when diplomats, journalists, international observers and the general public are less likely to be able to respond reeks of a cynical political calculation”.

“By trying to avoid scrutiny from the press and the international community, the Chinese government betrays the fact it knows well these sham trials cannot withstand scrutiny,” Poon added. [Source]

On Twitter, AFP correspondent Joanna Chiu notes that measures were taken to ensure nobody attempted to stage the type of protest Wu was known for outside of the courtroom where he was being sentenced:

Also on December 26, rights lawyer and Black Friday detainee was convicted of “inciting subversion.” Xie, who had pled guilty to his charges in May, was found guilty but not given prison term, highlighting authorities’ desire for cooperation. From the South China Morning Post’s Viola Zhou:

In separate trials, Wu was sentenced to eight years in prison – the harshest punishment of anyone interrogated or detained during the campaign – while Xie, who was released on bail earlier this year, was exempted from criminal punishment after pleading guilty to the charges.

Critics said the contrast in the two sentences was a clear warning to other activists not to challenge the authorities.

[…] In a video released by the court on Tuesday, Xie again denied he had been tortured and apologised for misleading the public.

“I am grateful to the judiciary for their lenient treatment. I will in the future be a citizen who follows discipline and obeys the law,” he said while holding a handwritten script.

“If you cooperate with the government, then you will be given a more lenient sentence and a so called more open trial,” [Amnesty’s] Poon said. “It is an alarming trend, because pushing people to confess in front of a camera is not how the rule of law should be practised.” [Source]