Authorities in southwest China’s Guangxi region have sentenced an outspoken human rights lawyer to three years in prison for “subversion” amid fears for his safety in custody.
The Yulin Intermediate People’s Court handed down the verdict on Chen Jiahong on Tuesday after finding him guilty of “inciting the subversion of state power.”
Chen’s ex-wife, Luo Fen, said Chen, a prominent critic of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, was not present at the sentencing hearing, but was connected via a video link from the detention center.
“Chen Jianhong was not in court, nor was he in person,” Lu told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday. He listened to the session via a video link from the detention center.”
She said there were concerns for his safety.
“Chen Jiahong revealed that he was beaten by gang members while in detention,” Lu said.
Lu Siwei, Chen’s former defense attorney, said Chen’s frankness likely angered the authorities.
“It’s a rather big mouth,” Lu said. “In terms of freedom of speech, you have to be able to say anything, but lawyers also need to use logic.”
“He has a very intense way of speaking and expresses himself through sarcasm, but none of that amounts to a crime,” he said.
On the tightly controlled Chinese web, Chen is famous for writing the slogan “Details of an assassination, liquidate this evil bureaucracy, promote democracy” in Chinese calligraphy, and post it on social media.
“I think the most important factor here is the line… I think the police are using it as evidence of criminal behaviour,” Lu said, adding that there was no lawyer present to represent Chen during Tuesday’s hearing.
“Lawyers can handle emerging situations as they arise in court, and they can keep family members informed,” he said. “But the most important thing is for the attorney to meet and guide the client, and ask if the client wants to appeal.”
“Defense attorneys should always be present in court in general to avoid creating procedural problems,” Lu said.
He said Chen likely struck a deal with the National Security Police, given the relative leniency of his sentence.
“You plead guilty, you don’t deal with them, and they find a way to give you a lighter punishment,” he said.
Chen rose to prominence in 2015, as police launched a nationwide operation targeting nearly 300 lawyers, law firms, and activists.
Later, he was surrounded by armed police during a confrontation related to the death of Guangxi villager Luo Jibiao, and his license to practice was taken away.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.