August 22, 2017 / 3:55 AM / 3 months ago

Chinese rights lawyer admits subversion in what wife calls show trial

(This version of the August 22 story corrects Jiang’s age to 46 from 64, in paragraph 2)

FILE PHOTO - Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up portraits of Chinese disbarred lawyer Jiang Tianyong, demanding his release, during a demonstration outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong, China December 23, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Christian Shepherd

BEIJING (Reuters) - A prominent former Chinese rights lawyer on trial for subverting state power on Tuesday said overseas workshops inspired him to try to overthrow China’s political system, in what his wife and activists said was a show trial designed to discredit him.

Jiang Tianyong, 46, who was disbarred in 2009 after he took on sensitive cases such as defending practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, disappeared last November while visiting the family of another detained rights lawyer, Xie Yang.

Jiang was formally charged with subversion more than six months later.

The court released a video on social media of Jiang reading parts of a written statement at the first hearing in his trial. Jiang said that he had sought to “overthrow the socialist system” after attending legal training sessions overseas.

“The workshops were mainly about Western constitutional system. They had an impact on me, helping develop ideas of overthrowing China’s system and implementing the Western system in China,” the state-backed Global Times reported him as saying in a section of the statement that was not released on video.

Jiang’s wife, Jin Bianling, who lives in the United States, told Reuters by phone that she considered the trial and the videos a “show” by authorities to make Jiang appear guilty.

Telephone calls to a publicly listed number for the courthouse were unanswered. The court said on social media that it had adjourned without giving a timeline for the verdict’s release or further hearings.

Cases like Jiang’s typically only involve a single hearing with a verdict being released at a later date.

“I call on the world and the United States government to pay attention and to make representations to China on the behalf of Jiang Tianyong,” Jin said.

“The only crime he is guilty of is helping his fellow lawyers. All the rest is nonsense,” she added.

The court released an online statement half an hour before the trial began on Tuesday saying it would live-stream what it called an “open” hearing, but the clips it posted were not streamed in real time.

Half a dozen diplomats who attempted to attend the trial were told the courtroom was full and were turned away, according to a western diplomat who was among them and declined to be named.

The Chinese authorities have video-streamed or live-blogged increasing numbers of court hearings in recent years as part of a push towards judicial transparency.

But rights activists say that in sensitive cases the hearings are only selectively made available when the defendant has already agreed to go along with a pre-prepared outcome.

ONGOING CRACKDOWN

Jiang had been outspoken in criticising an ongoing government crackdown on dissent that has seen hundreds of rights lawyers and activists sentenced or detained since mid-2015.

The government has said that those sentenced are criminals who endanger national security and social stability and that the cases are tried fairly in accordance with Chinese law.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty, Philip Alton, met with Jiang during a visit to China last year and has publicly expressed concern that Jiang’s disappearance was in part reprisal for their meeting.

Jiang had “seriously damaged national security and social stability” via his online activism, his calls for protests outside courtrooms, his participation in anti-China legal workshops overseas and his founding of a support group for rights lawyers, the prosecutor said in a video clip of the trial released by the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court.

In the court videos, Jiang rarely spoke, other than when reading the statement at the end of the hearing.

Jiang said he had no objections to the evidence brought against him and asked for leniency given his statements on Twitter and his online calls for action were often just personal comments that were not meant to be too serious or “hateful”.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Tony Munroe & Simon Cameron-Moore

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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