China jails prominent rights lawyer for 4½ years for subversion

A Chinese court on Monday jailed prominent rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang for four and a half years for subversion of state power.
Chinese police and security personnel surrounding Li Wenzu (centre), wife of prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, in Beijing on Dec 28, 2018. She shaved her head to protest against the treatment of her husband, who was sentenced to 4
Chinese police and security personnel surrounding Li Wenzu (centre), wife of prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, in Beijing on Dec 28, 2018. She shaved her head to protest against the treatment of her husband, who was sentenced to 4½ years in prison for state subversion on Jan 28, 2019.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A Chinese court on Monday (Jan 28) jailed prominent rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang for 4½ years for subversion of state power, it said online, after he was tried in a December hearing that rights groups called a sham.

Wang, who had taken on cases deemed sensitive by Chinese authorities, such as accusations of police torture or defending members of the banned Falungong spiritual movement, went missing in August 2015 amid a sweeping crackdown on rights activists and lawyers.

In a short statement on its website, the Tianjin Number 2 Intermediate People's Court in the northern port city of Tianjin released a verdict saying that Wang had been found guilty.

It was not possible to contact Wang for comment.

After his Dec 26 hearing, the United Nations called for Chinese authorities to "ensure his due process rights are respected" and said that there were "serious human rights concerns" about the way his case had been handled.

During his court appearance, Wang fired his state-appointed lawyer, according to his wife Li Wenzu, who was unable to attend, as she was barred from leaving her Beijing home by Chinese police and state security agents.

It is unclear whether Wang defended himself during the trial or whether he will appeal against the sentence.

Ms Li has vocally championed her husband's case in the three years since he went missing, staging a 100km march from Beijing to Tianjin, shaving her head to protest against his treatment and filing almost weekly petitions to the Supreme People's Court.

Wang's case has been shrouded in secrecy and uncertainty, as the authorities have released little information about his well-being and have denied access to Ms Li and the seven lawyers she has appointed to defend him.

One of the lawyers, Yu Wensheng, had been Wang's defence attorney before he was stripped of his licence and then arrested in January. He is now being investigated for "inciting subversion".

Police turned Western diplomats and foreign journalists away from the courthouse on the day of Wang's hearing and detained activist Yang Chunlin, who had travelled to Tianjin to support Wang.

An indictment document from 2017 said that Wang had "for a long time been influenced by infiltrating anti-China forces" and had been trained by overseas groups and accepted their funding.

China routinely rejects foreign criticism of its human rights record, saying all Chinese are treated equally in accordance with the law and that foreign countries have no right to interfere.