A court in China on Dec. 26 convicted a prominent online activist and a human rights lawyer on subversion charges, after holding them for two years. Activist Wu Gan, known on social media as "Super Vulgar Butcher," and lawyer Xie Yang, were arrested during the "Black Friday" or "709 Crackdown" on rights campaigners and their supporters in 2015. In separate trials, Wu was sentenced to eight years in prison—the harshest term yet for anyone targeted in the crackdown—while Xie was exempted from criminal punishment after pleading guilty to the charges. He was released on bail earlier this year. In its verdict, the Tianjin No 2 Intermediate People's Court said that Wu had attempted to overthrow China's system by conspiring with "illegal religious practitioners," "professional petitioners" and lawyers. The statement said Wu and his co-conspirators "use 'defending rights' and 'performance arts' as a disguise…to defame state institutions and attack the national system set by the constitution."
Human rights monitors said that Wu's irreverent cyber-dissidence and mediagenic protest tactics made him a special threat. “He became so popular among the grass-roots activists,” Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Amnesty International, said of Wu. "The authorities wanted to deal a heavy blow to scare off other activists." (SCMP)
Wu's trial opened this August, on charges of "subversion of state power." Three years before his 2015 arrest, he had recorded a video in which he he anticipated his fate. "It's dangerous to take on these cases in China," he said. "First, I declare that I won’t commit suicide. Second, I've always stayed within the law and didn't engage in any illegal activities."
There's a particular irony to Wu's harsh sentence, as he made protesting transgressions of justice in China's court system his special cause. For instance, he took up the case of a rape victim who had killed her assailant, a Communist Party official, by stabbing him with a fruit knife. He also followed the example of online activists in the West by posting videos of police abuses. (NYT, Dec. 25; BBC News, Aug. 14; China Digital Times profile)