A well-known Chinese human rights lawyer was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison on a vague charge of inciting subversion, the most recent sign of the communist country's crackdown on activism that has drawn international condemnation.
The Intermediate People's Court in the central city of Changsha handed down the verdict against activist Jiang Tianyong at a brief hearing, according to an online announcement posted by the court.
The court posted a video of Jiang in a black down jacket sitting in the courtroom listening stoically as a judge read the verdict.
The court said Jiang would not appeal the sentence, though it was unclear from the court video if Jiang had said so. Jiang's court-appointed lawyer did not answer repeated phone calls.
"This entire legal process is arranged by the government. So I don't accept Jiang pleading guilty and the guilty verdict," Jiang's wife, Jin Bianling, said by phone from Los Angeles, where she has lived with her daughter since 2013 to avoid Chinese government harassment.
Prosecutors accused Jiang of using social media platforms to denigrate the government and judicial authorities and said he incited others to subvert state power, including fabricating claims that another lawyer had allegedly been tortured in custody.
Rights groups and some Western governments have said the trial was a sham and that Jiang was caught as part of a campaign aimed at snuffing out any opposition to the ruling Communist Party.
The verdict was criticized by Germany's ambassador to China, Michael Clauss, who noted that Jiang had been denied access to lawyers of his own choosing.
"The circumstances and the lack of regard for the rights of the defendant certainly call into question the fairness of the verdict," Clauss said in a statement issued by the embassy, also noting that Berlin will raise Jiang's case in high-level meetings with China.
Courts in China are controlled by the Communist Party and convictions are virtually assured. Human rights groups say the extraction of coerced confessions, sometimes through the use of physical and psychological torture, is common, despite being banned by Chinese law.
Jiang's wife said she had heard that during his yearlong detention he had suffered torture and other abuse that forced him to make a clearly scripted confession.
“As the Chinese saying goes, kill the chicken to frighten the monkey. [Authorities] are using Jiang’s case to tell other rights lawyers to behave themselves, or face the same consequences Jiang is facing. I think it sends a warning,” Jin told Voice of America News.
Jin said Jiang suffers from high blood pressure and she was concerned his health will deteriorate in prison. Jin expects that because he was detained a year ago, he will serve another year before his release. But she said she will continue to fight for his freedom.
"I'm confident that we will reunite one day. I won't give up," she said.
Jiang was a lawyer who defended politically sensitive clients such as the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng and followers of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual group, before authorities refused to renew his license to practice law in 2009. Just prior to his arrest, he worked to publicize the plight of lawyers arrested in a sweeping crackdown on legal activists that began in July 2015.
Jiang met with the wife of lawyer Xie Yang months before she released her husband's account of being beaten, deprived of sleep and otherwise tortured while in detention — drawing further condemnation of Beijing by Western governments. Xie's wife and two children later fled the country.
Xie was released in May after pleading guilty to charges of incitement to subversion and disturbing legal proceedings. Activists say he remains closely monitored.
Jiang had been taken away by state security agents in November last year and in March purportedly gave an interview to a state newspaper and was shown on state TV saying that he had made up the story of Xie's torture.
Rights group Amnesty International called Jiang's sentence baseless.
"His so-called confession and apology, most likely extracted under duress, were nothing more than an act of political theater directed by the authorities," said William Nee, a China researcher for the group.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.