China jails prominent rights lawyer for 4-1/2 years for subversion
Li Wenzu, the wife of prominent Chinese rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, holds a box with a family picture and the detention notice for her husband before shaving her head in protest in Beijing, China, December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

A Chinese court on Monday jailed prominent rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang for 4-1/2 years for subversion of state power. Human Rights Watch said the sentencing made a “mockery” of the Chinese leadership’s claims to champion the rule of law.

Wang, who had taken on cases deemed sensitive by Chinese authorities, such as accusations of police torture or defending members of the banned Falun Gong 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 Yang had been found guilty.

It is not possible to contact Wang for comment.

After Wang’s 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.

The verdict makes a “mockery” of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s claims to champion the rule of law, Yaqiu Wang, a Hong Kong-based Human Rights Watch researcher said in a statement.

China’s criminal law requires that time suspects spend in detention prior to being sentenced be deducted from jail time, meaning Wang should be released earlier than his sentenced time period, she added.

China’s Justice Ministry did not respond to a faxed request for comment on the case.

During his court appearance, Wang fired his state-appointed lawyer, according to Li Wenzu, his wife, who was unable to attend due to being 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 the sentence.

Li has vocally championed her husband’s case in the three years since he went missing, staging a 100 km (62 miles) march from Beijing to Tianjin, shaving her head to protest his treatment and filing almost weekly petitions to the Supreme People’s Court.

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

One of the lawyers, Yu Wensheng, had been Wang’s defense attorney, before he was stripped of his license 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 activists Yang Chunlin, who had traveled 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.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Michael Perry