Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Goes on Trial, Wife Suspects Coercion in Guilty Plea
Update: As of Aug. 23, the day after Jiang Tianyong’s trial, his wife Jin Bianling stated that she has been unable to make contact with him.
Prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong was put on trial Tuesday, Aug. 22 for “subversion of state power.”
Jiang read a statement confessing his crimes, but his wife Jin Bianling, told the Chinese language version of NTD TV that she considered it a show trial and that Jiang had been tortured into pleading guilty.
Jiang disappeared in Nov. 2016 after visiting another human rights lawyer, Xie Yang, who had been detained in what has come to be called the “709 Crackdown”—so-named because the roundup of lawyers began two years ago on July 9.
Six months after his disappearance, Jiang’s father received a letter from the Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau that his son had been charged with “subversion of state power.”
Jiang has a history of defending persecuted groups such as underground Christians, Tibetans, and Falun Gong practitioners, and had taken on high-profile cases such as that of the Nobel Peace Prize nominated rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, and blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng.
Before Jiang’s trial, his parents were taken into custody, a common tactic in China used to pressure those who refuse to toe the Party line. His father was brought to the detention center to help pressure his son into plead guilty.
Jin tweeted a photo of that encounter:
Jiang’s wife, Jin Bianling, decried Chinese authorities for not telling her if her husband was assigned a defense lawyer, and if so, who it might be.
Knowing well the CCP’s tactics, before Jiang was arrested he penned a letter to make clear to the world his true intentions. His wife retweeted that letter after Tuesday’s show trial:
“Those who can protect me have all been detained. Now it’s my turn. Yesterday I signed a letter of declaration:
1. I definitely will not commit suicide.
2. I have entrusted a lawyer. I will definitely hire a lawyer. I decline to use an officially assigned lawyer.
3. My body is made of flesh and blood. It [my body] isn’t that strong. Any abandonment, repentance, and commitment I make in a non-free state are invalid.”
The trial was held at Changsha Intermediate People’s Court. Videos posted by Chinese netizens show the wife of human rights lawyer Li Heping and the wife of human rights activist Zhai Yanmin being taken away by security for attempting to attend the trial.
Reuters reported an anonymous Western diplomat saying that a handful of diplomats who also tried to attend the trial were told that the room was full and were turned away.
The court released a video of the trial on Chinese social media Weibo.
In the video, Jiang can be seen reading parts of a written statement in which he admits to using social media to criticize the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and seeking to “overthrow the socialist system” after going abroad and attending legal training sessions.
Jin Bianling, who fled with her daughter to the United States in 2013, told NTD Television that Jiang must have endured unbearable torture to have pleaded guilty.
“You can see at the beginning of the trial, when Jiang Tianyong was brought into the court, his face was red the whole time,” she said. “Either he was tortured or he was force-fed drugs.”
If true, this wouldn’t be unprecedented.
Other human rights lawyers and activists who were arrested during the 709 Crackdown have told the media that they were tortured during detention, and some were injected with nerve-damaging drugs.
Jin demanded that the court acquit her husband and refused to recognize any verdict that declared him guilty.
On Aug. 19, Jiang’s wife and family members of two other persecuted activists, released a joint statement standing up to the CCP and vowing not to give up:
“As 709 family members, we have become more and more clearheaded over the last two years. As for harassment and deception from officials, we feel it is laughable. You deceive when you can’t harass any more. When you can’t deceive, you use violence directly. Haven’t you heard? Those who use the sword will die by the sword. You use harassment, deception, and violence on those who call attention to their family members, then you will definitely receive harassment, deception, and violence as retribution in the future.”
“Regardless of what tricks you use, we will firmly adhere to one principle: If our family members aren’t returned home, our whole body of 709 family members won’t give up,” the statement continues.
The eight signatories were calling specific attention to Jiang, human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, and the father of human rights activist Wu Gan who was abducted by police shortly before Wu Gan was to go to trial.
Wang was arrested in the 709 Crackdown, and has been held in detention on charges of being a “threat to national security.” He hasn’t been heard from or seen since his arrest in August 2015.
Despite the Chinese regime’s distaste for his activities, Wang was recently nominated for the Dutch government’s Human Rights Tulip award for his advocacy work.
He has defended persecuted groups such as underground Christians and Falun Gong practitioners, and has worked with self-taught paralegals, or “barefoot lawyers,” and human rights activists to defend the disenfranchised.
His wife has tried to sue Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court for not following legal procedures in his case. She says the court had six months to try him or ask for a postponement, and has done neither.
But after 14 tries to enter China’s Supreme Court, she hasn’t been successful in filing the lawsuit.
A day before releasing the joint statement, she posted a video on Twitter of herself trying to get past a Supreme Court bailiff. In the video, the bailiff blocks her way, denying her access to the building.
Wang Quanzhang’s lawyer, Yu Wensheng, said attempts to meet with officials from the Tianjin court have also been unsuccessful, and said he wasn’t even able able to finish filing his defense papers at the court.
“They are not being reasonable at all,” he said.
In their joint statement, the families called for justice for all the lawyers and activists who were rounded up in the 709 Crackdown, and demanded their release.