Jiang Tianyong, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer who was vanished by Chinese security authorities last year, was recently pressed with criminal charges.
Jiang, a Beijing-based rights defender, has defended China’s most vulnerable groups, including Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan protesters, and victims of the 2008 contaminated milk powder scandal.
Jiang disappeared on November 21 after attempting to visit detained human rights lawyer Xie Yang at the Changsha Detention Center. Xie was arrested in July 2015 as part of a crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists; Jiang had previously helped to publicize the so-called “709 incident.” Over 300 human rights defenders have been targeted by the Chinese authorities.
Six months after Jiang’s family lost contact with him, his father received an official statement from Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau on June 5 charging him with “subversion of state power,” according to his wife Jin Bianling. The charge, which is vaguely defined, is commonly used against human rights lawyers and activists in China.
In a recent interview with The Epoch Times, Jin said she was extremely concerned about her husband’s health, given the Chinese authorities track record of torturing political dissidents.
In March, a Chinese newspaper claimed that Jiang had confessed to fabricating stories that lawyer Xie Yang was tortured while in custody. Jiang’s wife and human rights groups have argued the interview was falsified.
Chinese state-run media often air interviews of accused rights defenders confessing to crimes or making uncharacteristic “patriotic” statements. Observers say that these interviews were likely given after severe abuse and coercion.
Prior to his arrest, Jiang had made a written declaration stating that “any renouncement, repentance, or promise that I make while in captivity are invalid,” according to Jin, Jiang’s wife. Many other rights lawyers and activists have also preemptively written disavowals of all confessions or statements they make under coercion.
When one of Jiang’s lawyers went to the Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau to request a meeting with his client on May 31, the authorities provided a written statement saying that Jiang had dismissed his family-appointed lawyers. In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Jin said the statement must have been written by Jiang after he was tortured.
It is common for authorities to block family-hired lawyers in politically sensitive cases, according to a recent report by the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group. For instance, family-appointed lawyers like Li Baiguang, Yang Jinzhu, and Ji Zhongjiu were all barred from defending their clients, who were human rights activists arrested as part of the 709 crackdown.
Jiang Tianyong taught in a middle school in China before practicing law in 2005. A longtime advocate of freedom, democracy, and human rights, Jiang took on many politically sensitive cases, including the defense of prominent dissident Gao Zhisheng and blind rights activist Chen Guancheng.
Although Jiang was disbarred in 2009 and repeatedly detained and beaten, he persisted with human rights activism.
One prominent incident took place in March 2014. Jiang and three other lawyers attempted to defend Falun Gong practitioners held at a notorious brainwashing center in Jiansanjiang, a city in northeastern China. The lawyers were eventually arrested by the police and tortured in detention; Jiang himself suffered eight broken ribs.
Jiang’s wife and daughter fled to the United States in 2013 to escape harassment from Chinese authorities.
Xu Xiuhui contributed to this report.