A court in China has held a closed door hearing for prominent rights activist Wu Gan, with legal observers saying a ruling in the case could be handed down in about a week.
They say Wu, who is best known for his mockery of official efforts to obstruct his push for justice, and his online name "The Butcher," could face up to 10 years in prison.
Formerly a military man, Wu, 44, rose to prominence for his unconventional advocacy campaigns that combined online speech, humorous satire and street performance.
Wu was first taken into custody in May 2015 after he allegedly cursed at the head of the court in Nanchang, Jiangxi. Two months later, Wu was officially charged with “inciting state subversion.”
But, his detention is believed to be tied to the July 9 Crackdown on rights lawyers that began the same month. Wu worked in an investigative capacity for the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, the main target of the crackdown.
A secret trial
Wu’s trial on Monday was not open to the public because “state secrets” were involved, the court in Tianjin said in a post-trial statement published on its Weibo account.
According to the statement, during the proceeding Wu “recognized” that his behavior was a crime and that his lawyers fully presented their defense arguments.
“A verdict would be handed down at a later date,” the statement added.
Prior to his trial, Wu issued a statement that was published online by his father.
In his statement, Wu said he expects “a heavy sentence” because of his acts of defiance, including his refusal to accept a state-appointed lawyer, plead guilty and make a televised confession for authorities’ propaganda purposes, as well as his determination to reveal the police’s torture on him.
He described Monday’s trial as a “farce” and said he would refuse to speak in his own defense.
An innocent man
“An innocent person doesn’t need to defend himself,” Wu said in the statement.
Wu added he has done nothing wrong but to exercise his civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution, referring to those 12 crimes he was accused of.
“My crime of subverting the Communist regime is a great honor… A guilty verdict issued by a dictatorial regime is a golden glittering trophy awarded to warriors for liberty and democracy,” he added.
You Minglei, a legal assistant and close friend to the defendant, said Wu will likely be given a 7- to 10-year sentence as "the state’s hatred for him has gone off the charts."
“Authorities have long held a grudge against him because of his pursuit of illegal misconduct by local governments or public office holders and his use of cyber manhunts or a wanted list of ‘pigs to be butchered’,” You told VOA.
“His past articles including ‘Guides to Butchering Pigs’ and ‘Guides to Drinking Tea’ in defiance of the state has also drawn the ire of the authorities,” You added.
You called Wu a tough man, who will never comprise in exchange for a lenient jail term.
He said he expects a verdict to be reached “in about a week” although any delay is also possible.
Wu’s lawyer, Ge Yongxi, also told VOA that a verdict should be handed down “soon,” although it was “inconvenient” for him to comment on the case now.
Jerome Cohen, a law professor at New York University, called Wu’s pre-trial statement one of the most moving and accurate descriptions he’s ever read of China’s manipulation of its legal system to stamp out speech freedom.
“This account of his personal experience encapsulates virtually all the abuses the Xi Jinping regime has been committing against human rights activists,” the professor said in his blog, adding that “It is tragic testimony to the pathetic attempts of the Communist Party to drape its oppression in the mantle of ‘law’.”
The saddest aspects, he added, are its reminder of the forced collaboration between the country’s judges and legal apparatuses in suppressing its people’s constitutionally-prescribed civil rights and freedom.
Monday’s secret trial was heavily guarded by the police in Tianjin.
Several China-based diplomats and journalists were barred from observing the trial and even standing outside the courthouse. In response to their efforts to cover the trial, a VOA journalist and his news assistant were taken to a nearby police station for questioning for nearly five hours.
Before the trial on Monday, a group of 21 of Wu’s supporters, including Zhu Chengzhu and Wang Lihong, were reportedly apprehended by plain-clothed police and taken to a nearby police station.
“I’ve now arrived at a detention center, along with Wang Lihong, just the two of us. The detention center’s [officers] have come. I won’t be allowed to talk on my cell phone. That’s it for now,” Zhu told VOA before he hung up.
According to an online report, Zhu has been released but is under police control in Hunan on Tuesday. According to You, Wu’s father is under police control in his hometown of Fuqing City in Fujian Province.