China yesterday sentenced an activist known by the online pseudonym “Super Vulgar Butcher” to eight years in prison, one of the harshest punishments meted out to the group of lawyers and activists swept up in a major crackdown on civil society two years ago.
The punishment handed to Wu Gan (吳淦), who refused to plead guilty to charges of “subverting state power,” was intended as an unmistakable signal to anyone who would dare to challenge the state’s authority, his lawyer said.
Wu was taken into custody in May 2015 just weeks before authorities unleashed a ruthless campaign later dubbed the “709” crackdown, rounding up more than 200 people involved in activities considered sensitive by the Chinese Communist Party.
The outspoken social media figure had attracted authorities’ attention with performance art and caustic commentary on Chinese society and politics that he published online.
A court in Tianjin said Wu was “dissatisfied with the current system of governance, and that gradually produced thoughts of subverting state power.”
By “hyping up hot incidents ... [Wu] attacked the national system that is the basis for state authority and the constitution,” it said.
Wu also “spread fake information” and “insulted others online,” the statement said.
The prominent activist became the subject of the state’s ire for using his larger-than-life online persona to draw public attention to human rights cases.
He called himself “butcher” because he saw himself as taking the fight to the authorities, promising to “slaughter the pigs.”
He later added “super vulgar” to his handle in response to complaints about his use of crude language to make his case.
His bold approach to seeking justice for those he saw as wronged by the government attracted praise from rights defenders, but was unpopular with the authorities, who saw him as a thorn in their side.
He was “a representative figure in leading actions to support other human rights defenders and significant human rights cases outside court,” said Patrick Poon (潘嘉偉), a China researcher at Amnesty International.
Wu’s lawyer, Yan Xin (燕薪), said the sentence was aimed at setting “an example so other activists will say they are guilty when accused of crimes against the state.”
“It’s clear [Wu] was sentenced so harshly because he refused to plead guilty,” he said.
The government’s message to dissidents was highlighted by a very different sentence passed down on the same day for another figure who was also caught up in the “709” crackdown.
A court in Changsha exempted former human rights lawyer Xie Yang (謝陽) from serving a sentence after he pleaded guilty to “inciting subversion of state power.”
He had worked on numerous politically sensitive cases, such as defending mainland supporters of Hong Kong democracy activists.
Xie was released on bail in May after what critics described as a show trial.
Xie had previously claimed that police used “sleep deprivation, long interrogations, beatings, death threats, humiliations” on him, allegations that became the focus of a rare letter by a number of Western embassies in Beijing directly criticizing the government’s handling of the case.
However, he yesterday denied he had been tortured, according to a video on the court’s official social media account.
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