Notable Chinese human rights activist Wu Gan was sentenced to eight years in jail last week on subversion charges. Also known by his online nickname, “Super Vulgar Butcher,” Wu was handed the toughest and longest sentence in a wave of politically driven trials. China recently launched an unprecedented attack on Chinese civil rights lawyers and human rights activists, detaining and interrogating nearly 250 people since July 2015. Known as the “709 crackdown,” or the “war on law,” many human rights groups have condemned the recent politically driven crackdown.
Wu, a 44-year-old administrator at a Beijing law firm, worked with people in criminal cases viewed as delicate and sensitive by the government. The court argued that Wu was “dissatisfied with the current system of governance, and that gradually produced thoughts of subverting state power.” Given his reputation among Chinese activists, human rights organisations argue that the authorities dealt Wu a harsh penalty to send a message to other activists in China.
Wu was well-known for fighting for the justice of those he perceived as victims of the state. In 2015, Wu fought for the family of Xu Chunhe, who was allegedly murdered by a police officer in the Heilongjiang province. In another case, Wu took a case of a rape victim who was charged with the murder of her assailant, a Communist Party official. His activism has also had a humorous tone by drawing the public’s attention with street performances and cyber-activism. In particular, Wu photo-shopped the faces of three Henan province officials on to pigs and uploaded the photos online with the caption, “World’s Most Wanted; Three Fat Pigs.”
The United States and Germany joined in a rare rebuke, calling on the Chinese Government to release the activist and view protesters as partners rather than opponents. In a joint statement, the two countries stated “We call the Chinese authorities to release Wu immediately. We urge Chinese authorities to view lawyers and rights defenders as partners in strengthening Chinese society through development of the rule of law.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not respond to the comment, but Beijing regularly condemns foreign statements regarding human rights cases as an interference in their state’s domestic affairs.
While Wu was detained, he claimed that he had been tortured and encouraged to appear on state television, which human rights groups claim are used to show forced confessions from defendants. Amnesty International called the court case a “cruel farce,” adding that it was “inconceivable that he will receive a fair hearing in what is a politically motivated prosecution.” China’s biased trials and politicisation of the sentencing of human rights activists are issues that must be further condemned by the international community, in order to ensure a just outcome both in the case of Wu Gan and other activists.