A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer was sentenced to two years in prison for “inciting subversion” on Tuesday, the latest jailing in an intensifying crackdown on rights defenders under newly empowered President Xi Jinping.
Germany and human rights groups condemned the jailing of Jiang Tianyong, 46, who had taken on many high-profile cases including those of Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan protesters and victims of the 2008 contaminated milk powder scandal, before being disbarred in 2009.
Jiang’s sentence is the most high-profile jailing since Xi confirmed his status as China’s most powerful leader in a generation at a Communist Party congress last month.
Jiang sat in court flanked by two police officers as a judge read the sentence and told him he would also be deprived of political rights for three years, according to a video released by the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court.
The court accused him of “inciting subversion of state power” and defaming the government, following a trial that Amnesty International on Tuesday called a “total sham”.
“Jiang Tianyong has long been infiltrated and influenced by anti-China forces and gradually formed the idea of overthrowing the existing political system of the country,” the judge said.
The court said he had gone abroad for training on how to accomplish the goal and “applied for financial support from foreign anti-China forces”.
German Ambassador to China Michael Clauss expressed “serious concerns about the lawfulness of the legal proceedings”, saying in a statement the trial’s circumstances “certainly called into question the fairness of the verdict”.
Germany will “continue to take an active interest in his fate,” he added.
In the years leading up to his detention, Jiang had repeatedly met with foreign officials and politicians to discuss China’s human rights situation.
The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights has said he feared Jiang’s previous disappearance was in part retaliation for the lawyer’s assistance to UN experts.
Jiang’s family has been unable to contact him since his sudden disappearance last November en route from Beijing to Changsha, where he had gone to inquire about detained human rights lawyer Xie Yang.
Xie was detained in the so-called “709 crackdown” of July 2015, and his claims of being tortured in custody, which Jiang helped to publicise, prompted international concern.
In that crackdown, more than 200 people were detained, including lawyers who took on civil rights cases considered sensitive by the ruling Communist Party.