A court in southern China has sentenced one of the country’s most adamant human rights activists to eight years in prison for essays he wrote and a website he created, in the latest blow. ruling Communist Party’s warning against political dissent.
The activist, Yang Maodong, was detained in 2021 when he tried to fly to the United States to be with his wife, who was seriously ill. Mr Yang – better known by his pseudonym, Guo Feixiong – was sentenced after a one-day trial on Thursday in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province. He was charged with “inciting the subversion of state power”.
A guilty verdict from the Communist Party-controlled court seemed assured, but the speed of Mr. Yang’s sentencing and sentencing took his supporters by surprise. Chinese courts often wait a week or more after a trial before announcing a decision. Mr. Yang was sentenced after a morning hearing that lasted about two hours.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, in power for the past decade, has beefed up and emboldened the security apparatus to eliminate any perceived threat to party power. Police quickly quelled an outbreak of protests against harsh ‘zero Covid’ restrictions in late October last year, when some demonstrators denounced Mr Xi and the party.
But Mr. Xi and other leaders appear determined to ensure that no lingering spark of opposition has a chance to ignite broader opposition. Yang’s sentencing came a month after another Chinese court sentenced two prominent human rights lawyersXu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, to 14 years and 12 years in prison.
In charging Mr. Yang with inciting subversion — a vague charge that amounts to denouncing the Communist Party — prosecutors cited essays Mr. Yang had written over many years, as well as a pro-democracy website that he helped create and an interview he gave, Mr. Yang’s brother, Yang Maoquan, said in a statement posted online.
According to the brother’s account of the proceedings, prosecutors said Mr. Yang’s statements amounted to “a long-term attack and defamation of the Chinese political system, inciting others to overthrow state power.” Yang Maoquan’s account was confirmed by Mr. Yang’s sister, Yang Maoping, who was not at the trial but spoke to people present. Mr. Yang’s attorney, Zhang Lei, declined to comment.
“He didn’t knock anyone down,” Ms. Yang, the sister, said in a phone interview on Friday. “Who has the strength to overthrow a country as big as this? Is it unacceptable to say only a few words? »
Yet Mr. Yang, 56, appeared rebellious, even as he faced his third stint in prison. He started reading a long statement he had prepared for the trial that defended his activism and ideals, but a judge ordered him to stop after a few minutes. The statement was posted by Yibaoan overseas Chinese website, and corroborated by Mr. Yang’s sister.
Since joining the protests in the 1980s, Yang said in his statement, “My creed and political ideals have never changed: that China fully realize genuine freedom, democracy, human rights people and the rule of law. It is the original, fundamental and ultimate intention of all my social, intellectual and academic activities.
Mr. Yang was one of toughest opponents of an authoritarian regime. He became widely known in activist circles in 2005, when he helped organize villagers in southern China to protest against land seizures whom they called corrupt and unjust.
He was sentenced to prison in 2007 for illegal business activities related to publishing (Mr. Yang also wrote science fiction novels.). After his release, he resumed his political activities, and in 2013 joined the Southern Weekend newspaper protests in Guangzhou, where journalists had denounced tougher censorship under Mr. Xi.
Mr. Yang was sentenced to six years in prison in 2015 accused of disturbing public order and “fomenting quarrels and causing trouble” for his role in the protest against newspapers and for supporting a campaign for China to ratify an international human rights covenant.
It was detained again in January 2021 when he sought to fly to the United States, where his wife, Zhang Qing, was terminally ill with cancer. She and their two children moved there in 2009.
“He just wanted to visit his sick wife, fearing he might never see her again in this life,” said Zan Aizong, a friend of Mr Yang in eastern China who recalls meeting him in late 2021. and discussing his plans to reach the United States. “I guessed he wouldn’t be allowed to leave, but he was very confident he could see her, because it was outright humanitarianism.”
Mr. Yang went to Shanghai, hoping to catch a flight to San Francisco. But airport officials told him that as a “national security risk” he could not board the plane, Yang said at the time. He has been detained ever since. Her wife died nearly a year after Mr. Yang’s escape attempt.
Even in detention, Mr. Yang defied the authorities, appearing emaciated from frequent hunger strikes, his sister, Ms. Yang, said. She said she was worried about whether he could endure years of detention before his possible release. Even after his official release from prison, he is likely to suffer oppressive informal confinement, like many other dissidents.
“I’m really, really worried,” Ms. Yang said.