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China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group: Statement Upon the Trial of Jiang Tianyong

 (23 August 2017) Lawyer Jiang Tianyong [1] disappeared on 21 November 2016.  After the many attempts of his family and friends trying to locate him, the public security bureau finally admitted at the end of the same year that Jiang was held under “residential surveillance at designated location”, a form of compulsory criminal measure in China.  Jiang was formally arrested on 31 May 2017. After a detention incommunicado of 274 days, his trial took place yesterday in the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court (the Court).

We refer to the development of the case, respective arrangements in the court trial and the video clips of the trial released by the authorities and note that the Court has seriously violated several basic principles for fair trial. The China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (the Concern Group) maintains that Jiang Tianyong was not given effective defence in the trial and his basic rights largely have been trespassed.  The Court has no credibility in its trial of Jiang Tianyong.

  1. The trial was manipulated and the public were deliberately barred from attending it

The Chinese law obliges courts to publicise information of court trial 3 days in advance, a provision obviously not complied with in the trial of Jiang.  On the one hand, the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court gave notification of the trial via its official weibo and its public announcement board only 30 minutes prior to it; while on the other, the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing took it to their hands to invite selective press from outside China to attend the hearing.

Before the trial, some of Jiang’s closest friends were restrained in liberty of movement and put under surveillance.  On Friday 18 August, police was sent to Jiang’s hometown in Henan to put his parents and younger sister under illegal detention.  They soon took the parents Changsha by force, ignoring their strong request to travel with Jiang’s self-appointed lawyers and forbidding them any communication with the others.

On the day of the trial, the areas around the Court were road-blocked with police officers in plain clothes to stop citizens, rights lawyers and diplomats from sitting in the hearing.  It turned out to become even more astonishing was that ticket to Jiang’s trial were distributed by the Political and Legal Affairs Commission, an organ under the CCP, rather than done by the Court as its normal legal duty.

The maneouvres have clearly showed the authorities’ intention to bar the public from attending the hearing while at the same time deliberately create an illusion of “open trial”.  One can only conclude that Jiang Tianyong trial has been highly engineered.

  1. State-appointed lawyers

Qin Chenshou and Chen Jinxue have been the two lawyers appointed by Jiang’s family.  They however were never allowed to meet Jiang, and were later claimed by the authorities to have been dismissed through procedures which have remained murky and lacking legal basis. 

Taking reference of the tactics used by the authorities in the other cases of the 709 Crackdown, the Concern Group is strongly convinced that the two lawyers who turned up in the Court yesterday was state-appointed.  Jiang’s right to justice has not been protected as neither he nor his family was allowed to choose the defence counsel of preference. With members of the public excluded and the trial broadcasted only by incomplete video clips, it is very hard for the public to trust that the trial was fair and just.

  1. Weak evidence and trump up charges

The so-called evidence for the alleged crime of “inciting subversion of state power”, as presented by the prosecutor against Jiang Tianyong in the trial, included:  his speech on social media, interviews with foreign press and organising support for the victims of the 709 Crackdowns

The Concern Group underlines that to comment on policies and social issues of concern should form part of the freedom of expression guaranteed as constitutional right in China.  In the case of Jiang, the authorities have failed to demonstrate how Jiang’s comments have, in effect or in action, amounted to incitement of subversion.   The Concern Group takes reference of the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information [2] to highlight that no one shall be convicted for endangering state security by virtue of exercising his or her rights to freedom of expression, including one’s criticisms of the government, government departments and officials. (Principles 2, 6 &7)

The Concern Group has also noted that another allegation made against Jiang was his meetings with diplomatic officials.  In a recent statement, Mr. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteurs on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, has raised concerns that Jiang’s detention was in part a reprisal by the authorities against Jiang for his cooperation with the UN during Alston’s visit to China in August 2016.  The trial of Jiang yesterday has confirmed the worry of Mr. Alston.

Using state security as a pretext to trump up charges is not uncommon in China.  The Concern Group believes that the prosecution of Jiang Tianyong is intended by the authorities as an example to caution the civil society to keep silent.  We urge the Court not to accept the procuratorate’s allegations against Jiang for conviction.

  1. The confession after the prolonged detention incommunicado

Jiang “pleaded guilty” and “expressed his remorse” in the trial, however, the Concern Group has drawn attention to the circumstance of his confession.  He had been detained incommunicado for over 9 months with occasional news of torture received by his family.  While under full control of the authorities, he had also been put on the state-media to self-incriminate.  Just like the other victims in the 709 Crackdown, the rights to defence and to access lawyers have never been protected.

The Concern Group has reasonable doubt that Jiang’s confession was borne out of intimidation or even torture.

  1. A scapegoat for the authorities to evade from their accountability in the case of torture of Xie Yang

This has been another show trial after the ones of Zhou Shifeng, Gou Hongguo and Xie Yang.  Jiang “admitted” having fabricated the stories of Xie Yang’s torture in the hearing in the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court which has largely ignored the principles of a fair and open trial.

In this regard, the Concern Group notes that the law enforcing authorities in China have been notorious for their use of torture against human rights defenders and political dissidents.  The victims in the 709 Crackdown have also unveiled episodes of their ordeals during detention.  While Xie Yang was made to deny having suffered torture, Jiang Tianyong “accepted the liability of having fabricated” the stories of Xie’s torture  - at a time when both were put under the absolute control of the authorities.

Serious concerns should be raised to the authorities’ attempt to evade their accountability for failing to prevent torture and to hold its perpetrators criminally accountable by scapegoating Jiang Tianyong.   In so doing, the authorities also sidelined the much desired investigation into Xie’s complaints of torture and the need to provide an explanation in face of the international community including the UN Committee Against Torture.

The Concern Group maintains that as the Court has violated the Chinese Constitution, the domestic as well as international law; the trial could not be deemed just and open.

The Concern Group strongly demands the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court to give Jiang a non-guilty verdict and immediately release him.  It is also imperative that law enforcers committing the irregularities and violations of the criminal procedure should be pursed.

The Concern Group also called on the international community not to be deceived by the illustrations and rhetoric of the rule according to law, but follow closely and speak up on the case of Jiang Tianyong and that of Wang Quanzhang’s.


[1] Jiang Tianyong, despite disbarred by the Chinese authorities in 2009 as a result of his work defending human rights, has been respected as a lawyers by his counterparts in the country.

[2] U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1996/39 (1996)