Xing Wangli, a rights activist in the central Chinese province of Henan, has been put on trial behind closed doors on charges of “defamation” after he supported human rights attorney Jiang Tianyong, who remains under house arrest following his release from prison.
Xing, who is currently being held at Henan’s Xi County Detention Center, stood trial by video link at the Xi County People’s Court on April 7 on charges of “defamation” after he posted an open letter accusing a local propaganda official of corruption and intimidation.
The court building was closed for business on Thursday, with a large police presence on the streets outside.
More than a dozen fellow activists went to support Xing, but they were prevented from approaching the building by court police, who deleted photos of the scene from their mobile phones.
Xing has been denied permission to meet with his lawyer, who didn’t receive a copy of the indictment until March 21, the U.S.-based rights group, the Dui Hua Foundation said in a statement on its website.
The authorities cited disease prevention restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, it said.
Blunt-force head injuries
Xing’s wife Xu Jincui was at the court to observe the trial, which was closed to journalists or members of the public.
“The prosecution accused Xing Wangli of continuing to speak out about the unusual deaths of two petitioners in Xi county: Diao Yanfang and Feng Guohui,” Xu told RFA. “[They] claimed that Xing Wangli instigated his son to participate in rights protection activities.”
“But more importantly, Xing Wangli said that the serious injuries he suffered were directly linked to three well-known local officials,” she said.
Xing suffered serious head injuries in 2016 while being held at Xi County Detention Center. He later said they were the result of an attack with a blunt weapon.
He has repeatedly requested an official probe into the incident via the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
Xing’s son Xing Jian, who now lives in New Zealand, said the authorities have claimed that the injuries were the result of a fall during a botched suicide attempt, and he said the video presented by the prosecution as evidence had likely been tampered with.
He said he believes the current prosecution was sparked by his father’s attempt to visit Jiang Tianyong.
“After my father was arrested, my mother was illegally detained many times by the local stability maintenance personnel,” Xing Jiang said. “During this period, these stability maintenance personnel also told my mother many times not to interact with [Jiang] in future, otherwise there will be endless trouble for her.”
“The authorities believe that lawyer Jiang Tianyong tried to subvert state power, saying that he is anti-party and anti-state, but I don’t think a regular lawyer could do that,” he said.
‘Picking quarrels and stirring up trouble’
He said an unidentified driver had scraped Xing’s lawyer’s car in the court parking lot on Thursday.
“[That kind of] psychological pressure would affect his performance in court,” Xing Jian said.
Xing was originally detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” in May 2021 after he tried to visit Jiang, who remains under house arrest, in April 2021.
He was formally arrested in June 2021, but for “defamation,” and indicted by the county prosecutor in January 2022.
While defamation cases in China have previously been private prosecution cases, new guidelines issued in 2013 paved the way for it to be brought as a criminal charge against people accused of “spreading disinformation or false accusations online can constitute criminal acts.
If a post deemed to contain disinformation or false accusations accrues more than 5,000 views or 500 reposts, then it is considered a “serious circumstance,” according to the U.S.-based rights group, the Duihua Foundation.
Jiang was “released” from prison in February 2019 at the end of a two-year jail term for “incitement to subvert state power,” a charge often used to imprison peaceful critics of the government.
He was allowed to return to his parents’ home in Luoyang, but remains under close surveillance and heavy restrictions.
Jiang’s U.S.-based wife Jin Bianling has repeatedly expressed concern for her husband’s health after he was tortured by cellmates during his time in detention.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.