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Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up portraits of Chinese disbarred lawyer Jiang Tianyong, demanding his release, during a demonstration outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong, China December 23, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

Before he was detained last November, Chinese human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong warned his friends: “If I say things I don’t mean to when I am in jail, please must forgive me. …[Being tortured] was so painful.”

This week, after nine months in detention, a court in Hunan province tried Jiang on baseless charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” Throughout the proceedings, Jiang, who was allegedly tortured in detention, said many things in stark contrast to his usual views. He said his past activities included “attacking and smearing China’s justice system,” he admitted fabricating a fellow human rights lawyer’s claims of torture, and he praised the authorities for “sufficiently protecting all [his] lawful rights.” 

The day before the trial, Jin Bianling – Jiang’s wife who fled to the United States after years of police harassment – tweeted: “Please go and watch the performance of the government-assigned lawyers and judges.”  

The trial was indeed a “performance.” When it was underway, video clips of the proceedings were posted on the court’s official Weibo account, under which hundreds of comments quickly appeared praising the court for its fairness and transparency. But when one of Jiang’s supporters posted a comment urging his release, the post was quickly deleted.

Four days before the trial began, Henan police detained Jiang’s parents as they traveled to visit relatives, and held them incommunicado. Unexpectedly, the court’s Weibo account showed a photo of Jiang’s father listening carefully to the trial. A comment questioning the parents’ disappearance also vanished soon after it was posted.

When Jiang’s two lawyers appeared in the courtroom, it was the first time his wife Jin learned who they were. When the lawyers hired by Jiang’s family tried to visit him in detention back in June, authorities told them that Jiang had fired them and accepted lawyers the government had assigned to him instead.

And just to make sure no one disturbed the court “performance,” police took away and harassed Jiang’s activist and lawyer friends, closed surrounding roads, and blocked people from approaching the court building.

Like other Chinese activists before him, Jiang confessed only after being held incommunicado for a lengthy spell. Such “confessions” are invariably coerced, and combined with the bogus charges and the unfair trial, amount to a sham prosecution. It appears China’s authorities are as determined as ever to twist the justice system for their own ends. The court said a verdict would be announced at a later date. 

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