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Activist Confesses to Subversion in Chinese Show Trial

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After spending months in secret detention, a prominent human rights attorney confessed to trying to overthrow the government of China.
BEIJING — A Chinese human rights attorney, who rose to prominence defending other activists, confessed to trying to overthrow the Communist Party on Tuesday, in a trial reported across the country and choreographed as an attack on liberal political ideas.
The attorney, Jiang Tianyong, was well known for his vociferous support of dissidents amid a nationwide crackdown on dissent. But at his trial in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province in southern China, which was streamed live on the internet and shown on television news, a soft-spoken Mr. Jiang appeared defeated.
He pleaded guilty to inciting subversion of the state, voiced contrition in a calm, practiced voice, and asked for mercy. His wife and supporters said his confession was forced and possibly the result of torture after nearly a year in secret detention.
At trial, Mr. Jiang said he had been led astray by indoctrination in Western notions of the rule of law.
“What was the contents of the training?” a prosecutor asked Mr. Jiang, in proceedings broadcast on Weibo, China’s hugely popular social media network.
“It was mainly about the bourgeois Western constitutional system, ” Mr. Jiang said. “It certainly had a subliminal influence on me. It gave me ideas about overturning our country’s present political system and introducing their political system into our country.”
The trial was a vivid illustration of President Xi Jinping ’s efforts to discredit domestic critics, especially human rights activists, by depicting them as members of a conspiracy whose goal is toppling the Communist Party.
The televised drama of this and similar trials served as a “shock and a warning” to other Chinese human rights advocates, said Eva Pils, a law scholar at King’s College London who studies China’s human rights lawyers.
“To a wider TV audience, it is meant to discredit human rights defenders as people who fabricate stories that smear the image of the motherland for their own personal gain or self-promotion, ” Ms. Pils said by email. “Over all, it has the effect of giving one a sense that the authorities are in control of the truth.”
The party has long cast dissidents as puppets of shadowy, hostile forces backed by the West.

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