A prominent Chinese legal activist “confessed” to charges of inciting subversion of state power in court on Tuesday.

A prominent rights defence figure in China, Jiang previously worked on numerous high-profile cases, including defending activist Cheng Guangcheng and lawyer Gao Zhisheng before he was disbarred in 2009. Most recently, he advocated for the families affected by China’s crackdown on lawyers and rights activists that started in 2015 – dubbed the “709 crackdown.”

His family has not been able to contact Jiang since November, when he disappeared prior to boarding a train for Beijing from the central city of Changsha, where he was enquiring about detained human rights lawyer Xie Yang. His disappearance drew international concern.

Jiang Tianyong during his trial. Photo: Screenshot.

During the trial, Jiang admitted that he organised an effort to spread rumours about mistreatment Xie endured in prison.

“On the matter of Xie Yang’s torture, I indeed feel that I must take responsibility,” he said.

In March, state broadcaster CCTV aired a video of Jiang in which he said he had fabricated news of Xie Yang’s torture to curry favour with Western media.

During the trial, the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court examined evidence including Jiang’s tweets, his activity on microblogging site Weibo and messaging app WeChat, as well as communication with the families of those detained in the “709 crackdown” via Telegram.

“I feel ashamed and regretful about my past actions… I am very regretful and am willing to admit my crime and submit to the law,” Jiang said in a final statement. The court said his sentence would be announced at a later date.

Video clips of the proceedings were posted on Weibo by the court.

Lawyer and family not notified

Zhang Lei, another lawyer hired by Jiang’s father to represent his son, said in a statement on Monday that the police were attempting to take Jiang’s parents and sister from their homes in Henan to Changsha to attend the trial. A photo of Jiang’s father in court was posted to the court’s Weibo page on Tuesday.

Zhang added that he was not notified by the court about the trial, and he was not permitted to see his client.

Jiang was represented by two lawyers at the hearing, who the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group say were state-appointed.

Jiang’s wife, Jin Bianling, who is living in the US to escape harassment from authorities, said in a statement on Sunday that the court did not notify the family about the scheduled trial.

Jiang Tianyong appears in court. Photo: Screenshot.

She also said that lawyers hired by the family were not permitted to meet Jiang and were not notified about the trial.

“If you insist on holding this illegal trial, unless you release Jiang Tianyong unconditionally, I will not accept or recognise any verdict!”

In June, Jiang’s lawyers Chen Jinxue and Qin Chenshou said they were told by authorities that their client had dismissed them.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.