NGOs Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have called for the release of Chinese anti-censorship activist Zhen Jianghua, who faces up to 15 years behind bars if convicted of subversion.

Zhen, aged 33, was tried on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power” by the Zhuhai City Intermediate People’s Court on August 10, according to a post by China’s state prosecutor that has since been removed.

The court is expected to hand down a decision by December but it could apply for extensions from China’s highest court.

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Zhen Jianghua. Photo: China Change.

Amnesty International said that Zhen was detained solely for exercising free expression and that he is a prisoner of conscience, adding: “Since his arrest, and throughout his detention, Zhen Jianghua has not been allowed access to the lawyers of his choice, raising further concerns that he is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.”

The cyber activist was detained at his home in Guangdong in September 2017 and moved to a secret place four weeks later for “residential surveillance in a designated location” – a measure that enables authorities to hold individuals incommunicado outside of the formal detention system for up to six months.

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HKFP found the text of the procuratorate’s post on Google but the cached page was no longer available. Photo: Screenshot.

Zhen was denied permission to meet his family-appointed defence attorney Ren Quanniu, according to US-backed Radio Free Asia. An activist from the “Southern Idiot Concern Group,” a group of Zhen’s friends set up to support him after he was detained, previously told HKFP that Zhen declined to be represented by a lawyer hired by authorities.

The group said the court did not release any concrete information on the trial beforehand. It criticised the court’s lack of transparency, saying: “It clearly said ‘open trial,’ so why did they act so suspiciously by not putting out a notice for the hearing, and afterwards posting a notice and then deleting it?”

Reporters Without Borders urged the Chinese government to release Zhen last week.

“By preventing the journalist from consulting a lawyer of his choice, the regime of President Xi Jinping violates the rights of defense that are expressly enshrined in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China”, said Cédric Alviani, the head of Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s East Asia bureau.

Alviani also urged the international community “to enhance its pressure on the Chinese authorities so they release Zhen and the other detained journalists.”

Before his detention, Zhen was a key figure behind the information and advocacy website, Human Rights Campaign in China. He also founded, a website that advocated against internet censorship and provided technical advice to help people circumvent internet restrictions, also known as the “Great Firewall.” He previously went under the nickname “GuestsZhen” online.

Zhen voiced support for Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests and would regularly attend the annual June 4 Tiananmen massacre commemorations in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park. He was previously detained after travelling to the “democracy village” of Wukan, which was the site of widespread protests against illegal land grabs by the local government in 2016.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.