A Chinese court sentenced an activist known by the online pseudonym “Super Vulgar Butcher” to eight years in prison Tuesday after he refused to plead guilty to charges of “subverting state power”.
Wu Gan, who was taken into police custody in May 2015, attracted authorities’ attention with performance art and caustic commentary on Chinese society and politics that he published online.
He was “dissatisfied with the current system of governance, and that gradually produced thoughts of subverting state power,” a court in Tianjin said in a statement explaining the verdict.
By “hyping up hot incidents”, Wu “attacked the national system that is the basis for state authority and the constitution”, the court said.
Wu also “spread fake information” and “insulted others online”, the statement said.
The prominent activist, with his recognisable bald head and glasses, became the subject of the state’s ire for using his larger-than-life online persona to draw public attention to human rights cases.
His nickname was a response to complaints about his use of “crude language”.
He became the subject of intense scrutiny by state media in May 2015 in what many activists saw as a sign of a looming crackdown on human rights defenders.
Wu’s lawyer Yan Xin said the sentence was aimed at setting “an example so other activists will say they are guilty when accused of crimes against the state”.
“It’s clear (Wu) was sentenced so harshly because he refused to plead guilty,” he said.
The verdict came the same day as a court in Changsha elected to exempt former human rights lawyer Xie Yang from serving a sentence after he pleaded guilty to charges of “inciting subversion of state power”.
Xie was released on bail in May after what critics described as a show trial.
He had previously claimed that police used “sleep deprivation, long interrogations, beatings, death threats, humiliations” on him.
But on Tuesday he denied he had been tortured, according to a video on the court’s official Weibo social media account.
“On the question of torture, I produced a negative effect on and misled the public, and I again apologise,” he told judges.
The court said he would face no criminal penalties following his full confession.
Both Xie and Wu were among hundreds of legal staff and activists detained in 2015’s so-called “709 crackdown”, where authorities detained more than 200 people, including lawyers who took on civil rights cases considered sensitive by the ruling Communist Party.