Wu Gan, a Chinese human rights activist who blogs under the pen name ‘Super Vulgar Butcher,’ was given an eight-year jail sentence for “subverting state power” on Tuesday.
“The court found that the defendant Wu Gan became dissatisfied with the existing political system. Wu Gan has long used information networks to spread a great deal of rhetoric and to attack state power and the system established by the constitution,” read the verdict.
As the lengthy jail sentence makes clear, all of that is illegal in China, but the Western world (mostly) considers it constitutionally-protected free speech. Granted, he might have gotten in a bit of trouble in some quarters for posing with knives and promising to “slaughter” corrupt officials like pigs, even though his nom de plume makes it clear posturing as a “butcher” of corruption is part of his public persona.
Wu defiantly described his jail sentence as a “lofty honor” bestowed upon him by the Chinese Communist Party and vowed to appeal the sentence.
Wu has been cooling his heels in prison for two years while his trial crept forward. He was first charged with “subversion of state power” and plotting to “overthrow the socialist system” a year ago. Wu maintains his activities are intended to protect the basic human rights of Chinese citizens and purge corrupt influences from the government.
Officials grew particularly angry at his penchant for turning trials into public spectacles when he thought human rights advocates were being punished unfairly, or officials were allowed to get away with abusing ordinary citizens.
Among other adventures, he exposed “black jails” where dissidents were banished by the Chinese government, spoke up for victims of “forced demolition” – i.e. the government seizing your property and blowing up your house while you’re busy complaining about the pittance of a settlement they offered you – and highlighted the persecution of activists, including his own father. One of his early cases involved defending a young woman who was charged with murder for using a knife to defend herself from an official who sexually assaulted her.
“Mr. Wu took up the causes of those he saw as victims of state power, including the case of a rape victim who had killed her assailant, a Communist Party official, by stabbing him with a fruit knife. He also fought for justice on behalf of four men who claimed that they had been wrongfully jailed for murder,” the BBC adds.
Wu loved to bring attention to his causes by publicly humiliating corrupt officials, Photoshopping their heads onto fat pig bodies and portraying them with Hitler mustaches.
“I will be convicted not because I am really guilty, but because of my refusal to accept a government-appointed lawyer, plead guilty in a televised propaganda confession, and for exposing torture, mistreatment and violence and prosecutorial misconduct,” Wu said in a statement before his trial.
The New York Times suggests Wu’s prison sentence “underlined how under President Xi Jinping, determined activists like Mr. Wu, who once survived at the edges of official tolerance, have come under concerted attack from the police, prosecutors, and courts, with the state news media often acting as a cheerleader.”
The Chinese government claimed the trial involved “state secrets” as an excuse for restricting access and deploying an exceptionally heavy security presence seemingly intended to intimidate foreign observers and human-rights activists.