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Chinese state media accuses western outlets of ‘fake news’ over torture allegations

Claims that Chinese human rights lawyer Xie Yang was tortured in prison were “cleverly orchestrated lies” by former lawyer and activist Jiang Tianyong, state tabloid the Global Times has claimed.

Jiang’s family members have not heard from him since November 21, when he disappeared after visiting Chen Guiqiu, Xie’s wife, in the central Chinese city of Changsha. Changsha police confirmed in December that he was being held in custody under suspicion of illegally providing state secrets to foreign forces, illegally possessing documents containing state secrets, and for the fraudulent use of another person’s identification documents.

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Jiang Tianyong’s photo in the Global Times. Photo: Screenshot.

On Wednesday evening, state tabloid the Global Times published a report which claimed to reveal the truth behind claims that Xie was tortured in prison. The Global Times is a subsidiary of the People’s Daily, the principal propaganda publication of the Chinese Communist Party, and often publishes nationalistic editorials with a provocative tone. An English version was published by Xinhua Thursday morning.

‘Fake news’ accusation 

The Global Times claimed Jiang told their reporter that he orchestrated reports of Xie’s torture.

The paper made reference to foreign reports which referred to claims of Xie’s torture made public by his wife. “The four stories carried by overseas media between Oct. 11 and Nov. 15, 2016 were entirely fabricated by disbarred Beijing lawyer Jiang Tianyong, 46, who was aiming to cater to the tastes of western institutions and media organizations and to use public opinion to pressure police and smear the Chinese government. The stories were essentially fake news,” Xinhua said.

By using the fabrications to “reach the goals of giving pressure to public security organs, and smearing the Chinese government, I am willing to confess and repent,” Jiang told the Global Times.

Jiang incited Chen to invent the stories of her husband’s torture – which included pretending that he was beaten up and put under fatigue interrogation – and post them online, the report claimed.

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Jiang Tianyong with Chen Guiqiu and two lawyers. Photo: Twitter.

“People could be easily convinced if we mingled the true with the false,” Xinhua quoted Jiang as saying. “I later rewrote and polished Chen’s torture story, split it into parts and published them in instalments to arouse sustained attention on Xie’s case.”

‘Incomprehensible’

Patrick Poon, researcher at Amnesty International, told HKFP it is “very strange and incomprehensible” that Jiang was able to be interviewed by Global Times reporters while he has no access to a lawyer of his own choice or to his family.

“Many of the claims in the Global Times and Xinhua reports are contradictory in the time[line] of Jiang Tianyong’s detention and Xie Yang’s accounts,” he said.

“It’s extremely worrying that the mainland Chinese media are using this same old trick to try to discredit the lawyers and now even try to discredit western media coverage by branding them as ‘fake news’.”

Xie was detained on July 11, 2015, on the third day of a sweeping crackdown by the Chinese government on human rights lawyers and activists. A rare and detailed transcript of a meeting between Xie and his legal team was released in January by his lawyers. In it, Xie recounted details of torture and other mistreatment he endured in prison. His lawyer also said in November that Xie was punched in the head and beaten whilst detained.

The report said that the Hunan Provincial People’s Procuratorate set up an independent team to investigate after the reports were published. The team reported that Xie was not tortured, based on interviews with his fellow inmates, interrogators, related personnel when he was under residential surveillance, and Xie himself.

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A photo of Xie Yang in the Global Times under the headine “Exposing the truth behind ‘Xie Yang’s torture’: Fabricating out of thin air to cater to the west.” Photo: Screenshot.

Xie told reporters he was in good physical condition, the report said, and he could maintain communication with his family members even when he was under residential surveillance. A photo of Xie was published in the Global Times’ story but he was not quoted.

Lawyers hit back

Jiang’s lawyers Qin Chenshou and Chen Jinxue condemned the story’s allegations in a statement to lawyers’ associations across China and to relevant law enforcement bodies: “For a reporter, someone who has no connection with the case, to meet with [Jiang] before his family members and lawyers, is classic abuse of public power that has no legal basis, and is smearing by the media and trial by public opinion – it’s equivalent to being paraded in public, and is an open insult to Jiang Tianyong and lawyer Xie Yang.”

They added that the Hunan Procuratorate’s “independent investigation team” did not include Xie’s lawyers, representatives from his lawyer’s association or independent experts and therefore was not in accordance with guidelines set out by the UN Convention Against Torture.

The actions of the Global Times in conducting an interview, all whilst Jiang’s right to see his lawyer was not being protected, should be seen as the media outlet’s justification of state torture, the lawyers said. They compared it to a dog retrieving a frisbee for its owner.

Torture concerns

“I don’t believe a single word or a single punctuation mark in the Global Times’ report,” Jiang’s wife Jin Bianling – who is based in the US – told HKFP.

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Jiang Tianyong with the son of Wang Quanzhang, a lawyer detained in China’s crackdown on lawyers and activists. Photo: Supplied by activist.

“Since Jiang Tianyong went missing on November 21, neither me, nor his parents, nor his lawyers, have been able to find out where he is… His lawyers requested to see him multiple times, but they were rejected. So I want to know how this Global Times reporter was able to see him. They should publicise that,” Jin said.

Jin also expressed her concern that Jiang was also being tortured: “When I first saw the report, I was very angry, and I was very sad when I scrolled down and saw the photo of him – his eyes were puffy, he looked like he hadn’t slept in a few days…When I saw his photo, I was certain that Jiang Tianyong had been severely tortured in their hands.”

A former lawyer who was disbarred in 2009, Jiang previously defended politically sensitive figures such as dissident Gao Zhisheng and blind activist Chen Guangcheng. He recently worked as an advocate for the families of those detained in the 2015 crackdown.

His interview is the latest in a series of “confessions” given in media interviews by those detained in the crackdown. Legal assistant Zhao Wei told the South China Morning Post in an exclusive interview last year after she was released on bail that she regretted her activism, whilst lawyer Wang Yu was released on bail after she appeared in a video hosted by iFeng, The Paper and Oriental Daily claiming that foreign forces used her law firm to tarnish China’s reputation.

HKFP was unable to reach Chen Guiqiu for comment.

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Chinese state media accuses western outlets of 'fake news' over torture allegations