A leading Chinese human rights lawyer admitted to getting “brainwashed” overseas at the opening of his trial on Monday, the court said, in a case which sparked an international outcry after allegations he was tortured.
Xie Yang, who had worked on numerous cases considered politically sensitive by China’s ruling Communist Party, was among hundreds of legal staff and activists detained in a crackdown in the summer of 2015.
The Changsha Intermediate People’s Court announced the trial’s start on its account in a microblogging website, saying that Xie was charged with “inciting subversion of state power and disrupting court order.”
The court transcript said Xie did not object to the charges and admitted that he had received “training” in Hong Kong and South Korea.
When the judge asked him what kind of training, the court said he answered: “The brainwashing of Western constitutional thoughts” in order to “overthrow the existing system and develop Western constitutionalism in China.”
Xie was also asked if he had been tortured, to which he told the court, “No.”
Xie previously claimed police used “sleep deprivation, long interrogations, beatings, death threats, humiliations” on him.
The United States and the European Union have voiced concern over his case.
Eleven countries, including Canada, Australia and Switzerland, have cited Xie’s case in a letter to Beijing criticising China’s detention practices.
There was no prior public notice of the trial, and Xie’s wife — who relocated to the United States earlier this year — told AFP she heard nothing from authorities.
“The court claims family members are in attendance at the trial, but I wasn’t able to reach any of them,” she said.
Last-minute delays or sudden announcements of sensitive trials are not uncommon even though Chinese law requires courts to give a defendant’s family and lawyers three days notice of any changes.
“Xie made a series of sworn testimonies to his family-appointed lawyer that police and prosecutors tortured him to force him to confess, which he said he did to make the pain stop,” Frances Eve, researcher for the charity Chinese Human Rights Defenders told AFP.
“Today’s show trial deprives Xie of independent legal counsel and glosses over his torture allegations,” Eve said.
On April 25, dozens of supporters and at least seven diplomats had gathered at the Changsha court in central Hunan province — a long way from Beijing and Shanghai — only to be told the trial was indefinitely postponed.
Since they received no confirmation of the new trial date, diplomatic sources told AFP they were not prepared to head to Changsha again to observe the trial.
Local activists said in social media posts that they were “warned” on Sunday not to go to Changsha, without providing details about the warnings.
Xie’s former attorney, Chen Jiangang, was detained by authorities last week while he was vacationing with his family, sparking condemnation from the United Nations’ human rights office.
A UN statement on Friday said the move was part of a “continuing pattern of harassment of lawyers, through continued detention, without full due process”.
Chen had remained vocal on Xie’s case, drawing attention to his former client’s allegations of torture, even after the Changsha court denied Xie his pick of defence and provided a court-appointed lawyer instead.
After he was detained in the remote southwestern province of Yunnan on Wednesday, Chen told AFP he was forced to drive back to Beijing escorted by police officers.
Xie’s new defence lawyers have not answered calls from AFP.