TIANJIN, China (AFP) – China sentenced an activist known by the online pseudonym “Super Vulgar Butcher” to eight years in prison yesterday, one of the harshest punishments meted out to the group of lawyers and activists swept up in a major crackdown on civil society two years ago.
The punishment handed to Wu Gan, who refused to plead guilty to charges of “subverting state power”, was intended as an unmistakable signal to anyone who would dare to challenge the state’s authority, his lawyer said.
Mr Wu was taken into custody in May 2015 only weeks before authorities unleashed a ruthless campaign later dubbed the “709” crackdown, rounding up more than 200 people involved in activities considered sensitive by the ruling Communist Party.
The outspoken social media figure had attracted authorities’ attention with performance art and caustic commentary on Chinese society and politics that he published online.
Explaining its verdict, a court in Tianjin said Mr Wu was “dissatisfied with the current system of governance, and that gradually produced thoughts of subverting state power”.
By “hyping up hot incidents”, Mr Wu “attacked the national system that is the basis for state authority and the constitution”, the court said.
Mr 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.
He called himself “butcher” because he saw himself as taking the fight to authorities, promising to “slaughter the pigs”. He later added “super vulgar” to his handle in response to complaints about his use of crude language to make his case.
His bold approach to seeking justice for those he saw as wronged by the government attracted praise from rights defenders, but was unpopular with the authorities, who saw him as a thorn in their side.
His family life 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 rights defenders.
He was “a representative figure in leading actions to support other human rights defenders and significant human rights cases outside court”, according to Patrick Poon, a China researcher at Amnesty International.