Authorities in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi have jailed a prominent critic of the ruling Communist Party for four-and-a-half years after he spoke out about a woman found chained in an outbuilding in Jiangsu earlier this year, RFA has learned.
The Guigang Municipal People's Court on Nov. 20 handed down a four-year, six-month jail term to Lu Huihuang -- who has previously also called for democratic reforms -- after finding him guilty of "incitement to subvert state power," the rights group Weiquanwang reported.
"[Lu] refused to accept the judgment and has expressed his intention to appeal," the report said, describing Lu as a "freelance and online writer, a dissident citizen, rights activist and political prisoner."
He was taken away from his home in Nanning city by police from Guigang on Feb. 18, 2022 "for calling on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to thoroughly investigate the case of the chained woman in Xuzhou," the site reported.
Lu is currently being held in the Guigang Detention Center in Batang township, Guigang, it said.
Guangxi resident Nong Dingcai said Lu's friends had been informed of his sentence, and of his intention to appeal, by the detention center.
"The detention center called some of his friends in China, saying that Lu Huihuang had been sentenced to four-and a half years," Nong told RFA.
"The charge was 'incitement to subvert state power.' He has requested an appeal."
Nong said not all of the information about Lu's case has been released, and his family members are under close surveillance.
Authorities have yet to release any official information about Lu's case. In China, the crime of "incitement to subvert state power" is considered confidential and related trials are held in secret.
Suggesting democratic reforms
According to Weiquanwang, Lu has written a number of essays and open letters to the Communist Party leadership since 2013, proffering suggestions on democratic reforms to China's political system.
"[The articles] suggested that the Communist Party carry out democratic and constitutional reforms as soon as possible, and found resonance with people online," it said, adding that the articles were extensively forwarded and read via groups on the QQ and WeChat social media platforms, as well as being published on overseas websites like Beijing Spring and China Labor Watch.
It said Lin had previously served a two-and-a-half year jail term in Guangdong's Conghua Prison, during which he was tortured with electric shocks, kept in manacles and forced to sleep on the floor for long periods of time because he refused to plead guilty or make a "confession."
Fellow dissident Lin Shengliang said Lu's criticism of the case of the chained woman was likely just an excuse for the authorities to re-detain him.
"It's thought that Lu Huihuang's secret detention was linked to the case of the chained woman, because he published too many posts about it on his group chats," Lin told RFA. "But given the harshness of the sentence, there were probably other baseless accusations too."
He said supporters who had tried to visit Lu's parents had also been detained.
"Given that his parents are under security measures, a lot of people who went to visit them were immediately taken away by local police and village officials," Lin said.
He said Lu has been unable to hire an independent lawyer, because his family are being "cooperative" with the authorities, which generally means agreeing to have him represented by a government-appointed lawyer.
"Lu Huihuang actually asked a prison guard to get a message to me asking me to help him find an attorney, but the local state security police didn't allow us to mail the instruction letter to Lu Huihuang so he could sign it," Lin said.
"We don't know what is happening with him, how legal the investigation, prosecution or trial were, nor whether he was tortured."
New era of authoritarian rule
Lin said the authorities have entered a new era of authoritarian rule.
"Under the new authoritarianism, the government uses a powerful state machine to crush dissidents," he said. "As the social and political environment continues to deteriorate, the crime of inciting subversion of state power will be more widely and freely used by China’s powerful agencies."
In December 2021, authorities in Guangxi handed down a three-year jail term to outspoken rights lawyer Chen Jiahong for "subversion," amid fears for his safety in detention. Chen had been a prominent critic of the government.
On China's tightly controlled internet, Chen was known for inscribing the slogan "Set up an assassination detail, liquidate this evil bureaucracy and promote democracy" in Chinese calligraphy and posting it to social media.
Fellow Guangxi lawyer Qin Yongpei was detained in early November 2021 by the Nanning municipal police department during a raid on his Baijuying legal consultancy company, after speaking out many times about misconduct and injustices perpetrated by police and local judicial officials.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.