Overseas governments and human rights organizations have strongly condemned the jailing of Chinese rights activist Huang Qi for 12 years on state secrets charges.
The Mianyang Intermediate People's Court in the southwestern province of Sichuan sentenced Huang to 12-years' imprisonment on Monday, after finding him guilty of "leaking state secrets overseas."
Huang, 56, was recently identified by Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) as one of 10 citizen journalists in danger of dying in detention.
RSF said Huang's punishment had little to do with state secrets and everything to do with his ground-breaking advocacy for petitioners and rights defenders on his Tianwang website.
Secretary-general of RSF Christophe Deloire said Huang is unlikely to survive his sentence.
"This decision is equivalent to a death sentence, considering Huang Qi’s health has already deteriorated from a decade spent in harsh confinement," Deloire said in a statement, calling on President Xi Jinping to extend a pardon to Huang and release him "before it's too late."
'Conviction entirely political'
The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network agreed, saying that Huang's conviction was entirely political, and that he had been denied a fair trial.
"Huang Qi has been persecuted solely for the exercise of his right to freedom of expression and his work as a citizen journalist and activist," the group said in a statement.
"He has been denied the right to a fair trial, including being denied access to his lawyers, and has been subjected to torture," it said.
"Authorities have deprived Huang of adequate medical treatment in detention and his health has deteriorated to such a degree that the 12-year prison sentence handed down yesterday could effectively be a death sentence," it said.
During his time in Mianyang Detention Center, Huang was deprived of adequate medical treatment for kidney disease, accumulation of fluid in the brain, heart disease, and dangerously high blood pressure, CHRD said.
Fourteen human rights groups and four UN independent human rights experts issued statements at the end of 2018 calling for Huang’s release over concerns he could die in detention, it said, citing several other dissidents who have died behind bars in recent years, including late Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo in July 2017.
CHRD also cited concerns for Huang's mother Pu Wenqing, 86, who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.
"She is followed 24/7 by police and restricted from giving interviews and speaking with friends and supporters," it said.
Call for immediate release
In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said Huang's jailing was indicative of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's ongoing suppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms, calling for his immediate release.
“We urge the Chinese government to uphold its international commitments related to fair trial guarantees and the rule of law,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
And in the U.K., human rights minister Lord Tariq Ahmad called on Beijing to ensure adequate medical care and to facilitate meetings between Huang, his family, and a lawyer as soon as possible.
He said Huang's sentence raises "strong concerns about media freedom, due process, and the rule of law in China."
"We urge the authorities to uphold the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by China’s constitution and international law," Ahmad said.
Huang, who founded the Tianwang rights website, has repeatedly denied the charges against him and has refused to "confess."
His Tianwang website had a strong track record of highlighting petitions and complaints against official wrongdoing and injustices meted out to the most vulnerable in society, including forced evictees, parents of children who died in the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and other peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Pu Wenqing has been a vocal campaigner for Huang's release on urgent medical grounds, and says the charges against him are politically motivated, with no evidence to back them up.
She was forcibly detained and pushed to the ground by authorities in Beijing on Dec. 7, 2018 after traveling there to press her son's case, and was incommunicado for several weeks afterwards.
Reported by Cai Ling for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.