Newspaper article International New York Times

Court Shock for a Rights Advocate ; Chinese Judge Announces Last-Minute Charge That Lengthens Jail Sentence

Newspaper article International New York Times

Court Shock for a Rights Advocate ; Chinese Judge Announces Last-Minute Charge That Lengthens Jail Sentence

Article excerpt

The new charge, "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," meant that he would spend an additional two years in prison, according to his lawyers.

Yang Maodong, a hardened veteran of political protest in southern China, knew he had virtually no hope of winning his freedom on Friday when he was brought into a courtroom to face a judge's verdict on charges that he had disturbed public order.

Chinese judges, after all, convict and imprison indicted dissidents with metronomic consistency, reflecting the ruling Communist Party's control of the courts. Mr. Yang -- a human rights campaigner better known by his pen name, Guo Feixiong -- had already prepared a statement denouncing his imprisonment.

But the Tianhe District People's Court in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, erupted in denunciations from Mr. Yang and his lawyers when the presiding judge revealed that he had added a new charge against the defendant -- one that his lawyers had been given no chance to defend him against.

The new charge, "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," meant that Mr. Yang would spend an additional two years in prison, according to his lawyers. Mr. Yang, who stood trial almost exactly a year ago, was convicted Friday on that charge and the original one and was sentenced to a total of six years.

"This verdict is persecution. It violates rule of law," Mr. Yang told the court in a firm voice as two guards held him by the arms, Zhang Lei, one of his two lawyers, recounted later Friday.

"The guards held him like he was an animal, not a peaceful, rational man, and the court wouldn't let him make a longer statement," Mr. Zhang said by telephone from Guangzhou. "They dragged him out of the court."

The judge had told the two lawyers of the new charge that morning, and they had had no chance to discuss the change with their client before the hearing, they said.

"Even now, I feel so angry that I can barely speak," Mr. Zhang said. "I've done many cases like this, but this was something I never expected -- I mean, adding the charge without any new trial or hearing or anything. Stunning. A dark day."

It came one day after a court in Beijing released from prison a 71-year-old journalist, Gao Yu, who had been convicted of leaking state secrets, saying that she was too ill to remain incarcerated. Another court had earlier that day reduced Ms. Gao's seven-year sentence by two years.

But Chinese lawyers who specialize in human rights cases, as well as international rights groups, said the verdict against Mr. Yang on Friday showed that Ms. Gao's case did not augur an overall easing of President Xi Jinping's intense campaign against dissent, and that Chinese courts remained pliant instruments of that campaign.

"To add one absurd criminal charge on top of another absurd criminal charge, I've never heard of that before," Mr. …

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