Chinese Lawyer's Secret Trial Spotlights Murky Justice System

(Bloomberg) -- China’s closed-door trial of a prominent rights lawyer Wednesday underscores concerns about the country’s murky justice system, at a time when diplomats and foreign executives are focused on the fate of two Canadian nationals.

The lawyer, Wang Quanzhang, was tried in the northern port of Tianjin on allegations of “subversion of state power,” according to a statement by the No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court. No verdict was immediately issued after the trial, which comes more than three years after Wang was detained as part of a crackdown on lawyers who represent activists and other alleged victims of political repression.

Chinese Lawyer's Secret Trial Spotlights Murky Justice System

The proceedings shine a fresh spotlight on China’s secretive and opaque justice system, which provides authorities wide latitude to hold citizens and foreigners alike for long periods without due process. Such practices have come under greater scrutiny since China’s spy agency detained two Canadian nationals this month and U.S. congress members called for sanctions over reports that the government is holding as many as 1 million people in internment camps in the predominately Muslim region of Xinjiang.

Wang was among more than 200 lawyers and legal activists detained in 2015, in one of the biggest such crack downs since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power six years ago. A member of the Fengrui law firm who represented practitioners of the banned Falun Gong religious group, he was held without charge for six months and denied access to lawyers or family for more than three years.

The group Chinese Human Rights Defenders denounced the proceedings as a “show trial” and called on foreign governments and organizations to seek Wang’s freedom. “They can raise the case of Wang Quanzhang, sound the alarm over the gross injustice in this case, and ask for his release when meeting with any Chinese official at any level of the government during conferences or visits,” it said.

While Xi has made strengthening China’s “rule of law” a central focus of his tenure, the campaign has codified and expanded rules that give authorities wide latitude to deny suspects due process when threats are national security invoked. Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, who was detained after the Vancouver arrest of a Huawei Technologies Co. executive, is being held at a secret detention facility, where he’s been questioned three times a day and denied access to lawyers, a person familiar with the matter said last week.

Wang is among more than 1,400 political and religious dissidents jailed in China as of October, according to the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which said “considerably more” cases have probably not been reported.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.