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, according to his lawyer.
Wu was taken into custody in May 2015 just weeks before authorities unleashed a ruthless campaign later dubbed the "709" crackdown, rounding up over 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 Wu was "dissatisfied with the current system of governance, and that gradually produced thoughts of subverting state power." By "hyping up hot incidents," Wu "attacked the national system that is the basis for state authority and the constitution," the court said. Wu also "spread fake information" and "insulted others online", the statement said.
The prominent activist, with his recognizable 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.