BEIJING (AP) — Lawyers for a prominent detained Chinese human rights campaigner accused authorities of abusing their powers in publishing a purported interview with him Thursday in a state-run newspaper in which he allegedly confesses to pushing "fake news" to overseas media.
The Global Times said Jiang Tianyong told them he had concocted a story of a lawyer, Xie Yang, having been tortured by police. Xie has been held since July 2015 following a sweeping crackdown on civil rights lawyers and activists.
Jiang was detained in November after visiting Xie's wife and is accused of inciting subversion of state power.
Jiang's wife, Jin Bianling, told The Associated Press she planned to sue the Global Times for defaming her husband.
"The Global Times article is fake," Jin said from California, where she moved in 2013 with the couple's daughter to escape harassment from security agents. "A reporter has been able to meet Jiang Tianyong, but the lawyers I have authorized to can't, so I want it to be made public how the reporter managed to meet (him)."
State television and other media have in the past carried alleged confessions by detained activists before they've been formally charged. Rights groups say such statements are scripted and violate due process.
The nationalistic Global Times tabloid is published by the ruling Communist Party's newspaper People's Daily and regularly lashes out at government critics.
Both Jiang and Xie took on politically sensitive cases as lawyers. Jiang was disbarred in 2009, but continued his activism and helped publicize the plight of lawyers arrested in the crackdown that soon ensnared Xie. Jiang was also detained and beaten by police as part of his past human rights work involving some of China's most sensitive cases, including that of blind activist Chen Guangcheng and followers of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual group.
In its article, the Global Times said four reports carried in October and November by unidentified foreign media alleging that Xie had been tortured by police were "fake news." During that time, overseas website Boxun, which publicizes allegations of corruption and abuse in China, printed at least three articles that said Xie had been tortured.
Global Times said Jiang planted the stories in an attempt to pressure police and smear the Chinese government.
Subsequently, Xie told his lawyers that he had been subjected to sleep deprivation, punched, kicked and forced to sit with his legs dangling in the air, causing his legs to swell, according to transcripts of January meetings with his lawyers published by a rights group.
"It is absolutely true that Xie Yang has been tortured," said one of his lawyers, Chen Jiangang. He told the AP that the Global Times "follows the orders of the authoritarian government to carry out propaganda and not real news reporting."
Jiang's lawyers said in an open letter that they have not been allowed to meet with him on the grounds that such a meeting might lead to the leaking of state secrets. They questioned on what conditions the Global Times was permitted to interview him.
Authorities have said Jiang is being held under "coercive measures" at a secret police-designated location, a form of detention that is often used against individuals accused of endangering state security.
The lawyers said in their letter to the Ministry of Public Security and others that there was "every reason to believe" that both Jiang and Xie had undergone torture in detention, and that the banning of lawyers and family members from visiting them had increased this suspicion.
"We are concerned about whether there is any legal basis for allowing Global Times journalists, whose credibility and trustworthiness are questionable, to meet Jiang Tianyong, while denying lawyers' access, and we seek to know whether the government is abusing power in doing so," the letter read.
Beatings, sleep deprivation and other forms of abuse are believed to be common in China's criminal justice system, despite attempts by the judiciary to discourage them.