A leading Chinese human rights lawyer whose case has drawn international scrutiny pleaded guilty Monday to charges of "inciting subversion of state power" in what critics called a "show trial."
Xie Yang, who had worked on cases considered politically sensitive by China's ruling Communist Party, was among hundreds of legal staff and activists detained in the so-called "709 crackdown" in the summer of 2015.
The Global Times newspaper posted a video of the trial on Twitter showing a judge ask Xie whether authorities had upheld his rights.
"Yes they did, completely," said Xie, wearing a polo shirt as he answered into a microphone. Asked if authorities elicited confessions through torture, he replied: "No, I was not subjected to torture of any kind."
Xie previously claimed police used "sleep deprivation, long interrogations, beatings, death threats, humiliations" on him.
The United States and the European Union have voiced concern over his case.
Eleven countries, including Canada, Australia and Switzerland, have cited Xie's case in a letter to Beijing criticising China's detention practices.
Changsha Intermediate People's Court, in central China, said that Xie pleaded guilty to charges of "inciting subversion of state power and disrupting court order."
A transcript of the court hearing said he had confessed to receiving "training" in Hong Kong and South Korea.
When the judge asked him what kind of training, he answered: "The brainwashing of Western constitutional thoughts" in order to "overthrow the existing system and develop Western constitutionalism in China".
Xie had defended mainland supporters of Hong Kong democracy activists. His own former lawyer was detained last week.
The trial concluded Monday and the court will later set a date for his sentencing.
- 'Show trial' -
There was no prior public notice of the trial, and Xie's wife -- who fled to the United States earlier this year -- told AFP she heard nothing from authorities.
"The court claims family members are in attendance at the trial, but I wasn't able to reach any of them," she said.
Last-minute delays or sudden announcements of sensitive trials are not uncommon even though Chinese law requires courts to give a defendant's family and lawyers three days notice of any changes.
"Xie made a series of sworn testimonies to his family-appointed lawyer that police and prosecutors tortured him to force him to confess, which he said he did to make the pain stop," Frances Eve, researcher for the charity Chinese Human Rights Defenders, told AFP.
"Today's show trial deprives Xie of independent legal counsel and glosses over his torture allegations," Eve said.
On April 25, dozens of supporters and at least seven diplomats had gathered at the Changsha court, only to be told the trial was indefinitely postponed.
Since they received no confirmation of the new trial date, diplomatic sources told AFP they were not prepared to return to attend it.
Local activists said in social media posts that they were "warned" on Sunday not to go to Changsha, without providing details about the warnings.
"As the trial was conducted in a closed manner and his family actually wasn't properly informed, it's very similar to the sham trials we saw for (lawyer) Zhou Shifeng and others last year," Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon told AFP.
"It's questionable how we can believe what's said in such a setting," Poon added.
The "709 crackdown" -- named after the date of the first disappearance on July 9, 2015 -- was the toughest against China's civil society for years.
The majority were released on bail, but last year courts found six of them guilty of serious crimes, with sentences ranging from no additional jail time to seven years in prison.
- Xie's lawyer detained -
Xie's former attorney, Chen Jiangang, was detained by authorities last week while he was vacationing with his family in the remote southwestern province of Yunnan. He was forced to drive back to Beijing under police escort.
The United Nations' human rights office condemned Chen's arrest as part of a "continuing pattern of harassment of lawyers, through continued detention, without full due process."
The Chinese foreign ministry rejected the UN agency's criticism as "interference".