Wednesday 26 October 2016

Second legal rights activist sentenced as China reins in critics

Published 03/08/2016 | 06:51

The cases are being heard in Tianjin No 2 Intermediate People's Court (AP)
The cases are being heard in Tianjin No 2 Intermediate People's Court (AP)

A Chinese legal rights activist was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison after pleading guilty to subversion charges on Wednesday.

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It was the second in a series of cases underscoring the ruling Communist Party's determination to rein in government critics.

State broadcaster CCTV said Hu Shigen had admitted "subversion, damaging national security and harming social stability" at the start of his hearing before the Tianjin No 2 Intermediate People's Court.

His brief trial came a day after the court issued a suspended three-year sentence to activist Zhai Yanmin.

Both were arrested in July last year with two others as part of a nationwide crackdown on legal rights activists.

About 300 lawyers and activists were initially seized and questioned before most were released.

Hu, 67, was accused of leading an "underground organisation" that masqueraded as a church but was dedicated to identifying and drawing attention to accusations of government abuses.

He worked with others, some of whom are also facing trial this week, to "organise activities that manipulated public opinion and disturbed public order", prosecutors were quoted as saying by state media.

"Hu's ideology and his behaviours have seriously harmed the country and social stability," prosecutors said.

Hu was sentenced in 1994 to 20 years in prison on the now-abolished charge of counter-revolution in connection with his political activities, but was released in 2008 after his sentence was reduced.

His previous prison term probably contributed to his harsh sentencing in the most recent case.

A graduate of prestigious Peking University, Hu was a professor in the capital when he became active with a would-be political opposition party following the army's violent crackdown on 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Other cases are expected to be heard by the court in the northern Chinese city this week, including those of activist Gou Hongguo and lawyer Zhou Shifeng, head of the Fengrui Law Firm that frequently took on sensitive cases and represented numerous government critics.

More than a dozen other lawyers and activists remain jailed, their legal status uncertain.

The trials are part of a pattern established under the administration of President Xi Jinping to use more sophisticated legal means to attack perceived opponents as it maintains pressure on activists and non-governmental organisations.

Several, including fellow Fengrui lawyer Wang Yu have made televised apologies for the crimes they are accused of and denouncing the legal activism as directed by unidentified "hostile foreign forces" to smear and attack the Chinese government.

Activists such as Hu and Zhai worked alone or in affiliation with law firms to gather evidence of government abuses and lead clients and the disgruntled in street protests while spreading word online.

Their actions were harshly denounced by the authorities as interference in the legal process.

Many family members of those being held say they and their retained lawyers have been denied access to the detainees for more than a year, receiving only occasional updates by word of mouth. Some have been briefly detained themselves while seeking information.


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