China convicted another rights activist for subversion on Friday, sentencing church leader Gou Hongguo to a three-year suspended sentence as Beijing continued to process the cases of lawyers and rights defenders arrested in a mass crackdown that began in July 2015.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency said Gou, 54, “was convicted of subverting state power and sentenced to three years in prison with a three-year reprieve” after a trial at the No. 2 Intermediate People's Court in Tianjin, a northern port city close to Beijing.
Gou pled guilty and said at the court he would not appeal, Xinhua said.
Gou was affiliated with Beijing's Fengrui Law Firm, the main target of a nationwide crackdown that saw more than 300 human rights lawyers and associates detained beginning on the night of July 9, 2015.
According to Amnesty International, which tracks political prisoners, another 14 people targeted in the crackdown await trial, of whom 10 face state security charges of the kind China uses to target dissidents and activists.
Gou’s wife, Fan Lili, told RFA’s Mandarin Service she travelled from her home in Shanxi province to Tianjin on Monday to collect information on her husband’s case but was but was detained by security personnel and forced to write a pledge that she would return home and not do media interviews.
"They forced me to write a guarantee that I would not give interviews to the media, and then to voluntarily return home in Shanxi. If I didn’t follow their order, I would not be allowed to go home,” she told RFA from her home on Friday.
“I have a 16-month-old child at home, so I had to write the guarantee, and later they sent me home to Shanxi. Therefore, I now actually know nothing about the trial."
Gou’s sentencing was the fourth day in a row that lawyers or activists were sentenced after what rights experts called show trials in Tianjin.
On Thursday, Zhou Shifeng, 52, the director of the Fengrui Law Firm was sentenced to seven years on subversion. His trial followed the sentencing Wednesday of activist Hu Shigen to 7½ years, while activist Zhai Yanmin received a suspended three-year sentence on Tuesday.
The trial of Zhou’s fellow Fengrui lawyer Li Heping is expected to follow soon.
International rights groups and legal experts have widely condemned the 13-month-long crackdown and the staged trials in Tianjin.
“This wave of trials against lawyers and activists are a political charade. Their fate was sealed before they stepped into the courtroom and there was no chance that they would ever receive a fair trial,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.
“The Chinese authorities appear intent on silencing anyone who raises legitimate questions about human rights and uses the legal system to seek redress,” Rife said in a statement issued Thursday after Zhou’s sentencing.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Paul Eckert.