Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Tuesday handed down a three-year jail term for subversion to a Shenzhen-based rights activist who helped ordinary people petition the government over violations of their rights, his lawyer said.
Yang Mingyu, better known by his pseudonym Yang Lin, was found guilty of "incitement to subvert state power" by the Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court, which issued its verdict at a hearing on Tuesday.
"They have sentenced him to three years' imprisonment and four years' deprivation of political rights," Yang's lawyer Fan Biaowen told RFA after the hearing.
Yang, who had pleaded not guilty, rejected the judgment of the court, calling it a form of "bullying," he added.
"Yang Lin expressed doubts about the legality of the proceedings, and then said he believed the sentence amounted to bullying," Fan said.
"The judge asked Yang Lin if he wanted to appeal, but then they dragged him away before he'd had chance to finish saying that he did," Fan said after the hearing closed on Tuesday.
"He will definitely be appealing, and he will be looking for a lawyer to take care of that."
Fan said the sentence had been in line with what he was expecting.
"Under the current system, there is no way they would have found Yang Lin not guilty," he said. "But I think Yang was just exercising his constitutional rights as a citizen, and I don't think that his actions were criminal."
"This judgment was unconstitutional."
Guangzhou-based activists Liang Songji and Huang Minpeng said they were held in a police station for several hours after they traveled to Shenzhen in a bid to attend Tuesday's hearing.
"We had just arrived in the vicinity of the court, when a bunch of unidentified men in uniform grabbed us and detained us," Liang said. "We were ... locked up in the Qinghe police station in Shenzhen, where we were threatened with beating."
"The people who did this showed no ID, and wore no uniform," Liang said. "[One of them said] 'we have to run a tight ship in this station, and ... whatever I say is the law. You don't get to make any demands.'"
Liang said he plans to lodge an official complaint over his treatment.
Yang, who first arrived in Shenzhen two decades ago looking for factory work, later began helping the most vulnerable in Chinese society petition government complaints departments through the "letters and visits" system used by thousands daily across the country.
He was initially detained by Shenzhen police on June 12, 2013 after he took part in several street protests, in which he held up placards and shouted slogans including "Down with the Communist Party!" His actions were covered by foreign media including Reuters and the BBC.
Yang was formally arrested on charges of "incitement to subvert state power" on July 19 in the same year.
He was tried on May 6, 2014, and has been waiting since then for the verdict and sentence to be passed. He will likely be released next June, taking time served into account.
China’s army of petitioners say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten and harassed by authorities if they take complaints against local government actions to higher levels of government.
Many have sought redress for many years in cases that include forced evictions, beatings in custody, and corruption linked to lucrative land sales.
Several hundred veterans of the People's Liberation Army were detained in Beijing in recent weeks after they traveled to the capital to complain about the government's failure to keep up with promised pension payments and health benefits in retirement, a long-term petitioner who gave only his surname Zhao said on Tuesday.
"[The government] refuse to do things according to their own policies, and they won't sort out our issue," Zhao said.
"I gave everything for the party and for the Chinese people, so why has it come to this?"
Reported by Yang Fan and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.