China Jails Labor Activist Who Supported Guangdong Labor Movement

Liu Shaoming's lawyer says the sentence is "heavy" and unacceptable, prompting fears for his health in prison.

Protesters hold placards demanding the release of Chinese labor activist Liu Shaoming from jail and the release of terminally ill Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on overseas medical parole during a demonstration in Hong Kong, July 7, 2017.

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Friday jailed a prominent labor rights campaigner and veteran of the 1989 pro-democracy movement for four-and-a-half years after finding him guilty of subversion, his lawyer said.

Liu Shaoming, 59, was handed the sentence by the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court, his defense attorney Wu Kuiming told RFA.

"Of course this is totally unreasonable, because he is innocent, and this is a very heavy sentence," Wu said. "I was a bit surprised, because four-and-a-half years is a tough sentence."

"He also thinks that the sentence has very little to do with the things he has said, and he will be appealing, although appealing usually results in the initial decision being upheld in such cases, in my experience," he said.

Wu said Liu's family has been left reeling by the harshness of the sentence, amid growing fears for his health in prison.

Liu was initially detained on May 30, 2015, on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge frequently used by police to target dissidents and rights activists.

But he was tried in April 2016 on the more serious charge of "incitement to subvert state power."

Liu had been active in a number of industrial disputes in recent years, including speaking out on behalf of cleaners at Guangzhou's University City, striking workers at the Xinsheng Shoe Factory, and many others, he said.

Broader campaign

The jailing of rights activists is part of a broader campaign by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to exert political pressure on civil society groups, which include those campaigning for the rights of women, migrant workers, consumers, students in education, sex workers, and those with disabilities and diseases.

Guangdong-based rights activist Sun Tao said he had been detained alongside three other activists as they tried attend the sentencing hearing on Friday.

"The road outside the court was lined with police vehicles, at least 10 of them, all kinds," Sun said. "We took a photo outside the court on the opposite side of the road, and posted it online, but then we were stopped by [police] before we even reached the court."

"They checked our IDs, and then took us down to the police station ... on suspicion of disrupting public order," he said. "They just detain people when they feel like it now."

Liu's friend Guo Chunping told RFA that he is a longtime democracy activist who was detained for publishing an online memoir of the 1989 military crackdown on the student-led pro-democracy movement, as well as being a labor activist.

"The socioeconomic background is that the Chinese economy started to slow down, which led to a lot of people losing their jobs," Guo said.

"If they hadn't cracked down on the labor movement, then more and more people would have gotten involved, and become dissidents," he said.

"The authorities see the labor movement and the pro-democracy movement as interconnected, and Liu Xiaoming had written a memoir of June 4, 1989, which is probably what angered the Chinese Communist Party," he said.

Hong Kong labor union leader and veteran rights activist Lee Cheuk-yan said Liu had done nothing wrong, however.

"All Liu Shaoming did was basically to express his opinion on workers' rights and about not forgetting the Tiananmen Massacre," Lee told RFA.

"He was held for some time before finally being sentenced for incitement to subvert state power, which I think is an abuse of power."

"It's now very common for them to treat any kind of opinion as subverting state power, which is very worrying indeed," he said.

Reported by Tam Lee for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Ding Wenqi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.