Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin on Wednesday jailed a prominent pro-democracy activist and unofficial “house church” leader for seven years and six months on subversion charges as part of an ongoing crackdown on human rights lawyers and their associates.
Hu Shigen was handed the prison term by the Tianjin No. 2 People’s Court, which found him guilty of “subversion of state power,” the court said on its official microblog account.
Hu had “confessed to his crimes,” and indicated he wouldn’t appeal the sentence, China Central Television (CCTV) reported. However, his associates said that while he had admitted to carrying out certain actions, he hadn't pled guilty.
After previously being sentenced for “endangering state security,” Hu had failed to reflect on his mistakes, nor did he feel any remorse, it said.
“Using illegal religious activities as a platform after joining an underground church in 2009, he propagated ideology online that was intended to subvert the government … traveling overseas to receive anti-China training,” the broadcaster, which is directly controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said.
“He conspired, along with [Beijing Fengrui law firm boss] Zhou Shifeng, Li Heping and Zhai Yanmin, to overthrow the government,” it said.
Zhai was sentenced in the same court on Tuesday to a three-year jail term, suspended for four years on condition of good behavior.
The trials of Zhou and Li are expected to follow soon.
'Stirring up trouble'
Hu was accused of “directing Zhai to organize petitioners to illegal gatherings, stirring up trouble, and attacking the rule of law,” according to the charges against him.
“He implemented a slew of activities aimed at subverting the government, causing serious damage to national security and to social stability,” the charge sheet said.
Beijing-based rights lawyer Liang Xiaojun said the harsh sentence wasn't unexpected.
"We did actually expect a harsh sentence, because while Hu Shigen did admit to doing certain things, he didn't plead guilty," Liang said. "Also, Zhai Yanmin's 'confession' indicated that he was the ringleader, and there were a lot of accusations against him."
"So it wasn't unexpected for him to get seven-and-a-half years, given the circumstances."
Hu was among more than 300 human rights lawyers and associates detained in a nationwide crackdown that began with the detention of Fengrui rights lawyer Wang Yu, her husband, and colleagues on the night of July 9, 2015.
Wang, who faced the same charges as Hu, was granted “bail” on Monday after making a televised “confession” that many rejected as heavily scripted and likely made under threat of harm to herself or her family. Her current whereabouts are unknown.
All for show
Wang’s close friend and fellow rights lawyer Chen Jiangang said none of the detained lawyers or rights activists can expect anything resembling a fair trial.
“We all know … the model by now: You get them where you want them, and you get them to accept it,” Chen said. “Then, you allow them to play out that role in front of the cameras.”
“It’s just like the trial of [former Chongqing party boss] Bo Xilai: it’s all for show, nothing more.”
The detentions of Wang, her husband Bao Longjun, and the other Fengrui colleagues later widened to include the detention and interrogation of more than 300 lawyers, paralegals, law firm employees, and rights activists.
Bao, Zhou, and 12 others are now under formal arrest on subversion-related charges, many of them in police-run detention centers in the northern city of Tianjin, where they have been denied access to their own lawyers.
Reported by Yang Fan and Xin Lin for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.