BEIJING: Three labor activists were given suspended sentences of two to four years, Chinese state media said Tuesday, citing their involvement with “overseas organizations hostile to China”. Zeng Feiyang, director of the prominent labor rights group the Panyu Workers’ Center, was given a three-year sentence suspended for four years, while his co-workers Tang Huanxing and Zhu Xiaomei received 18 months suspended for two years, the official Xinhua news agency said. They had been helping workers in the southern province of Guangdong win payment of wages and unpaid benefits in disputes against employers, but were convicted of “ignoring national laws and organizing mass gatherings that disturbed social order,” Xinhua cited a Guangdong court as saying. Independent trade unions are banned in China, with only the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions legally recognized. However, critics say it often fails to assist workers in disputes. “I accepted training and funding from overseas organizations hostile to China, and, at their request, incited and organized workers to protect their rights in an extreme way,” Zeng said in his closing remarks, according to Xinhua. “I hope that others will take my case as a lesson and not be conned by such organizations,” he added. A Monday report from the Ministry of Public Security claimed that Zeng had misappropriated funds from “multiple overseas groups and foreign embassies” since 2010, Xinhua said.