BEIJING: A Chinese human rights activist was on Friday given a three year suspended prison sentence for subversion, a court said — the fourth such case this week as authorities crack down on dissent.
Christian activist Gou Hongguo had gone abroad to be trained in “subverting state power”, the Second Intermediate People’s Court in the northern city of Tianjin said on a verified social media account.
He sought to turn public opinion against the government and attempted to overthrow the socialist system, among a litany of other offences, it said.
Gou was given three years in prison, suspended for three years, the court statement said, adding he pleaded guilty and said he would not appeal.
The sentence is relatively light by the standards of dissident trials in China, where the courts are controlled by the ruling Communist Party.
Gou, who had protested against forced evictions, was one of more than 200 activists and lawyers involved in cases the party considers sensitive who were detained in the so-called “709 crackdown” — named for its main date in July 2015, although Gou was held on the 10th.
His trial was the fourth at the Tianjin court this week, and followed that of high-profile rights lawyer Zhou Shifeng, whose Fengrui law firm — known for taking on cases of dissident scholars, victims of sexual abuse and members of banned religious groups — has been at the center of the 709 crackdown.
Zhou was on Thursday given seven years in prison for subversion.
Activist Zhai Yanmin was on Tuesday handed a three-year suspended sentence for crimes that included waving banners and shouting slogans, while Hu Shigen, a Christian campaigner who was a member of the same underground church as Gou, was jailed for seven and a half years on Wednesday.
Despite Zhai’s sentence being suspended, detainees’ relatives and campaign groups said he had yet to return home, and his whereabouts remained unknown. It was not clear what will happen to Gou, who received a similar sentence.
“Just because people are released doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be completely free in China, where they can for example be released to a detention center,” Kit Chen, executive director of the China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group, told Agence France-Presse.
She cited the example of legal assistant Zhao Wei, detained in the 709 crackdown and released on bail last month according to police, but whose family have been unable to contact her.
“All the trials were pre-arranged showcase trials,” Chen said.
A suspended sentence was “normally unimaginable” for a crime as serious as subversion, she added, but at the same time, “if you look at the kind of evidence and so-called facts that they used to accuse the defendants, none of what they did amounted to subversion.”
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the charges at the Tianjin trials were “vague and apparently politically motivated”.
“It’s troubling that Chinese authorities denied these defendants access to their chosen counsel and family members as well,” he said. “We urge China to release all the lawyers and activists who were detained on July 9th, 2015, and remove restrictions on their freedom of movement and professional activities.”
Authorities insist the Tianjin trials are open, with the court stating that about 40 people including politicians, legal scholars, and “civilian representatives from all walks of life”, as well as mainland and foreign media outlets, were present at Gou’s proceedings.
But family members of those detained, particularly their wives, complain of being constantly under surveillance and forcibly being kept away from the court or barred from seeking further information.
Gou’s wife Fan Lili went to the court earlier this week, falling to the ground outside the building weeping, saying she had not been informed of her husband’s trial date and had not been allowed in.
Watched by scores of police and plainclothes officers, she reportedly pleaded for him to come home and meet his 16-month-old son for the first time.