China jails rights lawyer for 7 years

TIANJIN • A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer was convicted of subversion and given a seven-year jail term, state media has reported - the third such trial this week as the authorities crack down on dissent.

Zhou Shifeng yesterday pleaded guilty to charges of "subverting state power", the official Xinhua news agency cited the Second Intermediate People's Court in Tianjin city as saying. He said he would not appeal, Xinhua added.

He was director of Beijing Fengrui, a law firm that has defended victims of sexual abuse, members of banned religious groups and dissident scholars. It was at the centre of the 709 Crackdown, launched on July 9 last year, which saw over 200 activists and lawyers detained for involvement in cases deemed sensitive by the Communist Party.

The trial was held under airtight security, with police stationed for blocks around the court, filming those there. Journalists were diverted from the site and closely trailed.

The authorities insist the trials are open. The court says over 40 people including politicians, legal scholars and "civilian representatives from all walks of life", as well as local and overseas media outlets, were there.

But families of those detained said they were constantly surveilled and forcibly kept away. The court said in a social media post that Zhou stated twice in writing that he did not want relatives to attend his trial.

The court included a photo of what it said was a handwritten letter signed and fingerprinted by Zhou: "As my family members are all farmers who are not very well-educated, having them come to court to attend my hearing would be of no benefit to either me or them."

He is the third 709 detainee to go on trial in Tianjin this week. Earlier, the same court found activists Zhai Yanmin and Hu Shigen guilty of subverting state power.

Zhai was on Tuesday handed a three-year suspended sentence for crimes that included waving banners. Hu was on Wednesday jailed for 71/2 years, with the court stating he had sought to foment "colour revolution".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2016, with the headline 'China jails rights lawyer for 7 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe