China jails three rights activists in Guangzhou city: Lawyers

Protestors holding portraits of (left to right) Wang Qingying, Yuan Chaoyang and Tang Jingling in Hong Kong on Jan 29, 2016.
Protestors holding portraits of (left to right) Wang Qingying, Yuan Chaoyang and Tang Jingling in Hong Kong on Jan 29, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

GUANGZHOU, CHINA (REUTERS) - A Chinese court jailed three rights activists for up to five years on Friday (Jan 29), lawyers said, on charges including inciting subversion, amid what critics see as an intensifying crackdown on dissent under President Xi Jinping.

The Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court sentenced human rights lawyer Tang Jingling and two other activists, Yuan Xinting, 44, and Wang Qingying, to five years, three-and-a-half years and two-and-a-half years imprisonment, respectively, according to their lawyers.

Tang, 44, a prominent rights activist in the southern city of Guangzhou, was charged with "inciting subversion of state power" as well as publishing books on democracy.

The trio were known as the "three gentlemen of Guangzhou", part of a once vibrant network of activists in the city.

Human rights groups and some Western countries have expressed repeated concern about a widening campaign to quash dissent among academics, journalists and social activists.

China rejects any criticism of its human rights record, saying it is a country ruled by law and that it opposes external interference in its domestic affairs.

Scores of police fenced off the court's perimeter, preventing two foreign diplomats, from the United States and Germany, attending the trial.

Police bundled several supporters into vehicles and took them away, while journalists were blocked from filming by officers wielding black umbrellas. "This verdict is unacceptable," said Tang's wife, Wang Yanfang, outside the court. "They violated no laws, and the charges are politically motivated ... They were only trying to help society." The Guangzhou intermediate court could not be reached for a response to accusations the men were not granted a fair trial.

It had not released any information about the trial on its website or Weibo feed by late afternoon.

One of the lawyers defending the men, Ge Yongxi, said Tang would not appeal because it would be "meaningless in the face of a court that is acting illegally".

He said Tang told the court he would only appeal to the citizens of China and to God for justice. "Their peaceful and legitimate work never threatened state security, this is solely about the authorities arbitrarily silencing government critics," Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

As part of the indictment against the men, they were accused of distributing books by Gene Sharp, a U.S. academic who promotes systems of non-violent action to build democracy.

Authorities also accused Tang of inciting people to join a"Citizen Non-Cooperation Movement", to try to overthrow the socialist system.

Tang repeatedly denied the charges, insisting his rights and legal work and advocacy of reforms were meant to bolster social justice and the rule of law.