Beijing's crackdown on human rights activists has continued with the indictment of a Canadian pastor. Three pro-democracy advocates were sent to prison.
Canadian pastor Kevin Garratt was charged with espionage and stealing state secrets by the Chinese government late on Thursday. The move to indict Garratt comes after he was held for 18 months without charge.
According to the Xinhua state news agency, a probe into the Canadian's activities in China "found evidence that implicates Garratt in accepting tasks from Canadian espionage agencies to gather intelligence in China." If found guilty of stealing state secrets, the sentence can be anywhere from 10 years in jail to execution.
The Pentecostal pastor and his family first arrived in China in 1984. Since 2008, they have lived in Dandong, near the border with North Korea, where they held church services and organized charity drives for North Korean orphanages and elderly care facilities. Garratt's wife, Julia, was also arrested in August 2014 but later released on bail.
The Canadian government called the case "concerning," and issued a statement saying the government of Canada has raised this case with the Chinese government at high levels.
More than 300 activists detained
Garratt's trial comes amidst Beijing's continuing crackdown on human rights activists throughout the country. Three pro-democracy advocates were handed prison sentences for trying to start a civil disobedience group.
After a closed-door trial at the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court, lawyer Tang Jingling was given a five-year jail term and his two associates, a married couple, received prison sentences of two and a half and three and a half years for trying to overthrow the government.
The three had been in custody since May 2014. The activists told the press that they had downloaded Internet pamphlets on nonviolent resistance and had distributed copies of them.
Since assuming office in 2013, President Xi Jinping has overseen a stringent clampdown on opposition to the official state Communist Party. Since last summer, more than 300 activists and lawyers have been arrested or have disappeared, the most famous cases being that of a Hong Kong bookseller who sold material banned on the mainland and Swedish NGO worker Peter Dahlin, who was eventually deported from China on Monday.
es/sms (dpa, AP, Reuters)