China jails leading human rights lawyer | News | DW | 04.08.2016
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China jails leading human rights lawyer

A leading Chinese rights lawyer has been convicted of subversion and sentenced to seven years in prison. It is the third trial this week as authorities jail legal activists who have been critical of the Communist Party.

Chinese human rights lawyer Zhou Shifeng was sentenced Thursday to seven years in prison in what critics say demonstrates the ruling Communist Party's determination to silence independent activists and government critics.

The conviction stems from his role as director of Beijing's Fengrui Law Firm, which since 2007 had taken on sensitive cases and represented members of banned religious groups, dissident scholars and others who dared challenge the party. He rose to fame in China when in 2008 he took on one of the country's largest dairy producers in a massive tainted infant formula scandal that the government had tried to squelch.

Prosecutors released a statement in which Zhou allegedly confessed that his legal activities were actually an intelligence operation directed by "foreign forces" to stir up domestic unrest and embarrass China.

"They actively enticed me, wanted to use us to continue to attack court trials, attack China's entire trial and judicial system, and bring trouble to the government. Their ultimate goal is to overthrow the Communist Party leadership," Zhou said in a statement, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

'Subverting state power'

The 52-year-old Beijing attorney was convicted of "subverting state power" by the Second Intermediate People's Court in the northern city of Tianjin, Xinhua reported. The report said he had pleaded guilty and would not appeal.

Zhou was at the center of the so-called "709 crackdown" - named for the July 2015 date on which authorities began arresting and jailing hundreds of activists and legal advocates and often holding them incommunicado for months, leading family members and friends to be denied information on their status or even their whereabouts.

Zhou's final case involved Zhang Miao, a news assistant for the German weekly Die Zeit, who was detained for nine months after helping with the magazine's coverage of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The lawyer was meeting Zhang at a hotel in suburban Beijing following her release when he was seized, hooded and spirited away by government agents.

Authorities claim the legal proceedings are open, with court officials saying that more than 40 people including politicians, legal scholars, and "civilian representatives from all walks of life" as well as mainland and overseas media outlets attended Zhou's trial.

China Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court

The half-day trial in the northern city of Tianjin followed those of two related legal activists earlier this week, both on charges of subversion. As with the others, Zhou was detained in July of last year during a sweeping roundup of activists and lawyers.

Family members kept away

But family members of those detained, including their spouses, complain of being constantly monitored and forcibly kept away from the court or prevented from seeking further information.

Authorities released a note, purportedly written by Zhou himself, saying he did not want his family to attend. "Given that my family members are all farmers who are not very well-educated, having them come to the court to attend my hearing would be of no benefit to either me or them," the message said.

The half-day trial followed those of activists Zhai Yanmin and Hu Shigen, who were both found guilty of subverting state power this week by the same court. Hundreds more are in detention, their fate unclear.

jar/kl (AP, Reuters, AFP)