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China Punishing Human Rights Defenders

Fan Lili, the wife of imprisoned activist Gou Hongguo, lies on the ground in tears following an interaction with a plainclothed police officer outside the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court in Tianjin, China on Aug. 1, 2016.

Human rights monitors and the international community have expressed concern at the recent sentencing of Chinese human rights defenders.

China Punishing Human Rights Defenders
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Human rights monitors and the international community have expressed concern at the recent sentencing of Chinese human rights defenders, whose professional activities were labeled by the government as “subversion of state power.”

In July 2015, over 300 human rights lawyers and activists were arrested, interrogated and detained in a nation-wide campaign against the legal community. One year later, more than 20 were still in custody. Recently, several of them, including attorney Wang Yu, appeared on video or in televised trials renouncing their past activities and confessing to being influenced by so-called “foreign forces.” Chinese authorities announced that Ms. Wang and her husband and fellow attorney Bao Longjun were released by authorities on bail, although questions remain concerning their whereabouts.

In early August, four of the rights defenders were convicted by a court in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin and given sentences ranging from a three-year suspended sentence to seven and a half years in prison. The four include attorney Zhou Shifeng, director of the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, which was known for defending dissidents and religious minorities; Zhou’s associate Zhai Yanmin; and rights activists Hu Shigen and Gou Hongguo, who were associated with Christian house churches in China.

Human Rights Watch called the confessions of the four men “coerced” and their trials “a miscarriage of justice.” Amnesty International said, “This wave of trials against lawyers and activists are a political charade…The Chinese authorities appear intent on silencing anyone who raises legitimate questions about human rights and uses the legal system to seek redress.”

Director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Press Relations Elizabeth Trudeau issued a statement calling the charge of subversion of state power against the four rights defenders “apparently politically motivated.” She noted that more “than a dozen other attorneys and activists detained on and around July 9, 2015, including Li Heping, remain in pretrial detention without access to their families or to legal counsel of their own choosing.”

The Chinese government’s campaign against lawyers and rights activists “undermines China’s development of a judicial system that respects the rule of law,” Ms. Trudeau said. “We urge Chinese authorities to release the lawyers and rights defenders who are imprisoned or in detention, including those already sentenced. We call for an immediate end to the cases brought against them and to restrictions on their freedom of movement and professional activities.”