House Church Leader Among Four Pro-Democracy Activists Sentenced in China

shigen background-compressed(Morning Star News) Two Christians were among four activists convicted under fabricated charges of “subverting state power” in China last week.

The Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court sentenced house-church leader Hu Shigen, 61, on Wednesday (Aug. 3) to seven and a half years in prison on charges of “subverting state power” for his work as an activist advocating democracy, according to news reports. On Friday (Aug. 5), the court sentenced Christian activist Gou Hongguo to a three-year, suspended sentence on the same charge. The 55-year-old Gou thus will not serve time in prison.

Also sentenced was 55-year-old human rights advocate Zhai Yanmin, who on Tuesday (Aug. 2) received a three-year suspended sentence for “subverting state power.” Prosecutors accused Zhai, along with Hu, Zhou and detained lawyer Li Heping, of establishing “a systematic ideology, method and steps to achieve” subverting state power, according to state media.

On Thursday (Aug. 4) the court sentenced human rights attorney Zhou Shifeng to seven years in prison for “subverting state power.” The 52-year-old Zhou leads a law firm, Fengrui, that defended people the communist government opposed.

“After more than 12 months of arbitrary arrest and detention in ‘black jails’ without any legitimate legal representation or family visitations, these rushed trials and harsh sentences are clearly nothing but political and religious persecution,” China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement on Friday (Aug. 5). “The international community should unequivocally condemn this total disregard of the rule of law and the Chinese government’s commitment to international human rights laws.”

The four were detained along with dozens of other lawyers and activists in a widespread crack-down on human rights advocates in July 2015. In a rehearsed guilty plea designed to avert further abuse, Hu reportedly said he had taken a “criminal path” to promote Western-style democracy since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and confessed to trying to overthrow the Communist Party. He pledged to refrain from taking part in further “anti-government or anti-party” actions.

The court accused Hu of sending Gou to Taiwan in 2014 to take part in the Interethnic/Interfaith Leadership Conference in Taipei, organized by the U.S.-based Initiatives for China, a Non-Governmental Organization. Gou is a member of Hu’s church. Prosecutors said the conference featured speakers and supporters of (non-violent) independence for Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia and was thus considered anti-China training.

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Defense lawyers reportedly argued that Gou learned who was speaking at the forum only after he arrived, and that he did not address the conference. Nor did he distribute the forum speeches upon his return to mainland China, they said.

Gou was also accused of organizing and paying for a lunch gathering in Beijing on Feb. 1, 2015, where house-church members, attorneys and other pro-democracy activists discussed social movements in Robert’s Rules of Order, a 19th century book on conducting meetings and making decisions as a group. Prosecutors said the meeting’s discussion of protests and labor law was meant to challenge the Communist Party’s rule.

Defense attorneys argued that Gou played only a small role in the luncheon of 15 people. In his rehearsed plea to forestall further abuse, however, Gou expressed regret for his alleged violation, adding that he has an older brother who is disabled and a 1-year-old son to care for. He vowed not to appeal.

Fu of the U.S.-based China Aid urged the U.S. government to intervene.

“With next month’s G20 summit being held in China, we urge the United States to ask the Chinese government to immediately release those who were sentenced and those who are about to be tried in the next few days, including attorney Li Heping,” he said. “The Chinese regime should also immediately stop mistreating their family members, including their wives and children.”

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