Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Friday handed jail terms of up to four-and-a-half years to four rights activists who publicly supported the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong.
Xie Wenfei and Wang Mo were handed four-and-a-half-year prison sentences by the Intermediate People’s Court in Guangdong’s provincial capital, Guangzhou, after being found guilty of “incitement to subvert state power,” their lawyer told RFA.
Zhang Shengyu was jailed for four years, while Liang Qinhui, also known by his online nickname “Sharp Knife,” was handed an 18-month prison sentence on the same charges.
All four men had expressed public support for the Occupy Central movement, and were detained amid a nationwide roundup of at least 100 mainland Chinese supporters of Occupy Central, rights groups said at the time.
Xie, who is also known as Xie Fengxia, was detained in October 2014 after wearing a black T-shirt and holding a banner in support of the 79-day Hong Kong pro-democracy movement on the streets of Guangzhou.
He entered the courtroom for the sentencing hearing on Friday shouting “Build a democratic China!” and “Down with the Communist Party!”, Wang’s lawyer Tan Chenshou said after the hearing.
“He was still yelling slogans as he was being led out of the courtroom, after the verdict and sentences were passed,” Tan said, adding that he rejects the court’s decision.
“This verdict and sentence are ridiculous, and … have been handed down in a situation where the ruling Chinese Communist Party has a total monopoly on power,” Tan said.
Defendants can’t speak
The entire hearing took around 20 minutes, and Xie was cut short in the middle of a statement, while the other defendants were prevented from speaking at all, he said, adding that Wang Mo and Xie had said they will likely appeal.
Liang’s attorney Wu Kouming said he had taken the news calmly. “All he did was to post a few things online; he didn’t take part in any other activities,” Wu said.
“It seems there are a lot of cases of this sort these days, where posting something online can be charged as subversion.”
Tan said a large group of supporters and would-be observers had gathered outside the court buildings on Friday, including foreign diplomats.
“I saw some consulate staff from Guangzhou consulates, as well as [local rights activist] Li Biyun,” he said, adding that police had detained or confined a large number of would-be supporters under house arrest on Thursday.
Among those detained were He Lin, Li Xiaoling, Zhang Bo and Luo Jianhua, as well as online activists Shisan Yi and Zhou Jie.
Sources told RFA that they were all taken away by police after they tried to gather in Guangzhou for a meal on Thursday evening.
“There was a heavy police presence with a lot of vehicles [outside the court today],” Tan said on Friday. “There was a packed crowd outside the door of our law firm.”
A supporter surnamed Jiang said there were 100-200 police at the scene.
“At least two people were detained outside the court today, and possibly four,” Jiang said. “There were also consular officials from four different countries who came, but they weren’t allowed in past the metal road barriers the authorities had put there.”
“There was a crew from Hong Kong’s Cable TV that was filming outside, but they were stopped by the state security police,” Jiang added.
Supporters also detained
Zhang’s sister Zhang Wuzhou and local activist Jia Pin were detained from outside the court buildings on Friday, sources said.
Among the supporters on the scene was rights activist Wang Aizhong, who was also detained for a few hours by police on Thursday, he said.
“They came to see me at around 5.00 p.m. and took a statement [at the police station], and I didn’t get home again until 10.00 p.m.,” Wang said. “It was because there was a meal planned, but I couldn’t go, as I had something else on.”
“But they detained me anyway. They were moving in to limit people’s movements because they were so afraid they would show up here today,” he said.
“A lot of the supporters who came from out of town have already been escorted back to their hometowns,” Wang added.
Liang and Zhang Shengyu stood trial at the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on Nov. 13, 2015.
Xie and Wang Mo appeared at the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on Nov. 19 charged with “incitement to subvert state power” in a trial that closed after only one day.
Hong Kong rights lawyer Albert Ho, who heads the Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, said the sentences were “uncivilized.”
“All they did was to express their opinions in a totally peaceful manner, in accordance with their constitutional rights,” Ho said.
“The authorities are acting unconstitutionally by suppressing them in this manner.”
On the same day as the Guangzhou activists received their sentences, a court in the central city of Wuhan handed down a four-year jail term to Xu Zhiqiang, a Buddhist monk also known as Master Shengguan, and a two-year sentence to Huang Jingyi, an associate, also for “incitement to subvert state power.”
Xu had campaigned on behalf of the families of victims of the 1989 military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy movement, and called on officials to make public details of their wealth.
Ho said his group strongly opposed all six subversion sentences, both the four in Guangzhou and the two in Wuhan.
The Occupy Central, or Umbrella Movement campaigned for Beijing to withdraw an Aug, 31, 2014 electoral reform plan, which it rejected as “fake universal suffrage,” and to allow publicly nominated candidates to run for chief executive in 2017.
The plan, which offered a one-person, one-vote in 2017 elections for chief executive, but required candidates to be vetted by Beijing, was voted down on June 18, 2015 by 28 votes to eight in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, leaving the city with its existing voting arrangements still in place.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.