Two mainland Chinese activists who supported pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong were jailed by a court in southern China on Friday for subverting state power, but their lawyer said their heavy sentences were part of an ongoing crackdown on civil society.
Su Changlan and Chen Qitang, who both faced “incitement to subvert state power” charges, were jailed for three and four and a half years respectively by a court in Foshan, near Guangzhou, according to their lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan.
The verdict made no mention of Hong Kong.
At least four other Chinese activists have been put behind bars for supporting Hong Kong’s Occupy Central pro-democracy protests in 2014. At least 100 people on the mainland had been detained for voicing support for the demonstrations, according to Amnesty International.
Liu said he was very angry and disappointed at both the heavy sentence and what he called the court’s disrespect of the law.
“They have alternative opinions and views, and sometimes they can be very critical of the government, but this does not mean they are subverting state power,” Liu said.
“Now they’ve been sentenced heavily … our freedom of speech will only be further restricted.”
Liu said the case had dragged on for an unreasonable amount of time, and the pair planned to appeal.
Security was tight around the courthouse, with scores of police blocking the area, according to footage carried by Hong Kong’s Cable TV.
Su, a prominent women’s rights advocate in Southern China, had been taken into custody by Guangzhou police in late 2014 for expressing support on social media for the Hong Kong protests. Su suffered from a thyroid ailment and had been denied multiple requests for bail on medical grounds.
Chen, meanwhile, had posted articles in support of human rights and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, according to Amnesty International.
Both had pleaded not guilty. Calls to the Foshan people’s court went unanswered.
“The Chinese authorities are very scared that universal values would affect the (Chinese) public … This is how Hong Kong is dangerous in the Chinese authorities’ eyes,” said Chow Hang-tung, a barrister and vice chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance that champions democratic causes.
“Hong Kong is all about the rule of law and democracy.”
China’s leadership has overseen a sweeping crackdown on rights activists since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, including detaining or imprisoning dozens of rights lawyers in what the government says is the targeting of criminal acts.