04:03, April 28 246 0 theguardian.com

2017-04-28 04:03:03
China convicts rights lawyer Li Heping of 'subversion of state power'

A respected Christian human rights lawyer has been convicted of “subversion of state power” at a secret trial in China, almost two years after he was first detained in a sweeping crackdown.

Li Heping was sentenced to three years in prison with a four-year reprieve, the court in the eastern city of Tianjin said on an official social media account, meaning he should be released but could be arrested and jailed at any point.

The trial was held behind closed doors on 25 April because “the case involved state secrets”, the court said.

Li was swept up in a nationwide crackdown on rights lawyers and activists in July 2015, where about 250 people were detained or questioned by police. Since assuming power, China’s president, Xi Jinping, has launched a new wave of attacks on activists and the lawyers who defend them.

Li’s case drew attention around the world and European Union officials, as well as the embassies of 11 countries, called for his claims of torture while in custody to be investigated. His wife has said authorities used electric shocks on him.

Li became well known for defending the disenfranchised, including Christian house churches, victims of forced evictions and free speech advocates. He worked within the scope of China’s legal system, rather than taking to the streets in protest. One Chinese security agent reportedly once told Li that the state considered him “more dangerous than Bin Laden”.

Although Li is likely to be released in the coming weeks, he has already spent more than 20 months in detention. At least 11 activists who received suspended sentences disappeared shortly after they were released, with some forced to undergo months of political education classes before being placed under house arrest by local police, according to human rights groups.

The court’s verdict was seen as a warning to other activists, and included a catalogue of vague charges, without citing any specific examples of illegality.

“The court ruled that since 2008, the defendant Li Heping repeatedly used the internet and foreign media interviews to discredit and attack state power and the legal system,” the court said. The court also accused Li of accepting foreign funds and employing paid defendants.

The conviction came on the same day that another civil rights lawyer, Xie Yang, was set to go on trial, but it was later cancelled.