BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Friday convicted a rights activist for subversion and sentenced him to three years prison, the fourth such sentencing this week and the latest move by authorities to crackdown on activists and lawyers.
Gou Hongguo, 54, an associate of the Beijing Fengrui law firm, pleaded guilty and said he would not appeal the sentence, the official Xinhua news agency said.
However a three year reprieve accompanying the sentence means Gou is likely to be released subject to strict monitoring.
A court in China’s northeastern city of Tianjin in recent days has handed out prison terms of more than seven years to activists and lawyers linked with the Beijing law firm, which has represented high-profile clients critical of the government.
Dozens of people linked to the firm have been swept up in a crackdown on dissents since July last year, as President Xi Jinping’s administration has tightened control, citing a need to boost national security and stability.
International rights groups have criticized the trials as unfair and politically motivated, and the United States has called for the release of the lawyers and activists.
Xinhua cited prosecutors as saying Gou had been influenced by the underground church leader Hu Shigen’s ideology of “overturning the government”.
Hu was sentenced on Wednesday to seven and a half years prison, and Zhou Shifeng, the firm’s director, was given seven years on Thursday, both on similar charges. Prominent activist Zhai Yanmin was sentenced on Tuesday.
Authorities have accused the firm and its associates of orchestrating protests outside courts, politicizing ordinary legal cases, and conspiring with “foreign forces” that sought to undermine China’s ruling Communist Party.
“Gou Hongguo was sent outside of China’s borders by Hu Shigen to receive training related to subverting the government,” Xinhua said.
Their “systematic ideology for subverting government power” seriously damaged national security and social stability, it said.
The court said Gou’s “light punishment” was due in part to his expressed contrition, according to a summary posted to its official microblog.
The court did not answer phone calls seeking comment.
China consistently rejects any criticism of its human rights record, saying it adheres to the rule of law.
Subversion charges are commonly leveled against critics of the party, and rights groups say in such cases there is little chance of a fair trial in party-controlled courts.
Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Michael Perry