Zhou Shifeng, the latest human rights lawyer to be tried by the No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court, was sentenced to 7 years in prison for subversion today.
This is the third trial this week in which a Chinese human rights lawyer has been sentenced to imprisonment for challenging the authority of the Chinese government.
Zhou was the director of the Fengrui Law Firm and represented individuals who stood up to the ruling Chinese Communist Party. He worked alongside Zhai Yanmin and Hu Shigen, two human rights lawyers arrested and respectively sentenced to 3 and 7.5 years in prison for subversion earlier this week.
China said that “die-hard” human rights lawyer Zhou was influenced by foreign anti-China forces. Zhou confessed, “They actively tried to draw me in and pushed me to impact the courts and China’s entire judicial system and to make trouble for the Chinese government.” He added that the goal of the foreign forces who supposedly manipulated him is “to overthrow the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.”
After founding Fengrui Law Firm in 2007, Zhou represented members of the illegal Falun Gong movement, artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei, and news assistant Zhang Miao. He was arrested last year during a meeting with Zhang.
Zhou also took the Chinese government to task over a scandal in which the government tried to cover up the production of poisoned baby formula.
During Thursday’s trial, Zhou admitted to encouraging lawyers to highlight sensitive cases to defame the state, and even going so far as to hire protesters to disrupt normal Chinese legal processes. Some who testified against him said that Zhou intentionally worked to create confusion, stir up social instability, and rally against the Chinese judicial system, a system with a 99.9 percent conviction rate.
Roseann Rife, the East Asia research director for Amnesty International, said that the wave of trials in Tianjin are “a political charade.”
“Their fate was sealed before they stepped into the courtroom and there was no chance that they would ever receive a fair trial,” Rife continued. “The Chinese authorities appear intent on silencing anyone who raises legitimate questions about human rights and uses the legal system to seek redress.”
“These cases lay bare China authorities’ shameless manipulation of the legal system to silence rule of law advocates and critics,” Sophie Richardson, the China director for Human Rights Watch, said.
Zhou, Hu, and Zhai were held in detention for more than a year before trial, prevented from choosing their own defense lawyers, and their families were not allowed to attend their trials.
Prior to Zhou’s trial, Huang Bin at Tianjin’s No. 1 Detention House explained that China considers the protection of defendants’ rights very important. Huang said that “better legal protection” for defendants is the reason for the relatively healthy condition of the defendants who have been tried this week.
Rife argued, “The authorities are using vague legal provisions as a weapon to give their politically-motivated assault the veneer of legitimacy.”
Another 14 political dissidents arrested in last year’s crackdown, including 10 facing state security charges, are still awaiting trial.
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