BEIJING: Prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison on the charge of subversion of state power, more than three years after he was detained in a wide-ranging crackdown on the legal profession.
The No. 2 Intermediate Court in the northeastern city of Tianjin passed the sentence on Monday, the court said in an online statement. It said Wang’s political rights were also being withheld for five years.
Wang was tried in a closed hearing last month after being held without access to his lawyers or family since he became one of more than 200 legal activists detained during a 2015 crackdown. It wasn’t clear whether his time in detention would be counted against his sentence.
Wang had been a member of the Fengrui law firm that was well known for its advocacy work. As such, he pursued land rights cases on behalf of poor villagers and represented members of the banned Falun Gong meditation sect.
Legal advocacy had flourished for a time after China opened up its society and economy in the late 1970s, as lawyers defended the disenfranchised and contributed to a nascent civil society.
While these lawyers frequently faced intimidation and harassment from the authorities, the roundup in 2015 marked a severe turning point, displaying president and ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s determination to crush any potential challenges to his authority.
The crackdown made clear that human rights lawyers would come to face the kinds of charges previously reserved for those they defended. The coordinated sweep left lawyers detained, disbarred, under house arrest or facing vague charges. It’s known as the “709 crackdown” for the date, July 9, on which the majority of them were taken.
Most of the lawyers have since been released, though they can no longer practice or talk openly with the media. Wang is believed to be one of the last to be tried.
Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu, was kept from attending his trial by security agents who had blocked the exit of her apartment complex. The Associated Press was seeking comment from her on Monday.