CHINA – Christian church leader jailed in human rights crackdown
Hu Shigen, a prominent Christian leader of an underground church, was sentenced to seven years in jail and derived of political rights for five years by a court in Tianjin in a crackdown on human rights activists. Hu was charged with subversion, becoming the second person to be jailed in two days for subversion by the court 100 kilometers (60 miles) south-east of Beijing. China State media reported that Hu confessed to being deeply connected to “foreign anti-China forces” and had conspired with members of the Fengrui firm about “how to get lawyers involved with sensitive incidents”. Hu pleaded guilty in Tianjin to “damaging national security and harming social stability.”
However, human rights groups say that Hu’s main “crime” was leading underground Christian churches that were not sanctioned by the Communist party and advocating greater freedom of speech and religion.
Prior to this latest sentence, Hu had spent 16 years in jail for other political offences.
Hu co-founded the China Freedom and Democracy Party and in the early 1990s, he wrote articles and distributed fliers calling for the commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square victims. Hu was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in jail in 1994 for “organizing and leading a counter-revolutionary group” and “engaging in counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement.” When Hu was released after 16 years in 2008, he resumed his activism. Hu was detained again in 2011 and 2014.
Hu is the latest to be jailed by Chinese courts during a week of trials of rights activists and lawyers and public confessions that have shocked international observers. Around 300 lawyers and activists have been rounded up since last year as part of a nationwide crackdown. Two activists are currently facing trial on subversion charges while around 20 still remain in secret detention. Families of those arrested say they had no access to their relatives.
Chinese authorities claim that those who were tried, including lawyers in the Fengrui law firm, conspired to overthrow the Chinese Communist party. However, the international community described the arrests of church leaders and activists as a government attempt to silence critics. China Human Rights Defenders, a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington DC, said the detentions and trials make a mockery of China’s officially-stated commitment to rule of law. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has started posting videos mocking what he sees as a clumsy attempts by China to manufacture “confessions” from activists.