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An ‘absurd verdict’: Jail terms for China activists who voiced support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy protests

Two activists who voiced support on social media for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014 have been sentenced to jail terms by a court in Guangdong, south China, on Friday.

Su was found guilty of “incitement to subvert state power” by the Foshan Intermediate Court and sentenced to three years imprisonment. She was also stripped of her political rights for three years.

su changlan chen qitang

Su Changlan (left) and Chen Qitang (right). Photo: Apple Daily.

“An extremely absurd verdict,” her lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said on his Twitter account. “When announcing the judgement, they only read the prosecution’s allegations and the court’s decision, and didn’t mention the defence lawyer’s arguments. After the verdict, they didn’t ask Su Changlan whether she would appeal before banging the gavel and saying that the adjudication was over.”

Another activist Chen Qitang – a freelance writer – was sentenced to four years and six months for the same charge, in a closely related case. He took photos of the Occupy camp in Central and uploaded them on Chinese social network WeChat, and also voiced support for Su, according to RTHK.

Liu also said on Twitter that the court did not allow Su to raise additional arguments in her defence as the hearing began.

Su was detained in October 2014 after making comments on social media in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy movement. She previously worked as a volunteer for the New York-based Women’s Rights in China group, and has been a long time campaigner for women’s and children’s rights.

occupy protests

Occupy protests in Admiralty. File Photo: HKFP/Tom Grundy.

Both Su and Chen were tried in April last year, but the court repeatedly delayed its verdict. The two years and five months Su has already been detained will count towards her sentence. The verdict says she will be released on October 26.

The court’s verdicts, photos of which Liu uploaded to Twitter, said that Su, by fabricating rumours and slander, submitted articles and commentary on online media many times, which “created an influence, attacking the socialist system, [and] inciting others to subvert state power.”

It mentioned articles she submitted to overseas websites such as Canyu.org, and the Women’s Rights in China website. Chen’s verdict said he was guilty of similar actions, citing articles he submitted to overseas site Aboluowang. The titles of the articles cited did not refer to Occupy.

According to the parts of the verdict that Liu posted online, Su’s defence lawyers argued that she lacked an objective intent to incite subversion. She said in her own defence that she did not personally post the content online and that she was only recording factual events, not fabricating them.

umbrella pro-democracy legco legislature Occupy Central, Thursday 4 (1) (Copy)

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Chen’s defence lawyers argued that although the content of his articles was sharp, they did not create a real and pressing threat to national security, and Chen was only exercising his right to freedom of expression. The verdict said he will serve time until May 24, 2019.

‘Extremely vague’

Amnesty International researcher Patrick Poon told HKFP: “Su Changlan and Chen Qitang shouldn’t have been detained in the first place. They were just exercising their freedom of expression. The definition of ‘inciting subversion of state power’ is extremely vague. It’s just difficult to imagine how writing articles online and posting messages in chat groups can incite people to subvert a state power which has been ruling China for over 60 years.”

“[W]hen they were first detained, they were accused of supporting the Hong Kong protests,” he said. “However, that’s not mentioned in the indictment and verdict. By sentencing them on the same day and the pre-arranged arrest of the nine people leading the Occupy protests, the Chinese and Hong Kong governments seem to be sending messages to discredit the Umbrella Movement.”

“The repeated delay in the court hearing is also incomprehensible, and violates the international human rights principle of fair trial.”

Occupy protests barricades

Occupy protests. File Photo: HKFP/Tom Grundy.

The pair were targeted as part of a nationwide crackdown in mainland China between September and November 2014, which saw at least 100 people detained for expressing support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, the NGO said in a press release. The Chinese government views the Occupy protests as illegal acts backed by “foreign forces.”

Nine Occupy activists in Hong Kong learned earlier this week that they would be charged with public nuisance. They received phone calls from police more than two years after the demonstrations ended – and just a day after Sunday’s chief executive election.

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An 'absurd verdict': Jail terms for China activists who voiced support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy Occupy protests