China on Wednesday sentenced a veteran pro-democracy campaigner to 13 years in prison on subversion charges, one day after releasing the widow of a Nobel Peace Prize laureate after eight years of house arrest.
Qin Yongmin was found “guilty of subversion of state power”, the Wuhan City Intermediate People’s Court said on its official website.
According to court records, it appears to be the heftiest sentence handed down in China for “subversion” in the past 15 years.
The 64-year-old, first jailed as a “counter-revolutionary” between 1981 and 1989, has already spent a total of 22 years behind bars.
At the time of his arrest in January 2015, Qin was head of the pro-democracy “China Human Rights Watch” group, which circulated online statements denouncing government policies, as well as organised discussion groups.
Qin “refused to cooperate with the court” and remained completely silent during his trial in May, his lawyer, Lin Qilei, said earlier.
His other lawyer, Liu Zhengqing, said Qin was in “despair” about the sentencing and “angry at the rogue regime” in China.
“[We] will definitely appeal,” he said.
The verdict came a day after Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel dissident Liu Xiaobo, was allowed to leave China for Germany.
Despite facing no charges, the 57-year-old poet had endured heavy restrictions on her movements since 2010 when her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize – an award that infuriated Beijing.
Liu Xiaobo, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, died last year while serving an 11-year jail sentence, also for “subversion”.
“It’s appalling to see such a heavy sentence imposed on a veteran activist who just exercised his freedom of expression just a day after we see some hope in Liu Xia’s case,” Amnesty International’s China researcher Patrick Poon said.
“It reminds us that we shouldn’t forget the less famous activists who face harsh sentences and harassment,” he said.
According to the indictment, prosecutors cited Qin’s writings on democracy as evidence, including a passage where he called on China’s youth to fight for human rights protections according to United Nations treaties (six of which China has ratified).
The veteran activist was last convicted and jailed in late 1998 after he and other activists sought to officially register the China Democracy Party. He was released in December 2010.
The European Union on Wednesday criticised a “deteriorating situation of civil and political rights in China, which has been accompanied by the detention and conviction of a significant number of Chinese human rights defenders”.
Following a two-day EU-China Human Rights Dialogue in Beijing, the Europeans said also that Beijing had signed but not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
It was this document that Qin cited as he attempted to found his party in 1998, landing him in jail.
On his release, Qin said police had told him not to speak to journalists, while several of his supporters who had hoped to meet him have disappeared and are believed to be in police custody.
But Qin said at the time that he would continue to advance human rights because, “I must do what I must do”.
In December, Chinese activist Wu Gan was sentenced to eight years after he refused to plead guilty to charges of subverting state power.
Frances Eve, researcher at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said Qin was “prosecuted for his belief in a democratic China as well as his actions in advocating for human rights”.
“Authorities have been unable to build a case against him despite three years of investigation,” Eve said.