China sentences activist to 19 years in prison over 'spying'

Rights activist based in China's western region of Xinjiang is sentenced to 19 years in prison on spying charges

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Chinese police in the Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region

A Chinese court has jailed a well-known rights activist for 19 years on state security charges, including supplying intelligence abroad, as the leadership widens a crackdown on rights lawyers that has triggered international condemnation.

Zhang Haitao, a rights activist based in the troubled western region of Xinjiang who wrote online postings critical of the ruling Communist Party, was jailed for inciting subversion of state power and illegally supplying intelligence abroad, said his lawyer, Li Dunyong, by phone.

Li added that the evidence for the latter charge might amount to nothing more than accepting phone interviews with foreign journalists.

"The sentence was very severe, but it's normal for that region of the country," he said.

The court could not be reached for comment.

A second rights activist, Li Xin, has been missing for 10 days after leaving Thailand for Laos with the hope of returning to Thailand to apply for political asylum, said his wife, Shi Sanmei.

Li, a former writer for the Southern Metropolis Daily, a respected semi-independent newspaper, arrived in Thailand from India on Jan.1 and boarded a train to the northeastern border town of Nong Khai where he tried to enter Laos, said Shi.

"When I heard he had gone missing, I was very shocked," said Li's friend, Liu Xuehong, a Thailand-based activist. "I think he's in danger now and has probably been arrested."

Shi said Thai police refused to accept her report of her husband's disappearance, asking her to contact the Chinese embassy.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked about Li's disappearance, said he "did not understand" anything about him or about the "relevant situation". He did not elaborate. 

Police General Dechnarong Sutticharnbancha, Thailand's national police spokesman, said he had no knowledge of Li's case.

Public concern has risen in Hong Kong in recent weeks that a Hong Kong-based bookseller, Gui Minhai, has been abducted in the Thai seaside town in Pattaya. Gui, who worked for a publisher specialising in gossipy political books on Chinese Communist Party leaders, went missing along with four other associates.

Gui and a Swedish NGO worker named Peter Dahlin both appeared on Chinese state television this week confessing to crimes. The confessions have sparked criticism from western governments and rights groups, who have said the confessions were likely forced.

Chinese authorities have detained Dahlin, the 35-year-old co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, on suspicion of endangering state security. The organisation worked with Chinese human rights lawyers.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom told Swedish news agency TT on Friday it was unacceptable to put Dahlin and Gui on television.

"It is an unacceptable behaviour and we are using all our diplomatic contacts to try to get as much information as possible," Wallstrom told TT.

The US Department of State also expressed concern about the "coerced" confessions on Thursday.

Asked about the State Department criticism, Chinese spokesman Hong said "foreign countries have no right to interfere on the relevant issue.''

TRTWorld, Reuters