China #MeToo activist Huang sentenced to five years for subversion, supporters say

Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court

By David Kirton and Laurie Chen

GUANGZHOU/BEIJING (Reuters) -Leading Chinese #MeToo activist Huang Xueqin was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty on Friday of subverting state power at a court in southern China, according to a group campaigning for her release and a copy of the verdict.

Huang, a 35-year-old independent journalist, plans to appeal, supporters said. Labour activist Wang Jianbing, 40, who stood trial with Huang, was sentenced to three years and six months. It was not immediately clear if he will appeal.

A spokesperson for the group Free Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing, said the group believed Chinese authorities were using national security as a pretext to suppress social welfare activists.

"This is a denial and obliteration of the value of social justice as well as a denial of moderate voices in civil society. This is a very bad sign," the person said, asking to remain anonymous due to safety concerns.

The pair have been detained by Chinese authorities since September 2021 and Saturday will mark 1,000 days since they were arrested. They denied any wrongdoing during the closed-door trial last year, supporters have said.

The charges of sedition against Huang and Wang were based on the gatherings they often held for Chinese youth during which they discussed social issues.

Consular representatives from the United States, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand, and the UK attempted to attend the court proceedings but were refused entry, two diplomats said, declining to be identified as they were not authorised to speak to media.

There was a heavy security presence around Guangzhou People's Intermediate Court on Friday morning, with police questioning bystanders.

The embassies did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

"These convictions will prolong their deeply unjust detention and have a further chilling effect on human rights and social advocacy in a country where activists face increasing state crackdowns," Amnesty International's China Director Sarah Brooks said in a statement

The charge of "inciting subversion of state power" is frequently used by the Chinese government against dissidents and carries a maximum prison term of five years but can be longer if the suspect is considered a ringleader or to have committed serious crimes. Sentences take into account time served.

A copy of the verdict shared with Reuters said the nature of Huang and Wang's actions as well as the "degree of harm done to society" had determined their sentences.

Chinese foreign spokesperson Lin Jian said that China was a country based on the rule of law and anyone who broke the law would be punished.

"China firmly opposes any country or organisation challenging China's judicial sovereignty," he said.

The day before her arrest on Sept. 19, 2021, Huang had been scheduled to fly to Britain to begin a master's degree at the University of Sussex on a British government-funded scholarship, the campaign group has said.

Huang, who covered Chinese #MeToo allegations and the 2019 Hong Kong anti-government protests, had been detained by Chinese police for three months in late 2019.

The two activists were put in solitary confinement for a period of months, supporters have previously said. Police in Guangzhou did not respond to a faxed request for comment.

Earlier this year, Li Qiaochu, a Chinese activist for women's and labour rights, was sentenced to three years and eight months in jail for "inciting subversion of state power", according to NGOs and supporters.

She has been detained off and on for four years and is due to be released in August.

(Reporting by Laurie Chen and David Kirton; Additional reporting by Joe Cash; Writing by Laurie Chen; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)