Four Guangzhou activists will be facing jail terms for inciting subversion of state power after showing support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy protests  in 2014.

The Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on Friday morning sentenced Xie Wenfei and Wang Mo to four-and-a-half years in jail, and Zhang Shengyu to four years, Apple Daily reported. The court had earlier found the three guilty of inciting state subversion after they held up signs in support of genuine universal suffrage in Guangzhou in October 2014, Commercial Radio reported.

pro-democracy activists
Xie, Zhang, Wang and Liang.

Three had already been detained for over a year. They were initially arrested for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”, but the charge was later amended to inciting subversion.

Defence lawyer Chen Keyun, who represented Xie Wenfei and Wang Mo in court, said that the sentence was too heavy and that they would be lodging an appeal. He also said that universal suffrage had been “a solemn promise made by the Communist Party”, which meant that it could not be further from constituting subversion.

Blogger Liang Qinhui was also sentenced to 18 months for subversion by the same court after publishing an article demanding China implement democracy.

liang zhang activists
Liang and Zhang. Photo: Weiquan.

US, British, Belgian and Norwegian Consulates officials were not allowed into the court and could only speak to human rights activists outside. Social commentator Johnny Lau Yui-Siu said he believed the heavy sentence had to do with China’s wishes to drown out voices calling for Hong Kong independence and “separatism”, RTHK reported.

The activists were among many taken into custody after posting messages on social media and holding up banners in public to support the Hong Kong protests. “We believe that the ruling was unjust and demand that the Chinese government immediately release them – as well as all other human rights activists that supported the Hong Kong Occupy protests – rather than oppressing them for exercising their freedom of speech,” human rights group Amnesty International said following the sentencing.

In January, grassroots human rights activists known as the “three gentlemen of Guangzhou” who initiated the “non-cooperation movement” and commemoration events of the Tiananmen Massacre were also jailed on subversion charges.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.