Labour activist Meng Han was sentenced to a prison term of one year and nine months on Thursday by a Chinese court for “gathering crowds to disrupt public order,” according to his defense lawyer.

Meng pleaded guilty and said he would not appeal.

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Meng Han. Photo: HRCChina.

Meng, who was officially detained on January 8, worked at the Panyu Workers’ Centre in Guangdong. During his detention, Meng had limited access to legal representation and the length of his detention exceeded the legally allowable time limit by almost two months, according to Hong Kong-based NGO China Labour Bulletin (CLB), who said he was detained amid “blatant procedural violations.”

Meng was detained as part of a broader crackdown on Guangdong labour NGOs in December. Before the crackdown, the Panyu Workers’ Centre organised workers in several high-profile collective bargaining cases. China has banned independent unions, only recognising the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

Hong Kong-based concern group Human Rights Campaign in China reported on Tuesday that Meng’s parents were pressured by State Security police, who went to Meng’s home on Monday night and asked his father to persuade Meng to plead guilty.

Han Dongfang, the director of the CLB group, which worked with the Panyu Centre for five years, said “even if he pleads guilty, I won’t believe he does so out of his own will.”

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Meng’s parents faced intimidation throughout his detention, according to CLB, including one instance where they were forced to move after unidentified thugs attacked their apartment door with an axe.

In September, a Chinese court gave suspended prison sentences to three labour activists at the high-profile Panyu Workers’ Centre. They were convicted of “ignoring national laws and organising mass gatherings that disturbed social order,” official news agency Xinhua reported. They were also accused of accepting funding from foreign organisations.

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Hong Kong labour groups rally for Meng’s release on Thursday. Photo: CLB.

Meng previously said that he and other staff at the Panyu Centre had done nothing wrong and that their work simply involved helping workers become better organised and coaching them how to engage in collective bargaining with management.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.