China on Sunday boasted harsh punishments meted out to rights defenders was the legal system’s top accomplishment last year, as the country reported a jump in the number of corruption cases tried in its courts.

Activists and lawyers are a constant thorn in the side of Beijing and are often accused of being in cahoots with foreign organisations trying to undermine national security and stir up opposition to the government.

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A demonstration staged by detained lawyers’ family members and lawyers. Photo: Twitter/CHRLCG.

In an annual report to China’s rubber-stamp parliament, Chief Justice Zhou Qiang said the “severe punishment of the crime of endangering state security” committed by rights defenders was a key achievement in 2016.

It ranked as the leading item in a list of measures taken last year to “safeguard human rights” in China.

Among the rights defenders punished and singled out for mention in the report was prominent lawyer Zhou Shifeng, who in August was sentenced to seven years in prison for “subversion”.

His Fengrui law firm was known for taking on cases considered sensitive by the ruling Communist Party, such as those of dissident scholars, victims of sexual abuse and members of banned religious groups.

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Hong Kong lawyers Tanya Chan, Albert Ho and others call on China to release detained lawyers. File photo: CHRLCG

The number of corruption cases tried in China’s courts last year rose by about a third from 2015, chief justice Zhou said, vowing the country would maintain the momentum of President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign.

Xi has presided over a much-publicised crackdown on rampant government corruption since coming to power in 2012, with more than one million officials punished in what some compare to a political purge.

In 2016, Chinese courts heard 45,000 graft cases involving 63,000 people, up from 34,000 cases in 2015.

For overall hearings, the Supreme People’s Court heard nearly 23,000 cases and local courts heard some 23 million last year, with only 1,076 defendants found not guilty, according to data cited by Zhou.

Chinese courts have a conviction rate of 99.92 percent.

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