Chinese human rights lawyer Li Heping has been handed a three-year suspended prison sentence for subversion of state power, a Tianjin court has announced.

The trial was conducted on Tuesday in secret, and received no media coverage prior to Friday’s sentencing.

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Li Heping (R) with Xie Yang, another human rights lawyer detained by the Chinese government. Photo: RFA.

Li was known for defending practitioners of Falun Gong – considered an illegal cult in mainland China – and forcibly evicted villagers. He was detained on July 10, 2015 during what became known as the “709 crackdown” on human rights lawyers, but he was only charged in December 2016.

“Li has been convicted of subversion of state power,” read a statement issued on Friday by the Tianjin Second Intermediate People’s Court. “He has been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, suspended for four years, and deprived of political rights for four years.”

“Li told the court that he obeys the judgement and will not appeal,” wrote the court.

Torture allegations 

The court said that Li’s trial was conducted behind closed doors because it involved state secrets. “The court has fully guaranteed Li and his defence lawyer’s legal rights,” it added.

However, in January, the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group cited “trustworthy sources” as saying that he was tortured in detention – including with electric shocks.

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Li Heping (far right) with artist Ai Weiwei (third from left) and others in an undated photo. Photo: Supplied by activist.

The NGO added that he was not allowed to see his defence lawyer.

Li’s brother, Li Chunfu, was also a human rights lawyer detained during the “709 crackdown” two years ago. After he was released this January, the media reported that he was “thin as a matchstick” and had to be hospitalised for schizophrenia.

Li’s wife, Wang Qiaoling, has written on Twitter on several previous occasions saying that she was being monitored constantly by police. Neither she nor Li have responded to Friday’s sentence so far.

Foreign media and overseas funds

On Friday, the court detailed Li’s crimes in a summary of its ruling: “Since 2008, defendant Li smeared and attacked the state’s political institutions and legal system via the internet and foreign media.”

“He used overseas funds to interfere in and sensationalise ‘hot’ cases, in order to provoke dissatisfaction among people who do not understand our country’s social system.”

The ruling added that Li had collaborated with illegal religious figures, professional petitioners and minority lawyers in order to subvert state power.

See also: Trial of China human rights lawyer Xie Yang delayed, supporters say

He was handed a suspended sentence because his own crimes were relatively less serious, and he was remorseful.

Li’s legal assistant Zhao Wei, only 24 at the time of her arrest, was the youngest detainee during the “709 crackdown.” Zhao was released on bail in July 2016.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.