A Chinese court cited a book published in Hong Kong in sentencing veteran political campaigner Qin Yongmin to 13 years in prison earlier this month.

Qin was found guilty of “subversion of state power” and sentenced on July 11 by a court in central China. The 64-year-old had been held since March 2015, and is set to serve his sentence until March 20, 2028. The sentence is believed to be the longest sentence for a subversion charge handed out in China in the past 15 years.

A judgement by the Wuhan Intermediate People’s Court, released on Tuesday, said the court used as evidence a collection of Qin’s writings on democracy published in Hong Kong.

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Qin Yongmin and his book “Qin Yongmin discusses a peaceful transition.”

Titled “Qin Yongmin discusses a peaceful transition,” the book was published in Hong Kong in 2012. It is a collection of Qin’s writings advocating a peaceful transition towards constitutional democracy.

Qin is a prominent pro-democracy activist who led the group China Human Rights Watch and the “Rose Group,” which publishes political articles and human rights news on the Rose China website.

The veteran campaigner has already spent a total of 22 years in jail. He was last convicted and sentenced to prison in late 1998 after he, and other activists, sought to officially register the China Democracy Party.

‘Peaceful transition’

The court said he continued his subversive activities after he was released in 2010, issuing statements, writing articles and advocating the establishment of an opposition party and planning subversive activities.

The verdict said Qin “also wrote a large number of articles of an inciting nature,” advocating Qin’s ideal of a peaceful transition to democracy by putting human rights first, and fostering reconciliation and benign interaction between people and officials. They “determined the direction, aim, strategy and method for subverting state power,” the verdict said.

The panel of judges found that Qin sent out statements as a member of the China Democracy Party and chair of the China Human Rights Watch group – deemed an illegal group by the court. They said he advertised the groups by holding commemorations for members of the party who passed away and by organising shared meals and meetings.

The judgement also included testimony from witnesses who claimed Qin organised meetings on democracy and ran online discussion groups.

They said Qin “used the guise of exercising civil rights to mask his goal of overthrowing the socialist system and the rule of the people’s democratic dictatorship.”

The court also said Qin should be treated as a “recidivist” as he had committed another crime endangering state security after he was previously jailed for similar crimes. According to China’s Criminal Law, such offenders should be given heavier sentences.

According to the document, the defence made the case that Qin was merely exercising his right to free speech – protected by the Chinese constitution – in advocating a “peaceful transition.” He was also exercising his right to association in organising China Human Rights Watch, it said.

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The court’s verdict. Photo: CHRD.

According to the document, Qin did not dispute the fact that he asked a Hong Kong publisher to print the book, or that he formed the groups. But his defence lawyer argued that he did not carry out violent actions to subvert state power. However, the court rejected the defence, saying that subverting state power was not limited to violent methods.

After Qin’s sentencing, a group of Chinese human rights lawyers released a statement calling for his release, saying that Qin’s advocacy for a peaceful transition was within free speech protections in the constitution. They also said that Qin exercised his rights to speech, association, publishing and assembly, which are guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. China signed the document in 1998 but has yet to ratify it.

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.