China jailed a human rights lawyer for three and a half years for state subversion, his family said Thursday, in the latest blow to the country’s embattled civil society under President Xi Jinping.

Chinese human rights lawyer Chang Weiping
Chinese human rights lawyer Chang Weiping. Photo: Internet.

Chang Weiping was sentenced by a court in northwestern China’s Shaanxi province, his wife Chen Zijuan confirmed to AFP.

Known for defending the rights of workers, women and religious and sexual minorities, Chang was seized by authorities in 2020 after releasing a video alleging that he had been tortured during a previous detention.

He was later charged with the crime of “subversion of state power” and tried behind closed doors last year.

His sentence means he will be eligible for release in July 2024, according to the US-based Chen, adding that her husband appeared to be in fragile health.

Chang is an associate of two other rights lawyers who were jailed in April for the same crime following closed-door trials.

Xu Zhiyong and fellow campaigner Ding Jiaxi were key figures in the New Citizens’ Movement, a civil rights group that called for constitutional reform and criticised government corruption.

Xu Zhiyong, Ding Jiaxi
Chinese civil right lawyers Xu Zhiyong (left) and Ding Jiaxi (right). File photo: Yaxue Cao, via Twitter.

Xu — who called for President Xi to step down over his handling of the pandemic — was jailed for 14 years, while Ding received 12 years.

“It is absurd that my husband was sentenced to prison… solely because of his activities as a lawyer and private political discussions at friends’ gatherings,” Chen told AFP by phone on Thursday.

Civil liberties and freedom of expression have withered in China under Xi’s decade-long tenure, rights groups say.

Observers have also regularly raised concerns about due process in the country’s judicial system, where the courts have a conviction rate of about 99 percent.

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