china, tianjin.jpg
Tianjin, city in northern China.
Photograph: Photo by Hugi Ólafsson, used under CC BY-SA

A court in northern China's city of Tianjin found a legal activist guilty of "subverting state power" on Tuesday, in the first known trial following the arrests of hundreds of human rights lawyers and activists.

The No 2 Intermediate People's Court of Tianjin sentenced Zhai Yanmin, a resident of Beijing, to three years in prison with a four-year reprieve.

The court was told that Zhai, together with three others - Hu Shigen, Zhou Shifeng and Li Heping - plotted to subvert state power and had "established a systematic ideology, method and steps to achieve it," the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Zhai, 55, pled guilty and decided not to appeal, according to Xinhua.

Zhai's was the first of four cases expected to be heard during the four-day trial starting Tuesday.

Chinese authorities had barred foreign media from entering the court house and directed foreign reporters to a nearby hotel where a transcription of proceedings was being shown on a screen, according to news reports.

The South China Morning Post and three other Hong Kong-based media outlets were allowed to cover the trials, according to the Post.

"There isn't a single procedure that could be considered in line with international standards on fair trial. Even Zhai's wife wasn't informed about the trial and was not allowed to attend it," said Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon.

"We are not sure why Zhai is given this rather lenient sentence. It might suggest that he was under tremendous pressure by the authorities during his detention. However, he's still under four years of deprivation of his political rights, which actually means that he will be silenced for four years," Poon added.

On Monday, a video of an alleged confession by lawyer Wang Yu was published on the websites of two Hong Kong media outlets in which she said "foreign forces" were instilling ideas of democracy among her colleagues and using their law firm to undermine the central government.

Wang, a lawyer at the Fengrui law firm in Beijing, which defendsprominent dissidents such as Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, wasamong those rounded up last June.

Her lawyer, Wen Donghai, told dpa he has not been able to reach Wang or her family members.

Since last summer, more than 300 rights lawyers and activists from across China have been detained or summoned by police, according to the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.

Of those detained, the majority have been released, but 16 lawyers and activists are still being held, with three recently indicted on the serious charge of "subverting state power," Amnesty International told dpa.

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