Chinese authorities have jailed long-time activist Hu Shigen, among hundreds of lawyers and activists arrested since 9 July last year: the date prompted the group to become known as ‘709’ .
Hu, an elder of an “unregistered” Protestant church in Beijing, pleaded guilty in Tianjin (60 miles southeast of Beijing) to “damaging national security and harming social stability”, the BBC quoted state media saying.
He faces at least seven years in jail after being convicted of serious charges in a trial lasting a few hours. Chinese media described Hu as the “leader of an underground church” that masqueraded as a religious body, but was dedicated to drawing attention to allegations of government abuses, and said that Hu had confessed to being deeply connected to “foreign anti-China forces”.
He had previously been sentenced to 20 years in prison for the now-abolished charge of “counter-revolution”, but was released in 2008.
In January, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) listed Christian activists Liu Yongping and Gou Hongguo among prominent human rights lawyers detained on similar charges: Gou will be on trial in Tianjin later this week.
On 21 July, a report by the UK Foreign Office about the deteriorating human rights situation in China said “1 January to 30 June 2016 saw further restrictions on civil and political….Notably, a criminal investigation continued into a number of human rights lawyers and associates” (referring to the current trials).
Chinese house churches are facing a period of “sustained pressure” from Beijing, the UK Foreign Office added. In a statement earlier this week, the families and supporters of those being tried called the trials “ridiculous and evil”, and said they deserved international attention.