Updated: May 1, 2019
A Chinese court sentenced lawyer Zhou Shifeng to seven years in prison. Zhou’s Beijing-based law firm, Fengrui, has defended some of China’s most politically sensitive figures, including dissident artist Ai Weiwei and members of the banned Falun Gong religious group. The firm also represented Ilham Tohti, an economics professor and ethnic rights activist from China’s Uighur minority group who was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 for inciting ethnic hatred.
Zhou was a target in a government sweep a year ago in which roughly two dozen lawyers and activists were arrested and more than 300 others were briefly detained or interrogated. This sweep began an offensive against what was once a growing human rights movement among Chinese lawyers.
Appearing in court on Thursday in the city of Tianjin, Zhou was the first lawyer among those arrested to face trial. He was sentenced to seven years after pleading guilty to subverting state power, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Prosecutors accused Zhou of a variety of offenses that included seeking out sensitive cases for publicity, using activists to organize protests that attacked the legal system, and “luring people who didn’t know better into seeing the state as an enemy,” according to a court transcript of the trial posted online.