State media has accused lawyer's firm, its associates of orchestrating protests outside courts and politicising ordinary legal cases
China will prosecute a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, Zhou Shifeng, on charges of subverting state power after months of secret detention, prosecutors said on Friday, the latest move by authorities to crack down on dissent.
China consistently rejects any criticism of its human rights record, saying it adheres to the rule of law, that all are equal under the law and that those who break the law can expect to be punished. President Xi Jinping's administration has tightened control over almost every aspect of civil society since 2012, citing the need to buttress national security and stability.
Three other activists to be prosecuted on similar charges
Shifeng, the director of Beijing Fengrui law firm, will be prosecuted on charges of subverting state power, the prosecutor in the northern city of Tianjin said in a brief statement on its official microblog, without giving details.
Pertinently, state media has accused the firm and its associates of orchestrating protests outside courts and politicising ordinary legal cases in order to attract international attention. Dozens of lawyers and activists associated with the firm have been swept up in the crackdown and held since last July, triggering concern in Western capitals.
The firm has represented several high-profile clients, including the ethnic Uighur dissident, Ilham Tohti.
An official reached by telephone at the prosecutors' office declined further comment. It was not clear who Zhous own lawyer currently is.
Shang Baojun, another well-known rights lawyer, told Reuters that Zhous previous legal team had all been replaced by government-appointed lawyers. "To be honest, we don't know anything more about his case than you do," Shang said, adding that a court date could still be two months off, according to Chinese law.
The prosecutor said in the same statement that three other rights activists - Hu Shigen, Zhai Yanmin and Gou Hongguo - would also be prosecuted on the same charges.
It was also not possible to immediately locate lawyers for them for comment.
In severe cases, the charges can result in life sentences.