China – 2015 Front Line Defenders Award Winner Guo Feixiong sentenced to six years in prison

On 27 November 2015, human rights defender Mr Guo Feixiong was sentenced to six years in prison by the Tianhe District People’s Court in Guangzhou.

Two other human rights defenders, Messrs Liu Yuandong and Sun Desheng, received three and two and a half year sentences respectively.

In September 2015, Guo Feixiong was awarded the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, which was accepted on his behalf by his wife, Zhang Qing and daughter, Yang Tianjiao. All three human rights defenders had taken part in peaceful demonstrations calling for freedom of the press in Guangzhou in January 2013, which led to their arrests.

On the morning of 27 November 2015, Tianhe District People’s Court in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, sentenced Guo Feixiong (penname of Yang Maodong) to six years in prison on charges of “gathering crowds to disturb social order” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. The latter charge was reportedly added by the judge at the sentencing and therefore one that Guo Feixiong’s lawyers had no opportunity to defend him against, and which resulted in two years being added to his sentence. Liu Yuandong was sentenced to three years, while Sun Desheng was sentenced to two and a half years, both on charges of “gathering crowds to disrupt public order”.

Guo Feixiong was initially detained on 8 August 2013 in connection with an anti-censorship demonstration he had participated in outside the offices of a newspaper in January that year in Guangzhou. In April 2013 he was involved in a campaign to urge the Chinese authorities to ratify the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Following his arrest, he was held in pre-trial detention for over a year.

The first hearing of the trial against him and Sun Desheng took place on 12 September 2014 and was boycotted by their lawyers in protest at unfair treatment. The trial resumed on 22 November 2014 when the court sat for 18 hours without interruption. Liu Yuandong was tried in January 2014 and had been awaiting sentencing since then.

Since his detention in 2013, Guo Feixiong has reportedly been held in a 30 sq metre cell with 30 other detainees. Furthermore, he has been denied permission to go outside or exercise in the prison yard since his initial detention and has alleged ill-treatment by the prison guards. According to his lawyer, Mr Zhang Lei, Guo Feixiong’s health has suffered greatly as a result. It has also been reported that Sun Desheng had had his hands cuffed and legs shackled for long periods after his detention.

Guo Feixiong is a well known figure in China’s rights defence movement and has previously spent five years in prison for his human rights activities. In 2005, the human rights defender provided legal assistance and organisational support to residents in Taishi village in Guangdong province who were seeking to remove their village chief whom they accused of corruption. As a result of his involvement in this case, he was held by the police for three months without charge, during which time he went on hunger strike to protest his treatment.

When he was released in December 2005 he was subjected to regular surveillance, harassment and at least one severe beating before being detained again in September 2006. In November 2007 he was sentenced to five years in prison, back dated to his arrest the previous year, for “illegal business activity” following his publication of a book documenting a political scandal in China’s north eastern Liaoning province.

On his release in September 2011, Guo Feixiong said that the treatment he received while in police custody and later in prison was ‘beyond people’s imagination’. He was reportedly shackled to a wooden bed for 42 days and hung naked from a ceiling by his arms while police used an electric baton to electrocute him. Over the years, Guo Feixiong has undertaken five hunger strikes in support of human rights and protesting his treatment. These have lasted 3, 59, 24, 75, and 25 days respectively.

Front Line Defenders expresses its grave concern regarding the sentencing of Guo Feixiong, Liu Yuandong and Sun Desheng.

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