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Chinese human rights activist gets suspended sentence

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TIANJIN, China — A Chinese court issued a suspended three-year prison sentence to a human rights activist charged with subversion of state power after a brief trial Tuesday, the first publicly acknowledged hearing in a secrecy-shrouded yearlong case involving hundreds of rights activists.

The official Xinhua News Agency said a court in the northern city of Tianjin issued the sentence to Zhai Yanmin, who was arrested in July 2015 as part of a nationwide government campaign against legal activists. About 300 lawyers and activists were initially seized and questioned before most were released.

Zhai's case is the first of four expected to be heard this week. Prosecutors announced in July they would try a lawyer, Zhou Shifeng of the Beijing law firm Fengrui that worked extensively on human rights cases, and three activists who worked with the firm, including Zhai. More than a dozen others remain jailed, their legal status uncertain.

Xinhua said Zhai confessed in court that the group of lawyers, citizens, and petitioners who believed in ''pushing the wall'' — a Chinese expression for overthrowing the government — methodically hyped politically sensitive cases. It quoted him as saying they organized popular rallies during controversial human rights cases to draw international attention and undermine the Chinese state — remarks that echoed previous government accusations toward the group.

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Xinhua said the court was told that Zhai, 55, and the three others ''conspired and plotted to subvert state power,'' and ''established a systematic ideology, method, and steps to achieve it.''

In a video from the trial shown on state television and posted on government websites, Zhai read a statement saying he accepted all the charges against him, was ''extremely regretful'' of his actions, and would not appeal his sentence.

Zhai said he would urge others not to be used by ''hostile foreign forces'' and domestic opportunists, or be blinded by ''so-called democracy, human rights, and justice.''

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''I hope the court will give me an opportunity to correct my mistakes and start life anew,'' Zhai said, standing in the defendant's box and flanked by two bailiffs.

The court permitted Hong Kong journalists to attend the session, although foreign diplomats were barred.

Associated Press