Church leader and democracy advocate could face life in prison after arrest in China

A bird flies free amid the smog in Tianjin, ChinaReuters

A Christian church elder has been formally arrested after being imprisoned in Tianjin in China on suspicion of "subversion of state power". The "crime" carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. 

Hu Shigen, aged 60, a church leader with a history of campaigning for democracy and the rights of workers, had already spent nearly six months in detention when he was arrested last week. He is among 11 who have recently been arrested formally after being detained in a crackdown last July. At least 300 human rights lawyers, activists, their associates and family members were detained, questioned or simply disappeared, according to religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Hu has been barred from any contact with his family. His lawyer, Li Boguang, has also been prevented from seeing him.

Hu was released from an earlier sentence in 2008. He was arrested in 1992 and later convicted of leading a counterrevolutionary organisation and "engaging with counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement".  His sentence of 20 years in prison was eventually reduced. 

Hu, who leads the unregistered Yahebo church in Beijing, is being held with two other members of this church, Liu Yongping and Gou Hongguo, who were arrested with him.

Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of CSW, said, "It is unacceptable that Hu Shigen has been held in detention for six months without any contact with the outside world or access to legal counsel, while his family were not informed of his whereabouts for half a year.

"The charge of subversion which he now faces is commonly levelled at activists who peacefully seek to defend the rights of others. Very often, suspects have restricted access to legal representation and family visits. We call on the Chinese authorities to act in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to respect the inherent dignity of all those detained in the crackdown, to uphold their right to communicate with counsel of their own choosing, and to release immediately those who are detained arbitrarily or who have been forcibly disappeared."