BEIJING — An outspoken Chinese human rights lawyer was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on Monday, the last to be prosecuted among hundreds of legal activists who had been rounded up in a sweeping crackdown in 2015.
The lawyer, Wang Quanzhang, was found guilty of “subversion of state power,” the No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court of Tianjin said on its website. That charge is usually applied to critics of the ruling Communist Party who are accused of organizing political challenges.
Other lawyers and activists who had been picked up in an expansive campaign by the government that began in the summer of 2015 were either released or put on trial and sentenced. But Mr. Wang, 42, had been held for nearly three and a half years before he faced charges in a closed trial in Tianjin on Dec. 26 that even his wife was barred from attending.
The crackdown, which included televised show trials in which lawyers confessed to plotting to overthrow the government and working on behalf of foreign forces, is a part of President Xi Jinping’s efforts to obliterate threats to the party’s control.
Mr. Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu, condemned the decision on Monday, accusing the police, prosecutors and judge of committing crimes by detaining her husband for more than three years.
“I will continue to fight for the rights of Wang Quanzhang,” Ms. Li said in a Twitter post. “I will look after our child and wait for Wang Quanzhang to come home.”
Calls to Ms. Li’s mobile phone went unanswered. It was unclear whether Mr. Wang would appeal the decision. Since Mr. Wang has been in custody since August 2015, it is possible he could be released next year, legal experts said.
Mr. Wang was one of most prominent figures to be swept up in the campaign against rights activists. As a lawyer at the Beijing Fengrui law firm, he represented members of a banned religious group, Falun Gong, and helped train legal activists.
Prosecutors had accused Mr. Wang of “stirring up trouble” and colluding with foreign-funded groups.
Human rights advocates and Western governments have raised concerns over the Chinese government’s handling of the case. Mr. Wang’s relatives and friends have not been allowed to see him.
“I am very concerned that Wang Quanzhang had no access to his chosen lawyers during his period of detention and that the proceedings were held behind closed doors,” said Germany’s human rights commissioner, Bärbel Kofler, in a statement issued in December, after Mr. Wang’s trial.
There are also concerns that he might have faced abuse while in prison. Several lawyers who were detained in 2015 have said they were abused while in custody.
“People are saying that he is too stubborn for his own good and that he’s not going to cave in,” said Eva Pils, a professor of law at King’s College London who studies Chinese rights lawyers and knows Mr. Wang. “You just have to worry about the basic state of his mental and physical health.”
The government has continued its campaign against human rights advocates, disbarring lawyers who take on cases the party sees as a threat and keeping others under surveillance.
Experts said that Mr. Wang’s sentencing would most likely deepen concerns among China’s legal rights advocates, a small but daring group of lawyers who help dissidents, religious leaders, aggrieved farmers and others fight everyday injustices.
Doriane Lau, a China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, called Mr. Wang’s trial a “sham.”
“He is being imprisoned solely for doing his job,” she said. “This will have a chilling effect on the many human rights lawyers in China who are still fighting very hard for justice.”
Orignially published in NYT.