BEIJING (AP) — A human rights lawyer and three activists have been indicted on subversion charges, Chinese prosecutors said Friday, signaling that an unprecedented crackdown on legal activism that began one year ago continues despite international criticism.
The prosecutors' office of the municipality of Tianjin posted on its microblog that Zhou Shifeng, a lawyer who heads a Beijing-based firm seen as being at the center of the security sweep, has been charged with subversion of state power. Three activists were indicted on the same charge, the prosecutors' office said.
The vaguely defined charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
China launched its largest-ever crackdown against human rights lawyers and activists on July 9, 2015, seizing and questioning hundreds of people nationwide in a campaign that sent a chill through the country's legal system. Nearly two dozen of them remain in detention and face charges, including subversion and inciting subversion of state power.
Rights groups say the activists are being targeted for organizing protests and social media campaigns to raise awareness of legal rights and hot-button social issues.
On the one-year anniversary of the crackdown last week, overseas bar associations and lawyers' groups issued an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping criticizing the detentions. The letter adds to international expressions of concern, including from some Western governments, over the crackdown.