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China sentences 3 to suspended terms over labor activism

Associated Press Associated Press 27/09/2016

BEIJING — A court in southern China's industrial heartland on Tuesday passed down suspended sentences to three labor organizers who led strikes to demand better working conditions, in the latest move by ruling Communist Party authorities to rein in civil society.

The three had worked at a labor rights center that had continued operating even after authorities officially closed it in 2007.

The center's manager, Zeng Feiyang, was handed a four-year suspended sentence, while Tang Huanxing and Zhu Xiaomei were each given 18-month suspended sentences. They had been arrested on Dec. 3, 2015, and charged with "gathering a crowd to disturb social order" — a broadly defined accusation widely used to stifle complaints from rights activists and members of the public.

The Panyu district court in the city of Guagnzhou said the defendants "ignored national laws and organized mass gatherings that disturbed social order."

It said their actions resulted in severe economic losses to the companies involved.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday that Tang had been responsible for the organization's publicity, while Zhu handled relations with workers who'd migrated from other parts of China.

In testimony shown on state television, Zeng said he had received funding and training from "some overseas organizations hostile to China."

The accusation — not backed up by firm evidence or names — has featured in a number of recent trials of human rights lawyers and legal activists. That is seen as part of a sweeping crackdown on civil liberties engineered by President Xi Jinping as he deals with growing foreign policy challenges and a slowing economy at home.

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